Some people were so moved seeing friends and classmates at the Columbia Heights Old Timers luncheons that they’d burst into tears, according to one of the club’s founders.
“It was so exciting, some of the guys would even cry,” said Ann Tamala Kremer. “They were so thrilled to see each other.”
Laurie and Irma Fransen, Dan and Marie DeMars, Tony Maciaszek and Tamala founded the Old Timers in 1982. The group held only one event a year, a luncheon on the last Sunday in April, and had only one membership requirement: living at least 50 years in Columbia Heights.
The group disbanded two years ago, after their 2004 lunch. Kremer and two other former members Marguerite Proft and Lorraine Parks, recently met with the Northeaster to talk about the club. They said ending it seemed like the best thing to do, as everybody was getting older and many members had died. (Of the founders, only Kremer is still living.)
Proft said, “It got so our kids were eligible, but it was hard to get them to go.”
“Everyone was disappointed when we ended the club,” Kremer said. “We had hoped we could carry on for 25 years.”
Last month, they donated the money they had left in the treasury to the Columbia Heights Fire Department. “I figured it was Old Timers money, and who does the fire department help the most? Us old timers,” she added.
According to the Old Timers meeting minutes, 75 people attended the first lunch on April 18, 1982. Nellie Helm, 83, was the oldest woman there. The oldest men were Carl Carlson, 89, and Earl Cleland, 84. Leona Schaeffer was the first woman (at the meeting) who had been born in Columbia Heights, in 1905, and Edward Miskowiez the first man, in 1910.
The meeting was called the “Retirees Meeting;” the following year the group had been renamed “Heights Old Timers.” (Most of the luncheons were held at the Field House, now called John P. Murzyn Hall.) Through the years, attendance peaked at 330 and averaged 250.
The lunches started at 1 p.m. and were supposed to end by 4 p.m., but Kremer said it was rare that they ended so soon. “We often weren’t through by then.” The whole club, she said, “was mostly about people talking.”
Early on, Irma Fransen and Marie DeMars baked all the cookies for the lunch. (The food consisted, usually, of cookies or donuts, and orange juice.) “We didn’t have any money,” Kremer said. “The second year, a couple gave us $100 and then we were rich. We were able to print cards to send to people.” After coffee every year, they always passed the plate, to help pay for the next reunion.
“Somebody once said, ‘We should have a dinner,’” Kremer said. “I said, ‘Who wants to do that?’ I brought all the things we needed from home, the lap trays, dishes for the nuts and mints, pitchers for the orange juice. We picked up all the donuts and coffee. Then we started having muffins.”
Proft said she was three years old when she and her mother, Muriel McCarty—who owned Muriel’s Beauty Shop—moved to Columbia Heights. She attended Columbia Grade school and Parks attended Silver Lake Elementary, but they both went to Columbia Heights High School (when the building was on 41st Avenue NE) together and graduated in 1943. “We were confirmed together and went to Sunday school together,” Proft said.
Kremer said she graduated from Columbia Heights High School in 1939.
When asked what it is like to spend so many years in the same town, having the same friends, Proft and Kremer said it was nice. And do they still like each other, after all those years? They giggled.
“I like you, Lorraine, do you like me?” Proft asked.
“Yes, I like you,” Parks answered.
Kremer said she was born in a house at 4225 Jackson St. NE (with the help of a midwife) and lived there until she married Albert Kremer and moved to 41st and Arthur. His father, Al Kremer, was a city employee.
“Back in those days, a lot of people made moonshine,” she said.
According to a story in Columbia Heights: Bootstrap Town, A Social History by Irene Parsons, Al Kremer is quoted as telling a story about the police confiscating moonshine and dumping it down the station sink. The locals, however, knowing that the sink emptied out the side of the building, “were outside, catching it in tin cans,” he said.
Columbia Heights was very different then from what it is now, the three women agreed. “There were fields here. The water in Silver Lake wasn’t good. After the war, Heights really got built up. You had a lot of people moving in that came from other places,” Kremer said.
Proft said it was wartime when she graduated from high school. “Many people married their sweethearts from school.” (She was one of them, marrying community activist and businessman Bob Proft, who died in 2003.)
The minutes contain many names familiar to long-time Columbia Heights residents: John Murzyn, parks superintendent; Pete Deanovic, high school coach; Joe Wargo, a judge; Walter (Red) Sochacki, a star athlete; Don (Swede) Carlson, Columbia Heights High School athletics director and star athlete himself; Pete Tema, journalist and former mayor; Bruce Nawrocki, former mayor.
They also contain stories of the past. At the April 21, 1985 meeting, Russell Drangied showed the group a ticket from Forest Park, an amusement park near 40th Avenue and Seventh and Washington streets that closed in the 1920s. It was dated 1916. Admission was 10 cents per ticket.
Larry (also spelled Laurie in the book) Fransen talked about real estate. “When we were young,” he said, “the lots around here sold for $25 each, which was a week’s pay. In about 1950 the lots were a month’s pay, and in 1985 they were a year’s pay.”
In 1986, the group met at Immaculate Conception Church, because the field house was being remodeled. Fransen again had a history report, saying that in 1926 there were only seven houses on Jackson Street between 40th and 45th avenues; owners included Walt Cottrelli, the Sochackis, the Tamalas, the Tyces and Pete Patrick. Some people talked about the year their parents came to Columbia Heights: the Burmeisters in 1909, the DeMars and Fransens in 1912. The Band Box Restaurant opened in 1943.
Heights’ first drug store, some remembered, was on 40th and Central avenues, owned by George and Elsie Super. Others recalled steel rolling mills on 39th between Quincy and Fifth streets. The attendees that year included the entire Tamala family: Rose Tamala Wasert, Helen Tamala Mosley, Ann Tamala Kremer, Mary Tamala Teetzel, Frank Tamala, Angie Tamala.
At the April 26, 1987, meeting, Jessie Morton talked about the days when gypsies visited Columbia Heights. At the April 10, 1988 meeting, the longest-married couple in attendance was Lowell and Leona Schaeffer, married for 62 years. That year 194 people came to the Old Timers lunch, including Jerry Malosky, who said, “We are not over the hill.” He told everybody to exercise.
Dale Hadtrath was the Columbia Heights Mayor in 1989; he opened the meeting. Attendees included Irving Keen from Montana, Dutch Burmeister from Seattle, Washington, and Clayton Gagne from Arkansas. Bob Proft replaced Dan DeMars as Old Timers president that year; Grace Hunt took over the job of secretary from Doretta Kraus.
Ed Carlson took over the mayor’s job in 1990. The Podany family had the most family members at the meeting: nine. The group had many drawing winners that year: prizes included calculators from the Columbia Heights Community Credit Union, a box of candy from Stroncek’s, a floral arrangement from Hites Floral, and dinner certificates to the Dragon House.
There was a news flash during the 1991 meeting: Chet Latawiec shot a hole in one at Bunker Hills Golf Course. Speakers at the 1994 meeting included Tony Maciaszek, who told the group about Columbia Heights’ sister city in Lomianki, Poland. Anoka County Commissioner Jim Kordiak traced the origins of Columbia Heights, saying that in May, 1857 the area was part of Ramsey County; in 1898 it became Columbia Heights township.
In 1996, Old Timers member Berger Ostmoe was inducted into the Winona State Teacher’s College Hall of Fame. Lucille Hawkinson died that year; she had been the Columbia Heights librarian for 27 years.
In 1997, Bob Proft talked about the new bocce ball courts behind Murzyn Hall; Karen Moeller (of the senior center) led the games on Monday mornings. The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Deanovic on his 90th birthday. Deanovic talked about the track team he had started at Columbia Heights High School; the team earned four relay records that lasted 20 years. Otis (O.H.) Smith, former principal of Columbia Heights High School, died that year at age 100.
Although there was a meeting in 2004, the minute book ends in 2003, the year Grace Hunt retired after 17 years as secretary, and Bob Proft died.
Ann Kremer, Marguerite Proft, and Lorraine Parks say they still get together socially with their friends but have no desire to resurrect the Old Timers. “We’re done,” Kremer said.
In March, 2006, Gary Gorman, Columbia Heights Fire Chief, sent open letters to the local newspapers, thanking the group for its donation. He said some Old Timers also gave the department personal donations, as well. The fire department is using the money to buy a pulse oximeter, which is used to check the oxygen level in a person’s blood. “Our current pulse oximeters are wearing out due to age and need to be replaced. Due to the tight budgets of the past few years we have waited to start replacing them until now,” he wrote.