Mile Markers: a message to classmates


We recently passed a noteworthy mile marker on our journey through life.

John Lundberg’s death, June 27, is the 89th In Memory entry on our class website. For a class of 356, it means one quarter of our classmates have died.

These are the boys and girls we played with in our neighborhoods, in band, on sports teams, and competed against for the attention of teachers and cute members of the opposite sex. Never again will be able to smile as we talk with them about those “good old days” at class reunions.

Take a deep breath, and think again: the glass is three-quarters full.

We have aches and pains. We’ve gained a bit of weight. We see doctors more frequently and take medications. For exercise, we walk instead of run. Senior moments are more frequent and annoying.

But we also enjoy friends and family. A good number of us travel (or at least did before the pandemic). We have found new, meaningful activities to fulfill our days. We share stories on Facebook and here, and write of seeing each other at the next reunion.

That’s another mile marker just down the road: the 60th anniversary of our graduation from high school.

Will we? Dare we for our own health plan a reunion next year? Until there’s a successful Covid-19 vaccine widely available, we can’t answer that question yet. Maybe in six months. For now, just something to think about. The Class of ’61 could celebrate 61 years in 2022.

In the meantime, for our own sake let’s do our part by social distancing and wearing masks.

Take care of yourself.


Write your obituary. I just did

With the Corona Virus Pandemic keeping us at home, this is a perfect opportunity to research and write yours. You will do your loved ones, a reporter or anyone trying to write your death notice, and yourself a favor.

Reporters and funeral home employees may be asking your loved ones for information that might not be at the tip of their tongue at a time when they are grieving and trying to make arrangements for a memorial service. The exact date and location of your birth? When did you graduate from high school? College? What degree? What was your most remarkable achievement? A turning point in your career?

Perhaps you can appreciate why every now and then a newspaper columnist urges readers to write their own obituary. Reporters appreciate accurate information and the ability to obtain it with minimal intrusiveness at an emotional time. It may also give your loved ones an opportunity to say something like "What I really loved/admired/appreciated about him/her was …."

I write this as a journalist interested in helping you accurately fashion your last message.

I do not write this because of my age and, at 70-plus, greater risk of death from the Pandemic.

I write this because my wife and I, enjoying traveling across Oregon in our RV last September, came across the cleanup of a head on collision involving two RVs. Both drivers were killed and their wives critically injured. Death can come at any moment.

A draft of my obit is in a secure place, and won't be posted as a template. Don't want anyone to inadvertently announce my death prematurely.

The format for a well-written obit is rather simple. In the first paragraph, who you were and your most noteworthy achievement. Like any lead, a reason to read on.

In the second or third paragraph, who announced or confirmed your death, with date and cause of death.

Next tell a story about yourself. Be sure to include your birth date and location, the full name of your parents, your spouse's full name and date of marriage.

Keep it to 350-500 words. Keep it simple. Keep it accurate.

It's your last chance to immortalize yourself.

Helpful hints:

Read a few newspaper obituaries from your local newspaper or The New York Times, which has elevated it to high journalism.

While looking for things to watch during this period of sheltering at home, check out "Obit," a short-lived, feature-length film about the obituary unit at the New York Times. It's available for online rental.

Search the Web for "write your obituary."


The Exceptional Class of '61

Members of the Class of ’61 are proud of what they accomplished after graduating from Mason City (Iowa) High School. It may have set a gold-medal standard rarely, if ever, matched at MCHS.

The 55th reunion, Sept. 16-17, served as perfect time to compile a record of those achievements:

Coleman Hicks worked as a personal assistant to Henry Kissinger (1971-1972), when he was assistant to President Nixon for national security affairs. During the Carter Administration he served two years (1979-1981) as general counsel of the Navy.

In private legal practice, he is credited in U.S Supreme Court documents for preparing the winning brief in Hazelwood (Missouri) School District v. United States, a 1977 discrimination case. (According to an August 2004 obituary, Hicks prepared the brief in Hazelwood (same school district) v. Kuhlmeier, a major case involving censorship of high school papers. That is not confirmed by Supreme Court documents.)

Stephanie (Dibble) Starrett worked in the Office of the Secretary when Kissinger was Secretary of State. In a 2011 post on the class’ website, she describes Kissinger as fascinating and great fun to work for. “When he was relaxing his sense of humor was marvelous, when not relaxing he could be terrifying.”

In their separate assignments, Starrett and Hicks both traveled to Portugal for a pre-Moscow summit meeting in 1972. Their duties for the day completed, these two classmates from Mason City had dinner together – in the Azores.

Gary Burhite served 25 years in the Air Force, retiring as a colonel. His piloting experience included a wide range of aircraft, from helicopters to two-engine supersonic T-38 Talons (later flown by the Thunderbirds). Of flying jet trainers, he writes: “loved the formation flying and aerobatics, but hated spin recoveries.”

Burhite says his most rewarding post was working on SARSAT, new technology that narrowed the search area for a downed aircraft from 600 miles in diameter to five! (It is now closer to one.)  His duties included attending quarterly international conferences all over the world, including in Moscow where, he writes, “I was thankful to be traveling in a civilian suit, but my room was still bugged and my bags were searched every time I left the room.”


Nancy (Pearson) Gunther embraced then-new computer technology at Sperry Univac, and spent a 35-year career working on command and control systems for the Navy, first on surface ships and later submarines. She lists as especially rewarding supervising an application for Tomahawk cruise missile targeting widely used in the Gulf wars.

But Gunther writes her two proudest accomplishments were starting offices in Montreal, Canada, and Camarillo, California, where she had the task of staffing the offices while trying to perform to schedules.

Judy (Kapke) Liston was one of three vice presidents of systems development at MCI WorldCom, supervising 350 employees in several U.S. cities and London.  The work included making systems in the U.S. and Europe “see” circuits around the world.

At a time when opportunities for college-educated women were limited – teaching or nursing – these MCHS classmates embraced new technology, and entered a world dominated by men.  Gunther was the only woman hired into a department of nearly 200 men and for years was the only female in any type of technical management. Each had one female boss during a 35-year career. These two classmates were pioneers.

Robert Peterson likes to say he changed the way the earth is moved. In 1972, working for FMC Link-Belt, he suggested putting joysticks on the ends of armrests to control the bucket and boom arm of backhoes. The joystick would replace six or more floor-mounted levers, difficult to operate.

His concept was introduced on a new excavator at the World Construction Industry Exposition in 1973 and in three years it was the industry standard. Peterson writes: “Every time I drive by an excavator, I have a bit of a smile on my face…knowing that I invented the control system that’s used worldwide.

William Hannaman, a nuclear engineer, traveled the world advising the owners of nuclear reactors in foreign countries on ways to keep their aging facilities safe.


Eight classmates became physicians. David MacMillan, who provided the list, and Mike Gregson had family practices. Dick Adams was a general surgeon and Jim Puhl became pediatric surgeons. The other four and their specialties: Dick Pitman, radiology; Gerald McCoid, ENT (ear, nose and throat); Jim Hall, obstetrics-gynecology; and Ronald Hansen, pediatric dermatology.

Hansen is the co-author of “Pediatric Dermatology” which he calls the “gold standard” textbook in its field. Hall delivered 4307 babies over four decades and is proud he was never named in a malpractice suit.

In related health care fields, William McArthur spent a career in dental education, much of it at the University of Florida where he was an associate dean and director of the school’s Periodontal Disease Research Center.

David Martin, the class president, was a podiatrist -- after a first career in music education.

Dudley (Skip) Farrell earned his doctorate in audiology and worked at Veterans Affairs medical centers, including more than 25 as unit manager in Omaha. He supervised the student intern program and for 10 years was on the University of Nebraska-Omaha graduate faculty.

Only now is hearing loss being more widely appreciated as boomers a ge and medical research points toward a link between hearing loss and dementia.

Reflecting on the education of the M.D.s, MacMillan counts five members of the Class of ‘61 who started at MCJC (Mason City Junior College, then under the school board) and moved on to the University of Iowa College of Medicine. “We were fortunate to have MCHS and MCJC both in our community with so many outstanding teachers and classmates!”


Dick Angel was vice president and general manager of the industrial division of Schaeffler Group, N.A., the largest manufacturer in the world of bearings. He managed 1500 employees at five plants in the U.S. operation of the German company, turning out bearings for customers like GE, John Deere and Harley- Davidson.

Roger Heimbuch retired from General Motors as Engineering Director for Global Materials, Fastening and Vehicle Recycling Engineering. He writes he received outstanding engineering achievement awards from Iowa State University and the University of Michigan.

Bill Swift served as vice president-finance at Ford Motor Company. He started as Ford introduced the Mustang and left as the last model of the Thunderbird rolled off the assembly line. In 2000 the automaker recorded record profits.

Marvin Goldstein had a long successful career in the retail business – before stumbling. In 1989 he was named president of Dayton-Hudson (now Target) and a year later to chairman and CEO. He left Target in 1994.

In 2003 he entered a guilty plea to charges of insider trading. A federal judge sentenced him to one month in prison followed by five month’s home detention. Goldstein agreed to pay $1 million in fines and donations.


To turn personal, my 35 years in broadcast news involved covering a wide range of stories. Most emotional were farmers in fear of losing the family farm and older auto workers – too young to qualify for retirement and too old to retrain, wondering how they would put food on the family table.  We followed parents and wives as they agonized over the fate of their loved ones who were held captive at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

A colleague put it well: It was so rewarding to have the opportunity to make two or three minute movies that helped the 15 million people who saw them on NBC Nightly News understand their world.

Robert Reynolds, as an Army radio/television reporter, helped military personnel stationed overseas, sometime under difficult circumstances, understand their world. He interviewed a wide range of newsmakers, from generals to celebrities, including President Reagan during a trip to Korea.

J.J. Long developed an interest in genealogy in high school, with no idea how close to home his research would end. In 2010 he published a 526-page book, “My Long Family History,” and presented a copy to the Mason City Public Library. The Globe Gazette covered the presentation and featured it on the front page.

The twist to this story is what he and his parents didn’t know while living in Mason City: Long’s great-granduncle, John B. Long, Sr., co-founded the community in the 1850s, laid out the plat of the city and gave it the Mason City name.

Jim Brust, a middle school principal at Linn-Mar, Marion, Iowa, headed two schools honored as First in the Nation, a state of Iowa award the goes to three or four of the state’s 280 school districts.

Nancy (Reed) Wehr, was exceptional for the time by merely earning a Ph.D. in science – botany – and taught high school science for 21 years, a chance to inspire a few of her female students.

Judy (Slade) McCaskey was a first grade educator for more than 40 years. She was nominated for a Golden Apple award, a program to recognize the best teachers in Illinois. She and her husband, Ray, provide scholarships for Chicago inner city youths to attend Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa.

Over the years, Slade served on the boards of 10 not for profit organizations. Beginning in the late 1990s she was a member of the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Woman under two Illinois governors – a Republican and a Democrat.


Becky (Smith) Booth limited herself to one not for profit organization – for very personal reasons. Beginning in 1987 four members of her immediate family were diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Disorder Hyperactivity Disorder).  She started a small support group of other parents, as she wrote, “bewildered” about parenting and school difficulties. Over the years it expanded in size and scope.

The chapter affiliated with CHADD, a national ADHD non-profit. Smith attended nine international conferences to learn the latest research about the disorder, and was named CHADD Coordinator of the Year in 1996. She concludes: “I have received priceless counsel and support for our family’s journey.”

Mary (Paulson) Kramer started in retailing at an expensive, high end department store in New York City. But after a few years, she got tired, as she wrote, of “convincing the public they needed to buy something they may not need, spending too much money, and then telling them two months later it was out of date.”

She returned to school, got a B.S. in Nursing and worked for nearly 40 years as a nurse and manager in coronary care. She taught courses and established programs, including a state certified stroke program. “At the end of the day,” Kramer says, “it feels good to know that along the way I have touched people’s lives in times of crisis…”

What made the MCHS Class of ’61 so exceptional that it can lay claim to a gold-medal standard? At the top of the list, classmates write, was an exceptionally strong, often inspiring faculty.

The class came to learn, took lessons to heart, went out in the world, and did good work.

Might Hearing Aids Stave Off Dementia?

Classmates, I’m posting this on our group site because this could be valuable information that might just prompt you appreciate the seriousness of the hearing loss a good many of us at our age experience.

And we may be all too familiar with the dementia of a loved one, as I did with my mother. I often wonder in my trips to Mason City to visit her if she even recognized me behind a blank stare.

A study released this week suggests there might be a link between hearing loss and dementia. In a nutshell, trying to hear might require so much effort that it overwhelms the ability to process the message and respond to it. The research also suggests that hearing aids could be beneficial in avoiding, or at least delaying, dementia.

Which brings me to the real point of this post: If you suffer hearing loss, seek help!

You are not alone. A number of your classmates, myself included, use hearing aids. At the time of our 2011 class reunion, I had taken a hearing test and knew I needed a pair of hearing aids. With the subject on my mind, I may have been more aware than most of you of the number of classmates with hearing aids. (They’re subtle enough these days you really have to look for them.)

Unfortunately, Medicare and most insurance plans don’t cover hearing aids, and too many vendors are all too eager to charge inflated prices. Fortunately I had a chance conversation at our reunion with one of our classmates, Dudley Farrell, a retired clinical audiologist with may years at the V.A. He gave me some general guidance that I found most helpful but no specific recommendations.

I’ve been wearing hearing aids for 16 months. They make a big difference both around home – wife Elaine and I can listen to TV at the same volume level – in restaurants/bars – a second mode is very effective at filtering out background noise. Only after trying them at a couple symphony concerts did I realized the range of tones I had been missing.

Based on my research and experiences, here’s some guidance for those of you who might be a bit overwhelmed by the options.

First, if you are V.A. eligible, that’s the place to go. If you are not, and there’s a Costco near you, go there. Yes, Costco. The V.A. and Costco have the volume to leverage discounts from vendors.

I got an excellent pair of hearing aids – and good service  – from Costco for $2600. (For more about my experience, scroll down to the bottom of this post.)  A Consumer Reports survey out in 2011 put the average price reported by its readers at $3500 to $4000. My advice, if a hearing center wants more than that, get a second opinion.

But don’t delay.

My Costco Experience

I've worn a pair of hearing aids from Costco for 16 months, with complete satisfaction. (No, I don't work for the company, nor do any relatives.) Here's my story:

Costco's initial offer is a 90-day trial with full refund -- in contrast to the 30 days, with 10 percent restocking charge (meaning not really free) offered by a audiology outfit. I was told to make regular visits to Costco for adjustments -- in my case, the audiologist suggested two or three times (roughly monthly) -- which I did.

After that, return visits are encouraged. In fact, when I went several months before having the tulips replaced (they wear out), I was encouraged to visit once every two or three months.

The space is spartan, and there's no assistant to take my call. But I find it easy to schedule an appointment via email.

The audiology outfit tried to fleece me of $7100 for a pair -- with a bait-and-switch to a mere $5600 for an inferior option. (Remember, with that 10 percent restocking charge.)

I got an excellent pair for $2600 -- for the pair. And the service is just fine.


Title IX: You've Come a Long Way, Women

This weekend marked the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, the federal law that requires equal treatment in education. While it covered much more, it is largely defined – and at times still challenged – in terms of sports.

Here are just a few personal observations of how things have changed.

It turns out, 1972 was also the first year women were allowed to register to run the Boston Marathon. Five years earlier, with a little help from friends, Kathrine Switzer had obtained a racing bib by registering as “K. Switzer.” When they learned of the deceit, race officials tried to force her off the course.

When I entered my first races in 1981, a Title IX gap was still very much in evidence. The female winners tended to be under 25 or over 40. Missing were women in their late 20s or 30s.

The older ones tended to be women who had found the time to take up running on their own, found they had a knack for it, and made it part of their lifestyle. The younger gals had gone to high schools that had either started or upgraded girls’ track programs. Thank you, Title IX.

But my best examples involve basketball. It was only after Title IX that colleges embraced women’s basketball as we know it. It was an easy way to construct a sport parallel to the men’s game, if nothing else. DePaul University, for example, started its program in 1974.

Today, DePaul, consistently ranked in the Top 25, is a member of the Big East (a league strong on basketball). We can watch the Blue Demons do battle in exciting games with some of the nation’s best teams. (With a shorter shot clock, I find the women’s college game more exciting than the men’s.) These women are the benefactors of a law that requires schools and universities to give them an equal opportunity.

Another example: When we were in junior high school in the 1950s, the girls in our class could had a choice of two sports – golf and tennis. No basketball. (Some schools around the country played a six-member, half-court game for girls.) My classmates were 15 years too early to benefit from Title IX.

Today, Gwen, a granddaughter of the neighbors at our Wisconsin getaway property, can play on her middle school team and set a goal of becoming a starter as a freshman when she moves on to high school. This summer, she enrolled in a basketball camp at UW-Green Bay. Green Bay has a very successful women’s basketball program that made the Sweet 16 in 2011.

With a lot of hard work and a little luck, Gwen can dream of attending UW-Green Bay on a basketball scholarship. A dream made possible by Title IX.


A Snapshot of my Home Town

Our 50th high school reunion started with dinner and drinks at Mason City’s best steak house. It was a perfect venue to launch three days of fun with great classmates.

From the restaurant’s parking lot one could look across an open field directly at one of the city’s two massive cement plants. In the soft glow of evening light, something didn’t look right. Some lights were on, but otherwise it showed no signs of life. Had this plant – once one of the four largest industrial employers – closed?

For the last two decades visits to my Iowa home town have been limited to class reunions every five years. Each trip I collect a handful of impressions, like the cement plant, in an effort to understand how Mason City has changed over the decades.

On this trip, in September 2011, the downtown Southbridge Mall seemed too quiet, the B&B where we were staying was due to close at the end of the month, and the very modest family home, which I sold 20 years ago, looked unchanged except for a few broken stones on the front porch.

Other images were more encouraging: The library, 50 years ago a source of great civic pride – both for the quality of its collection and the building that housed it – had been restored. So too had an architectural gem, the only remaining hotel building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, reopened as Wright in the Park.

Months later, the reunion a pleasant memory, I can now combine those images with a bit of online research to get a better understanding of how things are going in Mason City.

The Decker House B&B has reopened with new innkeepers who have expanded the scope of the business to accommodate meetings and parties on the first floor. Its Web site advertises a discount for business travelers who stay in one of its six rooms.

Wright on the Park, with 27 rooms, is just four blocks away. It is a must-stay for visitors wanting to experience the city’s rich, Wright-linked architecture. However, the hotel got mixed reviews from classmates who stayed there.

The nagging concern I have is that downtown Mason City may not generate the demand to regularly fill the 33 rooms of these two niche facilities. In addition, they seem too far from Interstate 35 to attract travelers just looking for a room for the night. I hope my fears prove unfounded.

The downtown Southbridge Mall is not a fair snapshot of Mason City retail. State Highway 122 (4th St. SW) is the main retail route, extending for miles from downtown to the airport, the Interstate and neighboring Clear Lake. That’s where the big boxes are. From what I saw during a Saturday drive, their parking lots suggested the stores were busy. A walk through Southbridge may only underscore a change in consumer shopping preferences.

Unfortunately, my reporter’s instinct about the cement plant was correct. Production at Northwestern State Portland Cement ceased in August 2009. According to the owners, Holcium, of Switzerland, it may resume production if demand for cement picks up. In the meantime, the lights remain on for a mere three employees. keeping watch over the mothballed plant, in part to keep permits and licenses from expiring.

Of the four major industrial plants that together employed close to 2000 workers in the 1950s, only one remains: the other cement plant. Lehigh, now part of the Heidleberg Cement Group, of Germany – employs about 165 workers.

The Northwestern hulk is, indeed, a ghostly reminder of decades of decline.




Two Thoughts on Images of Music Man Square

Thursday, five days before the Iowa Caucuses, scenes of Music Man Square made the national news. There in the background behind Mitt Romney was the distinctive awning of the Birdsall ice cream shop. On NBC’s Evening News, the reporter was standing live in front of the entrance to Music Man Square.

That took me back to mid-September when the Class of ‘61 took over Reunion Hall for two nights. Bryan Way reinforced that flashback New Year’s Eve when he posted updates, complete with new pictures, to our class website.

Looking at images of both events brought two thoughts – not connected to each other or politics – to mind.

First, in many respects the use of Music Man Square for a political rally is a natural. It projects downhome images candidates love: touring family farms, kissing babies and eating apple pie -- in this case with a scoop of Birdsall ice cream on the top. (Never mind that Professor Harold Hill, the lead character in the musical, was a conman.)

But wouldn’t it have been nice if the same rally had been in the meeting space of the Historic Park Inn. The only remaining hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, it has been so beautifully restored thanks to the tireless effort of proud residents and volunteers who formed the non-profit Wright on the Park. Wouldn’t it have been nice if that NBC Correspondent had stood in front of the hotel – giving the nation a glimpse of this architectural gem, and a hint of another dimension of Mason City?

Second, those who attended the rally had smiles on their faces. I don’t presume to assess how rewarding their experience was.

But, classmates, didn’t we have a great time? We didn’t just party. We had an opportunity to share a half century of memories, to learn – even after all these years -- more about each other, and to appreciate how far we’ve journeyed. Those were meaningful moments.

Politicians come and go. Memories are forever.



50/25: Two Very Special Reunions (in 2 Posts)

Two reunions this summer, celebrating events separated by 25 years, give me great memories of just how fortunate I am to know them.

I grew up with one group, and party and travel with the other. Because of their length, I’ve split them into two entries.




Hit the rewind button, we’re going back half a century.

In September graduates of the Class of ‘61 celebrated the 50th anniversary of our high school commencement. Over four days, we shared stories of growing up in Mason City, Iowa, attending the city’s schools and decades of life after high school.

First and foremost, we had fun. Nothing says people with gray hair and a few more pounds can’t have a great time.

When I think back on the weekend, several things stood out in my mind: How quickly we started enjoying each other. We picked up conversations like we would with a friend seen every few months. Perhaps most amazing, our ever-open minds led us to discover classmates we never knew.

Technology helped. Most of us had contributed biographical information to a class website before the reunion. Just over 50 of us had also joined a Facebook page. At previous reunions – we’ve met every five – we picked up a reunion book on the first night and had no time to read it before the first gathering. This time we could do that “homework” in advance.

We may be on Medicare, but we do use a computer.

At the last minute, a Thursday night dinner was added. Some 60 of us, spouses included, dined at the city’s best known steakhouse, then adjourned to an upstairs space to have more drinks and a lot more conversation.

We had a head start on reconnecting.

No one came to the event to push an and agenda – political, religious or otherwise. An early attempt to do that on the website was quickly shot down. For this weekend, we put any difference aside to enjoy those days when our youth crossed the line into early adulthood.


Our memories don’t just go back 50 years. For some, who grew up in the same neighborhood, they pre-date school. For others, our lives crossed paths in elementary school or at the start of junior high. By high school (10th grade), even though we didn’t all know each other, we at least shared experiences being part of the smartest class in 20 years in a very good school system in a thriving city.

The reunion turnout was amazing. Of 357 graduates, 300 are alive and accounted for. And 127 – nearly 40 percent – attended a weekend event. That’s an amazing turnout. Was it because it was the 50th? Because most of us are retired and free to travel? Or because we have good memories of high school and past reunions?

Most amazing to me was connecting with classmates I never really knew -- with whom I didn’t share classes, social circles, neighborhoods or extra-circular activities. I traded stories about running with a retired CEO and his wife. Like me, he is still pounding the pavement at 68.

With another, I informed him the house he grew up in and recently had been a B&B was about to close, and he shared some of his professional expertize about hearing aids.

My best example is a nuclear engineer who works as a consultant to the operators of nuclear plants around the world, advising them on safety issues.

We went to different elementary schools before attending the same junior high school, but don’t remember each other from those days. By high school we were pursuing different interests and activities.

Somehow we connected at the reunion. We started talking on Thursday – he liked the blog entries I had written in advance of the reunion -- and by Saturday we sat at the same table and shared stories until the bitter end.

Like, when a limited number of honors classes were created staring in 9th grade, we were crushed that we didn’t make the cut. We were in that second class, just a notch below. After successful careers, we could laugh at that.

At one point, he turned to me and said something close to “where have you been all of our lives?”

Good question.

And one worth exploring. In the months ahead, and at the 55th reunion.



[For the other half of this trip down memory lane, scroll down to the next entry in norblog, or click here.]




Classmates: My How Things Have Changed. Numbers Tell the Story

Ten years ago, at our 40th class reunion, we were grumbling about the price of gasoline which had recently topped $2 a gallon in Chicago. Now it’s a little over $4 in the Windy City and we were happy to pay a mere $3.74 near our rural Wisconsin getaway property over the Labor Day weekend.

In 1961, as high school seniors, we paid 31 cents a gallon to cruise Federal Avenue. Adjusted for inflation, that same gallon of gasoline would coast $2.34 today, according to the US Inflation Calculator.

Mostly the difference is a reflection of dramatic increases in demand, both in the U.S. and emerging countries like China and India.

Even $4 is a bargain compared to the $7.80 we paid to keep our rental car running last June in Ireland, where fuel is heavily taxed.  (The average U.S. consumer pays 43 cents a gallon in federal and state taxes.)

College Costs

For those of us who enrolled at the University of Iowa in the fall of 1961, tuition, room and board was $880 a year, or $6649 in today’s dollars. In contrast, for freshmen who started classes this fall at Iowa, the university estimates tuition, room and board at $16,515. An increase of nearly $10,000 a year -- $40,000 over four.

State schools have traditionally been an affordable avenue for middle class kids – I was certainly one of them – to get a college degree and climb a rung or two up the ladder. Unfortunately, the higher the price, the more middle class students may find that is no longer an option.

Square Feet

In 1950 the average home in the U.S. was 983 square feet. Was that about the size of your house back then? The average is now up to 2700 square feet. How does your current residence compare?

In my case, I grew up in a pint-sized house in West Haven that was a bit less than 700 square feet. My wife and I are comfortable in 2200 square feet of living space. The new houses under construction in the neighborhood (there are some) run 4200.

Census Results

The good news for Iowans in the 2010 census is the state topped 3 million residents. The bad news is the state, which had eight Congressmen in 1960, is losing another one for next year’s general election – from five to four.

Relative to the national average, Iowa is not expanding nearly as much. Since 1960, it has grown 10.4 percent at a time the U.S. population increased 63 percent (from 189 million to 309 million). If it had grown at that average rate, Iowa would have 4.5 million residents, making it about the size of Kentucky and Louisiana.

For Cerro Gordo county and Mason City (its county seat) the numbers are all down hill.

The county, which had a population of 49,894 when we gradated from high school, is now down to 44,151 or 11.5 percent. The population declined 4.9 percent in the last decade.

Mason City, which peaked at 30,642 in 1960, declined to 28,079 in the current census – a loss of 8.3 percent in the half century. In the last 10 years, it lost just under 1100 residents, or 110 a year.

Put the other way, if Cerro Gordo had kept pace with the nation, it would have a bit over 81,000 residents today, and Mason City would be right at 50,000.

There’s no surprise in these numbers. The depopulation of the nation’s rural heartland is well documented – and not likely to be reversed.


Classmates, Interesting Numbers on Life After 65

[My target audience here is high school classmates, but others on the far side of 50 may find this posting interesting.]

In recent days, I’ve run across some interesting numbers that give us a bit of insight on the nation’s over-65 population:

According to census figures, the number of males over 65 increased 21 percent between 2000 and 2010, nearly twice the 11.2 percent rate for women. Men are closing the longevity gender gap – from roughly four years in 1980 to two.

The quality of life is better. According to a fact sheet released in 2010 by the Council of Contemporary Families, more than half of individuals 85 and over (“old old”) said they had no significant disability and need no help with everyday activities.

According to the IRS, an individual (male or female) who turns 68 has a life expectancy of another 18.6 years – or about 86 years, seven months. That’s a full year longer than the life expectancy table published 20 years ago.

Behind these numbers are important social and economic implications:

  • If the husband lives longer, Social Security pays out more in benefits.
  • Financial planners need to add another year to retirement projections.
  • If couples live longer and enjoy a better quality of life, they may be able to stay in their homes and avoid, or delay, moves to assisted living and nursing homes. And such facilities, now dominated by female residents, will have to adjust to a bit of gender equity as the percentage of males increase.
  • Men and women grieve differently. With a greater chance that men will outlive their wives, social service organizations will have to rethink the support groups they offer to surviving spouses.
  • Some couples will have to decide if they want to stay married for another decade or go their separate ways.

 (For those who want to dig more deeply, the topic was explored in a “Room for Debate” segment on The New York Times online (Aug. 8, 2011). The link may require a subscription.)

On a lighter note, the revised numbers provide new material for comedians and jokesters who like to make light of married life after 65. Since a few of my classmates seem to enjoy posting such humor on Facebook, I’ll step aside and let them give it a go.