by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL
Once in a while a newsworthy event happens in Rockford that isn’t a carbon copy of the exact same thing the year before. The following is our coverage of just such a story.
The seeds (no pun intended) for this story were planted in May 1984 when the senior graduating class of Rockford High School (RHS) decided to bury a time capsule containing mementos of the times and of their high school years. This was a special class, because they were the 100th graduating class of the Rockford School System. Being special, they wanted to celebrate their centennial graduation in a special way.
Unique for the times, it was decided to use a concrete burial vault for the time capsule and to paint the exterior in the Rockford school colors of orange and black.
So it came to pass on a school day in early May 1984, just prior to graduation, that the 289 members of the senior class assembled as reported in the May 15 edition of The Rockford Squire newspaper, “to bury a friend of theirs last week. As a matter of fact, they buried lots of friends, ranging from an old beat-up pair of red high-topped tennis shoes (with an interesting past), to a class ring. The class stood around the huge cement box, filling it with newspapers, magazines, clothes, books, sports memorabilia and even an old horn from the band room. The seniors tried to capture a little bit of everything-of what their four years at RHS were all about, and what the year 1984 was like, from popular albums and music, to styles, and favorite hangouts.” Interestingly enough, no record was kept of the contents.
The time capsule vault was buried on a grassy uphill slope behind the historic Little Red Schoolhouse directly in front of the, then, Rockford High School which is now North Rockford Middle School (NRMS). Completing the installation was a marble headstone burial marker that was inscribed as follows:
“Centennial Class-1984-Time Capsule-Open 2009.”
The initials “LMP” and “KLK” inscribed in the lower left- and right-hand corners, respectively, were those of Lori Pederson, class valedictorian and Kristin Koetje, class president. And there the capsule was to lie at rest for the next 25 years.
Fast-forward to Thursday afternoon, June 25, 2009, when John Venman of Venman’s Landscaping arrived at the NRMS burial site to unearth the time capsule. The next afternoon, Friday the 26th, Bill Sturrus of Wilbert Burial Vault Company arrived with a two-man crew, Kevin Kiander and Tim Leys, to remove the capsule from its resting place. (Remember this is a 2,800-pound concrete burial vault!) Needless to say, it took a large specialized flatbed truck with a hydraulic lift. Loaded aboard the truck, the capsule was taken to the Wilbert shop for exterior cleaning and overnight safekeeping. This was all necessary prior to Saturday morning’s scheduled time capsule opening, because of time and safety constraints.
A bluebird Saturday morning, June 27, at 11:00 a.m. found members of the class of 1984 in town to celebrate their class’ 25-year reunion. Gathered around the time capsule that had been returned earlier to NRMS that morning and placed curbside, they witnessed the long-awaited opening of the capsule.
Remember, no list of the contents had ever been made. Many present couldn’t remember what, if anything, they had placed inside. It was almost surreal as they surrounded the vault to gaze at the contents. Of all things, right on top, was a poster of Michael Jackson. Unbelievable!
As the vault had been sealed with a butyl rubber seal, the condition of the contents was very similar to what it was when the items were placed in the vault in 1984. Even a rubber band holding a bundle of newspapers was not dried out or cracked and still had its stretch.
Immediately visible was the old high school band brass horn, an old manual typewriter, a white graduation cap and gown, and a bundle of Rockford’s original and only newspaper at the time, The Rockford Squire. The bundle consisted of issues from November 1983 through Tuesday, April 24, 1984. This is a period when Roger Allen took over the publication of what was
previously known as The Rockford Register. In a unique relationship between the high school and The Rockford Squire, seven interns (five of which were members of the 1984 graduating class) became a segment of the regular newspaper staff. The students were taught various skills of publishing and journalism and were under the supervision of professional newspaper people. They received high school credit for their placement experience. The proud senior interns, Gregor Jennings, Dale Livingston, Josie Rewa, Bill Viergever and foreign exchange student Celia Linssen, had placed the bundle of Squire newspapers in the time capsule.
Too many items to mention were removed from the capsule and displayed on the lawn. Almost last, but not least, was the infamous and beloved pair of red high-top sneakers belonging to Dave Vandenboss. Class members present told us that Dave wore the pair of size 13+ “gunboats” everyday and everywhere for four years. It was even reputed that he wore them to bed.
The contents of the time capsule were placed in totes to be transported to the class’ evening reunion reception at Gracewil Country Club in Walker. Again placed on display for the evening, the items rekindled long lost memories of Rockford and old friendships. Music and fashion styles were laughed at. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses were exchanged. But most of all they remembered the “good old days” and graduation 1984.
Molly (Mankel) Johnson, member of the 1984 graduating class and head of the reunion time capsule committee, told the Squire, “The entire 1984 RHS graduating class would like to thank all of the donors, both financially and materially, that made this 25-year project possible. A special thank-you goes out to Dave Pederson, John Venman and Wilbert Burial Vault Co., without whose support this would not have been possible.”
When asked about this special accolade, Dave Pederson said, “It’s not about us. It’s ALL about the kids of the RHS graduating class of 1984.”
The Rockford Squire was there in 1984, and in 2009 we couldn’t agree more with Dave.
Read a personal recollection of a 1984 student’s four-year journey through RHS in next week’s edition of The Rockford Squire.