By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
Anyone who tells you that there wasn’t much to do “back in the day” in Stevens Point is flat-out nuts.
As a kid, there was always something to do in our neighborhood. Our turf in Point was the area a few blocks south of downtown. Our neighborhood surrounded the water tower.
We would build “forts” everywhere. We made them from bricks at Carley Coal, in old trees, railroad cars and anything else that we could find. The cast of characters usually included the Stroik brothers (John, Larry and Jim), Mike Meronek, Gary and Ronnie Bronk, Tom Warzinik, Jeff Firkus, Charlie and Ed Rossier, Fred Sprouse, Tom Jensen, and many others.
There were always a lot of kids running around in our neighborhood. The cool part about it was that the parents never really seemed to worry. Nobody ever locked their doors. We were always on our own and nobody thought twice about it. The crazy part about it was that some of our ideas didn’t seem to make much sense. Like the forts.
We’d round up about five or six kids. We’d say, “Okay, you three go hide somewhere,” and the other three would do the same thing. So our group would go hide in one of the forts. We’d hide for about an hour. Then it dawned on us that nobody was actually looking for us because they were hiding, too. We were really good at hiding.
One fun thing to do was walk over to the Black Bridge which crossed the Wisconsin River. There was a huge rock at one end. Nine times out of 10, if you lifted the rock a little, you’d find a pine snake under it. Used to scare the hell out of me. We’d run like crazy and go hide in a fort. Without the snake.
Another nifty thing to do to kill time was to wander over to Lincoln School and climb on their outside fire escape. You would slowly walk on the steps all the way to the top, try not to look down, and then carefully slide down one of the poles. That used to scare the hell out of me, too. We also talked a lot about climbing up on the water tower but nobody ever did it.
As kids, we could frequently make money. We’d get a wagon and walk around collecting old newspapers and rags and haul them to Garber’s, a huge neighborhood warehouse that was into recycling. We could actually make a buck or two on a good day and that was enough to keep us supplied with a bottle of soda, a candy bar, and a new pack of Topps baseball cards. And then you’d take your brand new Mickey Mantle baseball card and put it in your bicycle spokes so it sounded like a motor. I still cry about that.
At other times, the family would go to Bukolt Park for an Elks Picnic. The Elks would have a big tarp with sawdust on the ground, and the kids would dig around in it looking for dimes. That was great fun.
I also remember when an airplane would fly around the neighborhood and drop ping pong balls with prizes. I won a hula hoop once. You could also get some of your buddies and bike it to the Dixon Street carnival. I remember three things about the carnival. 1) The only ride I would EVER go on was the Tilt-a-Whirl, and I couldn’t wait to get off. It was scarier than climbing up on the Lincoln fire escape. 2) It was fun trying to win a teddy bear or stuffed animal by shooting a bb gun at some target. I never hit the target once but almost shot the guy in the booth in his ear. He took the gun away from me and that was probably a wise move. 3) Every time I went to the carnival, I’d toss a ping pong ball into a bowl and win a goldfish which came in a bag of water. And without fail, that goldfish would be swimming upside down a week later. Well, not really swimming. More like floating. My goldfish were always doing neat tricks like that.
You could take pop bottles back to the store and get two cents. You could take some little S&H stamps which were green and paste them into your little booklet. It would get you about $3 and a little high from licking the stamps.
We ate those small red bags of Sen Sens a lot. And watermelons from Old Lady Orville’s garden. Kids would go trick or treating until way past dark and always make a haul. TV dinners were just coming out and they were awesome. Another fun thing to eat was that new pie they called “pizza”. When we were all ten or so, sports was king. You could walk over to Bukolt and watch some football team practice. They were called the Green Bay Packers. It also was a must to turn on the radio and listen to Earl Gillespie call a Milwaukee Braves game.
My God, what a team–Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette, Joe Adcock, Wes Covington, Johnny Logan, Billy Bruton, and on and on. It was also around this time when some of the people in the neighborhood would turn on this “thing” called a TV and watch black and white shows like “Mighty Mouse” and “Rin Tin Tin”.
Every day in the summer, full court pickup basketball games were going on at the outside Lincoln School court. You won and you kept playing. Jeff Firkus was there all the time. So were Tim Schwebach, Marv Konopacki, Mike Suplicki, Tom Jensen, Rufus Konopacki, and many others. And five blocks away on Shaurette, Ma Pesch and Jack Ellenz would be playing hoops in Ma’s driveway after spending the morning shooting marbles.
Geez, being a kid was fun. Every Saturday morning the smell of freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies would drift from Mrs. Schmidt’s house next door. You always got some if you asked nicely. They tasted as good as those goiter pills you took at school.
Neighborhood softball games? We played thousands of them. For total relaxation, you could go to Nick Meronek’s backyard next to the softball fence and dig up a few night-crawlers from his worm bed. Then you’d grab your cane pole and walk a block to the river and catch bullheads. Had to be careful when you picked them up, however.
When we were twelve, it was Little League and root beer stands. A Ted Williams wooden bat. A Johnny Podres glove. Backyard sleepovers were big. Walking around being cool and lighting firecrackers. Then it was on to Saturday morning serials, chapters one through fifteen. Fly paper, penny loafers, and Lucky Strike green. Flat tops, sock hops, Studebaker, “Pepsi, please”, Cigar bands on your hands, movie stars on Dixie Cup tops … ah, do you remember these?
Ah, good old Stevens Point. When I was about 16, the Rec. Department had a nifty part-time job. Easter weekend. At six in the morning or so, several of us would go over to the bandshell at Pfiffner Park. For three or four hours, we’d “hide” about 20,000 plastic Easter eggs for the kiddies. We put them everywhere. Around the bandshell. By the swing sets, In the bushes. Behind rocks. You name it.
They always had a few jelly beans inside and some had small pieces of paper good for prizes. A “golden” egg would win a kid a brand new bike. It was so cool! The mayor would show up around eleven. Hundreds of little kids and their parents would arrive. Maybe thousands of little tykes. The mayor would blow on a horn and BOOM!!! The kids went nuts! And every one of those plastic eggs was gone in a minute. It was like a sharks’ feeding frenzy!!
But that was then and this is now. Backyard softball? Haven’t seen it in 20 years. The Lincoln School basketball court? Long gone. Same with Lincoln School. Nobody plays marbles.
Nobody builds forts.
You trick or treat for about an hour while it’s still light out. Everyone locks their doors. Garbers is long gone.
Haven’t seen those brown Orange Crush bottles in years.
No more Annette Funicello, Roy Rogers, Sky King, Milton Berle, or “I Love Lucy”.
You ever see anyone playing hopscotch any more? Nope. The youth of today are all inside playing video games. Poor kids don’t know what they’re missing.