A couple of years ago, when I was writing a short story that would become part of my novel, I wanted to place the main character as a student at Rufus King High School in Milwaukee. At the time, I didn't know a whole lot about high school student life just before WWII, so I thought a good way to do a little research would be to check out a yearbook. Even though I was working at a high school, I wanted a city school as my basis for the story, not a small town, so I found a Juneau High School (also in Milwaukee) yearbook from the right era. I used it to see some of the styles worn by kids about to go off to war or wish their brothers would return. These were photos on paper and then in 1s and 0s, etched into history by a scanner, of kids half my own age, some of whom would die in a war, others of whom would simply die of old age, with maybe a few still hanging on to see great-grandchildren. I wrote my story and the feeling of awe from the experience subsided. Then Bekki posted a photo of me from 5th grade graduation, and I was taller than all the other boys in my class, at which point my wife joked about the Ost height that I almost but didn't quite get (Cousin Charlie did).
All of this led to me looking for Ray Ost's high school yearbook so I could see the height I was missing. Here are some of the results of my searching...
First, I found that the 1937 yearbook is not available online. That's his senior year. However, my mom or aunt might have that one, anyhow. It's nearly as interesting that I got to see the 1936 Mayville WI High School yearbook, since he may not have saved it. On second thought, I'm sure he DID save it somewhere, since he had like every Popular Science magazine from the early 30s through the 1980s (which are mostly in my attic right now, and therefore hereditary). Anyhow, I found the '36 yearbook on a pay site, but since I wasn't really sure I'd see all that much for the price, I looked for other options. Classmates.com offered a free version of the yearbook if I joined for free, which I did, as Ray Ost (I think he'd be fine with that). I think the file size of the yearbook was pretty low quality, and they kept pestering me to buy a reprint, but I was able to at least get an idea of what the yearbook is like. Plus, I bet some library in town or at the school has a copy I could look at if it was totally necessary. But it's not, in some way, since I learned some interesting facts about Ray, even if I never see the full-resolution photos.
My mom had told me Grandpa was a football player and that they nicknamed him "Moose." That I knew, but I also saw that his team went undefeated in his junior year and that he made the M Men Major Letter A Squad, which was probably a big deal. However, he seemed to be more on the basketball B squad, even though he did have that height Lisa and I had been discussing. The more surprising parts for me were his participation in other aspects of school, since I'd known he at least played sports. The fact that he was in both the Concert Band and Popular Orchestra was news to me. I never saw either of my grandpas play, but I knew my grandpa on the other side (Franklin Jaeger) was part of a popular local (Ixonia-area) band, responsible for the ire of pastors who suggested he stop playing because his band kept the women out dancing, to which my grandpa told the pastor that he'd stop playing when the women stopped dancing. That story I knew, but Grandpa Ost with a slide trombone?
Besides being in the musical groups, the other interesting facts I learned were that he was the Junior Class Vice-President. Since those types of elections have always been pretty much popularity contests, I guess he was probably fairly popular, but maybe not presidential material (not that I ever was). The last thing I learned, and you can see it if you squint, was that schools allowed taverns (specifically Ost's Tavern) as Patrons back in 1936. I wonder what would happen if a local watering hole tried to sponsor a high school yearbook today.
I hope you have your old yearbooks and you take a look after reading this article. I hope you miss a few people, but I also want you to remember. You and that yearbook are part of history, and maybe it needs to be scanned, uploaded, sent, and shared so that your descendants will have a chance to remember you, even if it's from before you imagined having any descendants.
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