The Class of 1940
AAHS alums meet at Weber's
by Tim Athan
They have been doing this for so long, no one can recall when it began.
On the first Thursday of each month, members of the Ann Arbor High School Class of 1940 meet for a lunch at Weber's Inn. "This buffet is the best lunch deal in town!" said Marian (Allmendinger) Zwinck, one of seven energetic gray-haired alums gathered around a circular table in early October. Weber's staff knows them by name, and takes special care of them. (The Class of 1945 meets there too, convening a half-hour later.)
The Class of 1940 had 306 graduates. Their memories of Ann Arbor range from a Zeppelin flying over Huron Avenue to unpaved streets ("the WPA put in curbs and gutters"). Ypsilanti was "very fancy, a beautiful town."
The German community was so close-knit, Julius Blaess should have been in the class of 1939, but had to start school a year late so that he could learn English--even though he was a third-generation American.
They faced the Great Depression, and two among this group were together when they heard that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. There is comradeship and respect, and they still groan at Blaess's jokes.
Some things haven't changed. There were organ concerts before films at the Michigan Theater back then, too (but as part of a 5-cent matinee).
The classmates are adamant that there was no racism towards African Americans in high school. "Lucia White [now Ruby] was my best friend!" recalls Dolores (Watkins) Keyes. But wide berth was given to the "Gypsies" who took over the municipal camping ground at the southeast corner of the Dexter-Maple intersection (now Vets Park)--they were regarded as thieves.
The Gypsies traveled in covered wagons. Another horse and wagon belonged to Hymie Zaidman, a Russian Jewish junk man. An Ann Arbor fixture for decades, Zaidman would drop by homes two or three times a year to purchase scrap paper, rags, and metal.
They shrug off the hard times of the Depression--"we did feel it, but we didn't
know any better" and "we were all in the same boat." But further conversation uncovers the struggles of that time. Barbara (McMahon) Riemenschneider recalls how her mother, who "knew every way to squeeze a penny," would cook meat on the ledge of their coal furnace. Zwinck recalls that when a family wanted an additional kitchen cabinet, an orange crate would be found and covered with a nice cloth. Doris (Allen) Strite lived between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti in a house without electricity or plumbing. The interior walls had been finished with cardboard from boxes. As late as seventh grade she was studying by kerosene lamp. Blaess recalls that when a shoe had a hole in its sole, the hole was patched with cardboard.
Lunch eaten, they move slowly through the parking lot, more than one using a cane. They have recently lost a number of classmates, but they remain upbeat and energetic, with great memories of long-ago Ann Arbor.
[Originally published in January, 2010.]