The best of times in Lake NebagamonHave you ever wondered why Lance (Don Leighton) loves sports so much? What was he like as a kid , and why does he feel the need to use a pseudonym? Some of those questions will be answered in today’s “Have Fun or Get Out of the Way” column, and some questions are best left unanswered.
By: Don Leighton and Mike Granlund, The Daily Telegram
Have you ever wondered why Lance (Don Leighton) loves sports so much? What was he like as a kid , and why does he feel the need to use a pseudonym? Some of those questions will be answered in today’s “Have Fun or Get Out of the Way” column, and some questions are best left unanswered.
It was 1962. I had just turned 10 and was in the fifth grade at Carlinville North School in Carlinville, Ill. when my parents informed me our family would be moving to a place called Lake Nebagamon, Wis. before the end of the school year. It was terrible news. I would miss next year’s annual sixth grade softball game between the North and South schools. I was moving to a place near the Arctic Circle I could not pronounce or spell, and I would have no friends. I was sure my parents hated me.
As if that was not enough, what would I do without ever seeing Glenda Pruitt again? How would I survive?
In Carlinville, my parents owned a small mom and pop grocery store two blocks from Blackburn College, and my life was great. I had many friends: Candy Monetti, Carol Linker, Jimmy Reese and the previously mentioned Glenda Pruitt, among others.
Moving day came in early May. I hated my parents for making me go with them, and my mom gave away all of my baseball and football cards, along with my comic books. The end of the world was near. Where was Glenda when I needed her? I bet she was with Bill Konneker celebrating my departure.
The Mayflower moving van rolled into Lake Nebagamon, a village of 425 people. I had lived in a city of 5,000! My parents had sold the grocery store in Illinois and purchased one in Lake Nebagamon, so I would still get free food.
When we arrived, the movers were taking our belongings in, so I walked along what was called the Calvin Coolidge Memorial Highway. He must have been somebody from Nebagamon. I learned he had a summer White House in Superior. My house was green, year round.
I walked westward and ended up by the park where I met my first person from the new village. His name was Jimmy Arnold; he had a cool bike and was funny. I also met his brother, Mark, and his sister, Sue, that day. Sue would be in my sixth-grade class the following year. Our teacher was Mrs. Townsend, one of my favorite people of all-time.
Each day that went by, I met more and more kids and began to adjust to the small village by the lake. Baseball became a way of life in the summer, football in the fall, and a game I had never played, basketball, in the winter. Nebagamon School had a gym too, something we did not have in Illinois. In Carlinville, when we could not go outside, we played eraser tag. In Nebagamon, we played in the gym. Maybe this village was going to be OK.
In fact, attending school at Nebagamon was great. I had Mrs. Townsend in sixth grade and Mr. Moreland in seventh and eighth grade. Mr. Moreland was the basketball coach and a baseball player. I was almost six feet tall in seventh grade, so Mr. Moreland “forced” me to play basketball. (I believe there was a veiled threat regarding my grades.) I was very clumsy and did not even know how to put a jock on. I would purposely forget my gym shoes so I wouldn’t have to play. Today, I am eternally thankful to Pat Moreland for introducing me to and “making” me play basketball.
My sixth through eighth grade years at Lake Nebagamon and my high school years at Northwestern High School were the best six years of my life. My freshman year at NHS was the first year football was played at the school. What an exciting time that was! I had great coaches at NHS that included Pat Moreland, Darrel Kaldor, Gene Welshinger, Duane Guelle and Henry Sedin.
I had outstanding teachers as well. My favorite teacher of all-time was Virginia Tarter. Everyone was afraid of her, but for some reason, she liked me. Ron Hicks, George Conley, Arnie Hagen, Joe Brygger, Leroy Fechtelkotter, Joyce Klugow, Don Olson, Ken Babcock, Doris Anderson and Irvin Rounsville were all instrumental in helping me get a good education that enabled me to go to college. Pat Loustari began teaching in my sophomore year and continues to this day. She is a fixture at Maple and one of the best, most enthusiastic teachers and human beings I have ever met. When she retires, it will be a great loss for NHS. I was lucky to have her for a teacher my sophomore year.
During the 1960s, the world was changing on a daily basis. The Beatles, along with the rest of the British Invasion, began arriving in 1963 and added to the already great music of the day provided by Roy Orbison, Gene Pitney, Bobby Vee, Elvis, Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys, and the Four Seasons. Everyone was glued to his or her transistor radios. What a great time.
The Vietnam War also was heating up to a fever pitch by the end of the decade. That was not good.
The mini-skirt was very popular (thank you very much). The Ford Mustang was introduced along with all of the muscle cars that made the sixties the decade of the sports car. Back in Lake Nebagamon, life remained pretty undisturbed. The Tamburitzans from Duquesne University lived and trained in Nebagamon during the summer. Some other memories about summers in Lake Nebagamon: Friday night roller skating at the auditorium; the Fourth of July fireworks; a Little Shaver Shake at Whitey’s Drive-In, for a nickel; hamburger and fries at the Rockstone Drive-In; a Dilly Bar at the Dairy Queen; Saturday night dances at the auditorium; baseball with my friends at the Babe Ruth Field or at the field behind Danny Hildebrandt’s house; swimming at the beach; the parties and dances that Larry Johnson would host at the old schoolhouse across from his home; playing catch with my best friend, Tom Miller — I was the pitcher, he was the catcher; the day the Beach Boys, Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs came into our grocery store to use the phone; my new friend Karen Ranta from Kent, Ohio who helped me forget Glenda What’s Her Name. And of course all the hanging out with Bill Weinandt; Brant, Danny and Jimmy Hannula; Gary Snydle; Greg Knoll; Ray Nelson; Keith and Jay Anderson; Stan, Karl, Randy and Danny Hildebrandt; Roger Teal and the “new kids” from Chicago, Billy, Johnny and Jimmy Urbaniak. Who can forget the touch football games with my good friend Mike Granlund on the “Range” at the Nebagamon Boys Camp or the late night “raids” on Nibs Redding’s raspberry patch? If you fished, hunted, enjoyed boating and the great outdoors, Lake Nebagamon was the place to be. What great memories! Not that I ever went, but I heard the public beach had some nice scenery.
There is one piece of subterfuge to which I must confess. My dad was the official temperature guy for WEBC radio during the 1960s. My dad and I would, three times a day, go to the “official” thermometer which was locked in a little “bird house” across from the super market. My dad would add 10 degrees to all of the readings, call WEBC with the inflated number and, lo and behold, within the hour 20 to 25 cars from Duluth and Superior would arrive to enjoy the “warm” weather.
Anyone who grew up during the 1960s is hard pressed to find a better decade, especially when you throw in the village of Lake Nebagamon and what it offered. Summers were great. Winters were not the best, but even in winter we found a way to have fun.
I eventually learned how to spell and pronounce Lake Nebagamon. The North School won the softball game, even without me, and I am nowhere near the Arctic Circle.
I thank my parents for moving to Lake Nebagamon in 1962. I told them all along I wanted to move to Lake Nebagamon, or as I call it, Shangri-La, during the best of times.
I wonder what ever happened to Glenda?
Boyleing in the Perkolator
• Brian Johnson, star basketball player for the Randolph Rockets, will attend UW-Oshkosh and play for the Titans next season. Formerly of Superior, Johnson helped Randolph to three state tournament berths in his four-year career. Randolph lost in the state semifinals this year and has a 174-12 record during the last seven years with five WIAA Division 4 state championship trophies.
Johnson led his team with 17.4 points per game this season, and the 6-foot-3 wing was regarded as one of the best outside shooters in the state of Wisconsin. He originally gave a verbal commitment to Lakeland College but switched to Oshkosh when the Lakeland head coach left for another job. Johnson is the son of Dean and Donna Johnson.
• Nicole Hughes, Northwestern’s outstanding basketball, track and volleyball player, will attend the College of St. Scholastica this fall and will try out for the volleyball team. Even though Hughes was celebrated as a volleyball player (Heart O’ North All-Conference and Daily Telegram Player of the Year), we actually feel she was underrated as a player and will have a stellar career with the Saints.
• Nate Thoreson, a 2007 graduate of Northwestern High School, enjoyed a banner season playing football for the UW-River Falls Falcons last fall. Thoreson had played quarterback, safety and punter for the Tigers, earning all-state status as a punter. UW-River Falls used him at kick returner after some Falcons were injured. He did so well he became the starting wide receiver for the pass-happy Falcons. Thoreson, 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, will be a sophomore starter this fall.
• In the coming weeks “Have Fun or Get Out of the Way” will have a number of Daily Telegram original articles including “Bogojevic Destroys Enger Tower,” “The Last Leatherhead” and “Morrie Arnovich and the American Dream.” Don’t miss them. For subscriptions to the Telegram, call 395-5000. Tell them Billy and Lance sent you.