Oak Harbor: Gas was only 10 cents per gallon, but on the drive home...

Old friends Reka Van Wieringen (left) and Jessie Beeksma (right), both class of 1931, catch up on good times in preparation for an Oak Harbor High School 1931 to 1957 class reunion on Aug. 9. - Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times
Old friends Reka Van Wieringen (left) and Jessie Beeksma (right), both class of 1931, catch up on good times in preparation for an Oak Harbor High School 1931 to 1957 class reunion on Aug. 9.
— image credit: Rebecca Olson/Whidbey News-Times

Reunion covers many decades

Gas costs 10 cents per gallon, but on the drive home from filling the tank, a car may be delayed by cows crossing the road. Lanterns were the mode of lighting, even after the introduction of electricity, since it wasn’t on 24 hours a day. Trucks with benches passed as school buses and bartering for gas, eggs and chickens took the place of using money.

That’s the portrait of a much younger Oak Harbor. But the footprints of that era haven’t disappeared yet. The 1931 to 1957 graduates of Oak Harbor High School will hold a reunion on Saturday, Aug. 9. All are welcome to learn or reminisce about Oak Harbor life long ago.

Reka Van Wieringen and Jessie Beeksma graduated in 1931. Van Wieringen came from Holland through Ellis Island in 1916 at age 2 to live with her grandmother.

“She wouldn’t allow Dutch to be spoken,” Van Wieringen said, her vivacious eyes traveling back in time. “We were Americans. She insisted we become American citizens. I’m very strong on that point.”

Beeksma and Van Wieringen reminisced about their long lives. Van Wieringen had skipped a grade in school and ended up in the same class as Beeksma.

“Jessie, it seems like we’ve known each other forever,” Van Wieringen told her friend.

“We almost have,” Beeksma returned.

Van Wieringen also ended up in the same class as her future husband.

“I think the biggest joy of my life has been that I was married for 67 years to the love of my life,” Van Wieringen said, smiling.

Now, she enjoys knitting, crocheting, crossword puzzles, cooking treats for her four children and the Mariners.

“I didn’t want to come today because the Mariners are playing and I want to know the score,” Van Wieringen confessed.

She recalled listening to sports on the radio as a child.

“Sports was a great part of our life,” Van Wieringen said.

Sports adventures were also at the top of the minds of Valera Wilson, class of 1956, and Bud Wallgren, class of 1957.

Wilson loved being a cheerleader in high school.

“There were such good athletes,” she reminisced.

Wallgren played for the football team. He recalled a particularly brutal game when weather was in the single digits.

“Oak Harbor was a lot different then,” Wallgren said. There was only one stoplight in the town, and a blinking one at that.

“It was so quaint. The classes were all so close. We went out together and partied together. And of course we studied, too,” Wilson said with a laugh.

“I enjoyed the camaraderie throughout the whole school,” Wallgren said. Oak Harbor High School had 225 students in all four classes then. “For the most part, everyone was involved in all the activities, like drama club and Spanish club and sports.”

Wilson put her Oak Harbor life on hold after high school when her father was transferred to Hawaii. She met her husband there and moved to Ohio for 30 years. Her husband was a coach and the sports-involved life fit her perfectly. She kept in contact with her high school friends in Oak Harbor throughout the years.

“It’s been fun to be back,” said Wilson.

Wallgren has lived in Oak Harbor his whole life. He worked at the single local tire store in the 1950s. In 1960, at the age of 21, he bought the store and was the sole employee. He built it up to eight stores and 110 employees. This year, he sold six stores and is semi-retired. However, he’s still busily involved in organizations around town, including the bank.

Oak Harbor 60 or 80 years ago would be unrecognizable these days.

Where the city hall is now sat a school. There was no indoor plumbing. The student who got picked to fill the water bucket from the pump felt special. Then everybody shared the same dipper.

“And we lived to be 90,” exclaimed Jo Balda.

Balda’s father owned the first power plant in Oak Harbor. He turned the power on in the morning and off at night.

“My dad was the one who lit up the town,” Balda said.

And if the lack of constant electricity wasn’t enough, cell phones and even personal phone lines were but a futuristic dream. One job for women was the switchboard for the phone line. Beeksma worked there.

“But a woman couldn’t work if she was married,” Balda said. “The woman’s role was to stay home and take care of her family.”

Arnold Freund is a name most will recognize. His 1850 homestead has always stayed in the family. It won an award for being one of very few achieving that in the state.

Ed Adamson, Van Wieringen’s son, remembered all the children splashing in the swimming pool in front of the farm. Chuck Bos’s service station was another pleasant memory for him.

“The biggest treat during the Depression was a free penny sucker there,” Adamson said, smiling.

Bos recalled selling gas for 10 and 19 cents a gallon.

Lawrence Dykers, class of 1933, carried mail for 22 years and was postmaster for 12 years. After going to war, he met his wife and they’ve been married for 61 years.

“Dykers and I have seen lots of changes,” Freund said.

Now, in this city full of stoplights and gas going for nearly $5 a gallon, this quaint, olden days Oak Harbor is fading into the sunset.

“There was so much history back then,” said Kenneth Jensen, class of 1934.

After an enjoyable visit, Van Wieringen told her long-time friends goodbye and hurried home to catch the rest of the Mariners game.

“Life has been beautiful, it really has,” Van Wieringen said happily. “I think we’re thoroughly blessed.”

Everyone, whether an OHHS graduate or not, is very welcome to join these graduates at their reunion Saturday, Aug. 9. For more information, contact Jo Balda during the day at 679-4595, or in the evening at 675-3246.

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