I recently finished reading a story about the 1964 Alaska earthquake. A captivating angle to this book was, like the great broadcaster Paul Harvey used to do, the author told the rest of the story.
Whether it was first responders, geologists, city officials or citizens who performed heroics in the devastation, the book divulged how the rest of their lives unfolded and how the largest earthquake in U.S. history (9.2-magnitude) impacted their destiny.
Recently, I was contacted by Edward and Sharon Dunford, of Rochester. Sharon’s mom, Doris Autio, graduated from the town of Sandstone, Minn., in 1939. Doris passed away two years ago at 96 years of age.
While taking care of her belongings, they found a booklet about Doris’ 50th high school class reunion. The reunion booklet told the rest of the story of many of the graduates up to that point in time.
Edward and Sharon knew that I grew up in Sandstone and asked if I would like the pamphlet. I couldn’t help but want to know more. What dreams and aspirations did Doris and her class have? It’s been 81 years since the class, full of excitement, started on their path.
Doris grew up on a farm, and life wasn't easy. Her family owned workhorses, not tractors. Chores were done daily, cooking was accomplished on a wood stove, laundry was hung outside, and water was hand-pumped.
Today, we are struggling with the current circumstances, but the class of 1939 had an enormous hardship facing them. Did the students pay attention to the newspaper headlines? Did they understand trouble was brewing?
War was already declared against Germany by France, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The war would soon change the trajectories of many lives. Were they worried about it, or more interested in seeing “The Wizard of Oz”?
Doris was a cheerleader for the Sandstone Panthers, and she fell for a player from the rival Hinckley basketball team. After high school, Doris would keep in touch with classmates throughout her life. She loved class reunions. She spoke fondly of class plays, proms — even Latin class.
Thirty students received their diplomas on June 2, 1939. Doris would soon marry that Hinckley guy, Clyde Leyden, in a farmhouse in 1940. They would have four children together.
Doris didn’t have much time for living the dream, as her husband was soon serving in the war. Doris, who by then had two daughters, found a home in Finlayson. There, she would have support from her family during the war years.
Doris loved sports and would always be cheering for the Twins and Vikings. Sharon said her mom loved to help people and was proud of the work she did later in her life, assisting alcohol- and chemically dependent teenagers.
As I read through the 1939 class yearbook, which I had access to through the Sandstone History Center website, I recognized several names. One was Hazel Wahlberg Vork. I remembered this kind woman and thought I would give her son, Ken, a call.
Hazel passed away in August 2019 at 99 years of age. After Hazel graduated, she worked as a bookkeeper and then was hired at the Sandstone State Bank. She met and fell in love with Geoffrey Vork, who worked at the Post Office. They would get married in 1947.
They had three boys, and Ken remembers his mom’s life was always centered on her family and her faith. Ken said she was a homebody in a sense, but was always involved in her church and charitable organizations.
Hazel would tell others about growing up with parents who had a strong faith, and they instilled that faith in their children. Friend Becky Gaede said Hazel once suggested everyone should begin the day with prayer and saying, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Hazel felt it set the tone for the day.
Ken summed up his recollection of his mom by saying he always knew he was loved.
For most, the rest of the story for the Class of 1939 has been told. Doris' and Hazel’s lives centered on their family. Sometimes hopes and dreams evolve into love, children, and eventually, grandchildren. They each lived long lives and were proud of their families.
Despite everything we face, wars or pandemics, it’s easier to meet the challenge surrounded with love. One of the lines in their yearbook class poem reads, "The best we can do is succeed in our calling."
Loren Else lives in Rochester and also writes the Post Bulletin’s “Day in History” column. Send comments and column ideas to Loren at email@example.com.