St. Peter High School 50 years ago looked a lot different than it does now. 

Girls weren't given the opportunity to participate in competitive sports and had to get their fix in the Girls Athletic Association, competing against classmates, or through activities like cheerleading. The school building was filled with strictly the traditional classrooms, a far cry from the new building opened last year. And teachers and administrators operated with far less oversight, making for a variety of personalities for students to encounter.

But what was the same then is class camaraderie, shared experience and stories carried on for years that only the people there could say for sure are true.

On Homecoming weekend at St. Peter High School, Oct. 4-5, the class of 1969 will reunite after graduating 50 years ago. Members of the class looked back, reflecting on their personal experiences at the school and in the class.

The class members

Yvonne Splettstoeser (Bonnie Menk) was in the class from kindergarten, involved in a number of activities and helping to lead this year's reunion. She became a nurse after high school and now lives in Savage.

Cleo Simonett started with the class in kindergarten but didn't join back up until freshman year, attending John Ireland Catholic School in between. She also was involved in many activities, including drama and speech. She since became an actress, doing shows with the Guthrie and at Chanhassen, and then taught at elementary schools. She now lives in Minneapolis.

Tom Roggow started with the class in kindegarten and was a three-sport athlete, but also participated in theater and other non-athletic activities. He went on to work for the state, including at the Minnesota Security Hospital for 20 years. Other then about nine years away, he's lived in St. Peter his whole life.

Steve Neils started in kindergarten, too, eventually becoming the class president and the football captain. He went on to play football at the University of Minnesota and then became a professional football player for the St. Louis Cardinals and then an investment advisor. He now lives in Woodbury.

What did you do in high school?

Yvonne: I was a cheerleader, which back then was the only physical activity that the girls could do, except for GAA, which was the Girls Athletic Association. We played basketball against each other; we went bowling. They had physical activities for us to really enjoy. Back 50 years ago, the girls really didn’t get a chance to play sports. And I guess I tried to do a little bit of everything. I tried to do a little bit of drama, some debate; I was in the Pep Club.

Cleo: There weren’t any sports for girls – I wish there were – but I liked to move and still do, so I was a cheerleader all four years. I was in choir and was the accompanist for the choir, which I’ll be doing for the reunion – playing keyboard. I was in drama and speech. I made it to the state competition and won a regional acting award. None of that stuff is too important to me now, but it was at the time.

Tom: I was a three-sport athlete: football, basketball and track. I did choir throughout junior and senior high, theater, computer club, although that was barely an existence. It was the beginning of computers. Our school was on a shared system with I don’t know how many schools – it was some company’s mainframe. We had access for an hour to that company’s mainframe. We could write up our own programs, which we’re extremely basic. When it was our turn, you fed the paper, and it would spit out whatever results it could come up with.

Steve: I was the class president. I played football, baseball, basketball. I was in National Honor Society. I was captain of the football team along with Tom Witty.

What classes or teachers still stand out to you?

Steve: I particularly remember all of my coaches, even the ones I didn’t have. I always admired all of my coaches to think they could corral as many of us as they could and keep us under control. I thought they were all good leaders, and I thought that made a lot of difference playing at the U or going on to the NFL. Dick Johnson coached football. Vince McMahon was also a football coach. Dennis Boreen in baseball. Frank Fredland was the basketball coach.

Tom: William Harvey in English. He was class counselor to I don’t how many classes, but there were many who selected him. He was a gentleman’s gentleman almost. He wore a three-piece suit every day. And every student was Mr. Tom or Ms. Nancy – very proper English. He had poet’s corner, because he would give us poetry to memorize and recite in front of the class, and if you didn’t recite it well enough, there was a stool in the corner looking outside the building you had to sit on. I still recall a few of those poems.

Cleo: Patricia Wilharber taught physical education. She was also our cheerleading coach, and she was the only coach I ever had there. She got to know us on a personal level. She would drive us up to Minneapolis once per year to see a big screen movie. We saw "Funny Girl," "Gone With the Wind." She helped broaden our worlds. And she talked to us seriously about things, like, ‘Don’t wear a girdle, because your stomach will just get weaker.’ She talked to us, individually, one on one. The other one that was important to me was Mr. Ron Brasseur, the choir teacher. He taught music to the junior high age. He showed an interest in me; he got me singing solos, and when he found out I could play piano, he was like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to use you as the accompanist.’ I still do those things today.

Yvonne: I especially enjoyed (Reuben Waltman), who taught social studies. He was just so kind, and he would walk down the aisle, and if I was taking a test and I had written the wrong answer, he would say, ‘Are you sure that’s what you want to do?’ I found his class really interesting.

What are your fondest memories?

Tom: Well the District 13 basketball championship for one. In 1969, my senior year, we played in a tough conference, the South Central Conference. We were 4-12 in the regular season, but we were seeded like ninth out of 14 teams in the district playoffs, and we knocked off the No. 1, 2 and No. 4 or 5 teams, and we won the thing. That got us up to Williams Arena for regionals, where we ran into St. Paul Central and Dave Winfield. They beat us by probably 15, but the game was probably closer than that. I was also in five theater productions my sophomore through senior years, and I really enjoyed that. I was a little on the shy side, but being in theater kind of opened me up a little bit.

Steve: I think anybody who played on the basketball team our senior year would list that. That was an amazing turnaround and it taught me a lot about positive thinking and mental toughness and believing in yourself and your team. Things really changed on a dime for us. I met my wife (Yvonne Carter Neils). We started dating my sophomore year. She asked me to the Sadie Hawkins Dance.

Yvonne: I was really lucky to, throughout my life, have carried friends that I still travel with every year from high school. There are five of us and we still go somewhere every year together. We’ve been friends since childhood. Time spent with them stands out. They’ve been there all my life. This memory is not so fond, but when we were juniors and seniors, we all went down to the school counselor to talk about life after. He told the girls 'You can be a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher. Which one do you want to be?' Life has changed a lot since then, thankfully.

Cleo: I personally loved the routine of going to school. Maybe that’s why I became a teacher eventually. I like the community support. And then the socializing was really fun. They’d have dances in the gym on Friday nights or some special occasion, and that was a big deal. Riding the buses to athletic events. I enjoyed classes. And just good friendships. Another thing I liked … I grew up in a single-parent family, and the coaches would take shifts in the lunch room, and they would stop you and ask 'How are you doing?' and all of that was really important.

What do you get out of these reunions?

Cleo: Especially with working on this committee over the year and getting close to people again, it’s been enriching to hear some of the challenges they’ve had in their lives and how they’ve dealt with them, and the successes. The other thing, for me, that’s interesting, is that I know we look older and have grown up more, but there is an essence to each of us that was the same back in high school and even back in elementary school. 

Steve: It’s just a chance to see everyone again. We haven’t had one in quite a while, and there are a number of people I haven’t seen since high school. It’s just to touch base with everybody. Most of us are retired or only working because we want to. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to what all these other students think of the new high school.

Tom: We haven’t had that many. It’s been quite a while since we had one. I see a lot of the people that I played sports with, was in theater with, or knew for whatever reason. I have a chance to catch up with them, because there are a lot scattered all around the country. 

Yvonne: I think that, because we all share common experiences in both elementary and high school – same teacher, same coaches – there are some things that some people just can’t fully understand that we get. The other thing is that working on this reunion has been so much fun. It’s also fun to look at our teachers through different sets of eyes. We can look back as older adults and see things in a different way.

Reach Editor Philip Weyhe at 507-931-8567 or follow him on Twitter @EditorPhilipWeyhe. ©Copyright 2019 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved. 

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