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Great Falls High School, Great Falls, MT May 8, 2007

Posted by gregquill in Uncategorized.


I just opened a time capsule.

In 1805, explorers Lewis and Clark, following the Missouri River to find a northwest passage to the Pacific, were the first white men to find the series of rapids and five waterfalls on the river east of the Rocky Mountains. The area is near the geographic center of what would become Montana. In 1882, railroad men decided to build a town there as a way point on the transcontinental railroad. It was laid out with precisely straight streets, hundreds of acres of parks, and they planted oak, ash and elm trees. It was named Great Falls. Seven years later, Montana was admitted to the Union.Not 60 years after the city was founded, its population had mushroomed to 40,000. The Great Falls High School was built in 1929 and opened in 1930.

My Mom was born in 1922 in a very small town 100 miles southeast of Great Falls. The nearby lake had been named Judith by Lewis and Clark, and Judith Gap became the name of the town. It got its first post office in 1908.

My Grandmother Marie (Ness) Roney had four children by her French Canadian trapper husband, Jack, before he abandoned the family on their homestead in Judith Gap. My Mom was the youngest. Marie moved the family to Great Falls in the 1920’s, selling the Judith Gap homestead and buying a boarding house, for there were decent schools in Great Falls. Her boarders were miners: copper, gold and silver were their prey in Montana. Marie took in laundry to supplement their depression era income.

Two weeks ago, I located a copy of the Great Falls High School yearbook from 1940 on the Internet. The Roney family moved around that time to Washington DC so that the oldest son, Jack, could accept a radio announcer’s job. My Mom was in the class of 1940. Mom is not listed in the yearbook, indicating that the family had moved before her senior year to Washington DC; but her cousin Orville “Buddy” Ness has a photo and a brief note. He was a senior that year. I met him in 1956, when he traveled from Minnesota to Park Forest, Il, to visit my mother.

I think now that my Mom graduated from Anacostia High in Washington. But I am sure that she attended Great Falls High for her freshman, sophomore and perhaps junior years. And her brother Jack and her sister Virginia graduated from GFHS with honors. Virginia played the violin, and Jack was the high school sports announcer and later the announcer on a new radio program, “Meet the Press”.

The yearbook is a real time capsule to me. I drove by the school three times, when I drove through Great Falls going to and coming from Glacier National Park last year; and once in about 1959, on a car trip from Chicago with my parents. It’s still in use, and a big part of Great Falls life in 2007. Inside the yearbook, it comes alive in 1940, with kids who looked like my high school classmates and like my kids did at that time in their life. The clothes and the hairstyles reflect the time, as do the inked inscriptions over the portraits:

“To a swell guy and a good bicycle rider. Thanks for treating her as you have!! -Darrell Eaton, ‘Tailspin’.”

“Well, I’ll wish you luck anyway. Even though I shouldn’t. Big Pest! -Doris Stocker ‘43

“Best of luck to my boyfriend. –M.N. Muggs”

“Here’s to a swell kid. –Naomi Luper”

Their faces are full of optimism. Many hope to leave Great Falls, for the big cities of Omaha, Minneapolis or even Chicago. The newsreels show the war in Europe, which raised tensions in Great Falls, though the United States hasn’t joined it yet. They write of their ambitions: to be a home economics teacher, or a music composer and arranger, a nurse, a motion picture executive. To drive a car.

There are pictures of the hallways as classes change, and of dances, and football games, and the Booster Carnival. They wore leather football helmets that year. The Great Falls Bisons played an 8 and 3 season, including a bonus game on Thanksgiving Day and another on Armistice Day (November 11, the end of WWI in 1918). The names of their opponents mirrored the western flavor of their state: the Blue Bisons (called the Herd) played the Seagulls of Everett, Wa.; the Maroons of Grand Forks, N.D.; the Copperheads of Anaconda, MT.; the Butte Bulldogs; the Billings Broncs; and the Bozeman Bobkittens. Yep, that’s what it says.

There are probably a few of that class still tending gardens and making dinner in Montana today. They would be 85 years old. My Mom made it to 79, and I know that there was always a warm, sweet spot in her heart for Montana.

I wish we could have read her yearbook – the time capsule – together.



1. Greg Finnegan - May 9, 2007

Sandy, thoughtful comments. One can see the bonds in some of the comments the kids wrote in the yearbook. Much less criticism than today. Kinder and gentler, but stricter, too: treat her right, behave, be a swell kid.

2. Richard - May 24, 2007

After searching for senior portrait photographers we found this site with great photographs of high school seniors at a studio located in San Antonio, Texas.

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