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For classmates, memory lane is a long, winding road

These are the Canton High School graduation photos for Juanita Clifton (formerly Juanaita Knox) and Gertrude Ellestad (formerly Gertrude Gossman).

PRESTON — Juanita Clifton and Gertrude Ellestad, the last living graduates of the 16-member Canton High School class of 1936, were separated for decades but, by chance, the two 96-year-olds have been reunited at Traditions of Preston.

It's been a godsend.

They sit at the same table at the assisted living center and can take memory trips with someone who traveled the same roads.

"I'm much happier when I came here and I knew Juanita," Ellestad said. "When you get to be this age, you grasp at straws, and she is the straw."

"We remember the same things," Clifton said, continuing her friend's thought. "She's enough for me. We know the same people."


"That's very important to know the same people," said Ellestad as she and her friend sat in Clifton's room to talk about their lives and that chance meeting. They were asked questions about times they haven't thought about for decades. Many memories brought smiles.

They know it's a very different world from when they knew each other in their teens. It's a world that is, at times, strange to them. Even navigating the intricacies of new telephones perplexes and frustrates Clifton.

But back when they were young, things were better, she said. Yes, even with the Depression and World War II, things were better, Ellestad said.

"I think we have lived in the best of times," she said. They were young back then, they didn't realize how hard things were because they were hard for everyone. They can still remember those years, the times needing stamps to buy a certain amount of meat, the Watkins Wagon coming around.

"It used to be that families were close," Clifton said. They would meet for Sunday dinner. "It was just a different world."

They can relive that world together, as only those who have lived through it can. If one can't remember something, chances are the other will. When asked about the Canton school cheer, Clifton didn't recall it, but Ellestad did.

It went something like, "Boomalacka, boomalacka, bow wow wow, chickalacka, chickalacks chow chow chow." They got a laugh out of that one.

They weren't born in the Canton area but met sometime when they entered high school, so they probably were in a class together.


"I wasn't looking around," Chilfton said.

"I was just as scared as everyone," Ellestad said. "I was so bashful, I never said 'boo' to anybody."

"I can remember walking downtown with you," she said. "I went north and you went south."

And the prom?

"The boys would sit on one side and we on the other," Clifton said, not understanding why boys were so shy. "We weren't going to bite them," she said.

Once they left school, Their paths diverged. Both married and moved around a lot. In later years, they might have seen each other at a local church function but that was all.

Clifton moved to Traditions in August 2013, her friend in February 2014. They, at first, had rooms across from each other.

Both were surprised to discover someone they knew was so close.


"I can't believe after all these years, that we're together," Clifton said. "We have enjoyed each other. It's hard to realize how great it is. You take everything for granted. We're together."

Juanita Clifton and Gertrude Ellestad, who were reunited when they moved into Traditions assisted living center in Preston. look at photos of those they graduated with from Canton High School. They said it's important to them to have someone they knew when they were young to talk to when they're old.

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