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Class of '68 makes history

Some of the memorabilia on display at the 50th reunion for the Morris Class of 1968. The class was the last to graduate from the old high school. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times1 / 4
Frank Staebler, left, and Betty Sauter talk during the Morris Class of 1968 reunion on Sept. 29. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times2 / 4
From left, Terry Swanson, Sharon Koehl and Martha Haupert, members of the Morris High School Class of 1968 talk during the Sept. 29 reunion. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times3 / 4
A photo of the old Morris elementary and high school. The class of 1968 was the last class to graduate from the high school. 4 / 4

Although it won't be recorded in any national history books or any nationally known history websites, the Morris High School Class of 1968 made its own history that year.

The class of about 150 students was the last to graduate from the old high school. The class of 1969 would be the first to graduate from the new high school which is still used today.

The old high school was located on top of the hill on Columbia Avenue and East 6th Street. The school building was demolished in 2013.

Students who attended the 50th class reunion on Sept. 29 said they don't remember much mention of the historical significance of the last class to graduate from the old school while they were in school in 1967-1968. They do, however, have many memories of the old school and campus.

"I remember having to run up that frickin' hill up and down in (football) drills to get in shape. Up and down that hill," said Brad Laager.

"As little kids we would roll down that hill," Carol Riley of Morris said.

As high-schoolers, they tried not to fall down that hill while running in a snake charm formation during homecoming.

Riley loved the huge windows that overlooked the football field.

"Boy, I loved the whole thing," Terry Swanson of Minneapolis said. She liked the woodshop, the band room, the cafeteria.... The school's 'new gym' didn't have a regulation court and the old gym didn't have any head room, Swanson said.

The theater was Gretchen (Leuty) Weiler's favorite room. "Because I was in every play," she said. Her favorite role was , "'Eliza in Pygmalion'," Weiler, of Eden Prairie said.

The students started their senior year after the Detroit race riots in the summer of 1967. Thurgood Marshall would be the first black man to be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court in August, 1967. Forty-thousand people protested the war at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco in 1967. The TeT Offensive happened Jan. 30 and 31 of 1968. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. would be assassinated in Memphis. The U.S. also had about 475,000 troops in Vietnam in 1967.

The Vietnam War, "That was staring at most of the guys in the class (after graduation), Maurie Weiler of Eden Prairie said.

He figured at least half of the male students served in the military during the war.

Weiler and Frank Staebler both had careers in the Navy as helicopter pilots. Their military careers started as the Vietnam War was winding down. "I just missed Vietnam," Staebler said. "I had a very low draft number:"

Staebler said he wasn't thinking about the war as much as "'What am I going to do after I graduate?'" he said. He tried junior college for a while but when he saw an advertisement about flying his own jet, he decided to join the Navy,

Although graduates said they were aware of events happening around the U.S. and the world, life at Morris High School was insulated.

"We were so insulated," Gretchen Weiler said.

"We had our own little world," Nancy Tetrault of Centennial, Colorado, said.

The seniors were supposed to start classes at the new school but because building referendums failed twice before it passed, the seniors were still in the old which was bursting at the seams.

The high school and junior high students were on a split school days. Classes ran from 7 a.m. to noon for high school students and from 12:50 p.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. for junior high students.

Some seniors scheduled a study hall at 7 a.m. and since they didn't have to be in study hall, they didn't get to school until 8 a.m. Others like Ardis Leismeister and Steve Loge found a way to sometimes skip school.

An assisted living facility and an apartment complex sit on what used to be the football field, track and practice field on old school campus.

Maurie Weiler said that several years ago the school district was in the process of discarding old trophies and memorabilia including items from his high school years. Items were being sold at auction, he said.

"That didn't make me very happy," Maurie Weiler said. He was able to buy several trophies and other items. His purchases included the 1967 football helmet commemorating the conference championship.

Most students said they don't have any memorabilia from the old school. A few said they got to take one last look before it was torn down several years ago.

"It was heartbreaking to me, just like I think it was to all of us, just to see it gone," Terrault said.

The school is gone but its last graduating class continues.