Frumpfighter

Surf a monument of simpler times

Posted on: February 3, 2009

When I was a kid, I loved to look at my parents’ high school yearbooks. My dad graduated in 1963 and my mom in 1964 from Kanawha High School in north central Iowa.

The Jinx, as the KHS yearbook was called in those days, was filled with school pictures of boys with slick crew cuts and suits and girls with beehive hairdos. The candid shots revealed a clean-cut bunch who enjoyed football games and dances.

AP/The dance floor Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake as it looks today.

AP/The dance floor of the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake as it looks today.

One of their favorite destinations was the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, which was about 35 minutes from Kanawha. A group of teens would routinely head up to the popular dance hall on the weekends. My dad recalls how he and my mom made up for good at the Surf after one of their many high school boyfriend-girlfriend spats. He clearly remembers she was wearing a short red skirt that night.

AP/The poster commemorating the Winter Dance Party featuring Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.

AP/A poster commemorating the Winter Dance Party featuring Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson.

He also remembers seeing such legends as Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash there. In 1959, my parents were a little young to join the crowd at the Winter Dance Party featuring Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Buddy Holly. But they do remember hearing about the plane crash near a corn field just outside Clear Lake that killed the three musicians as well as pilot Roger Peterson.

I always heard my parents talk about the dances at the Surf and didn’t quite understand why they were so special until my cousin’s wedding reception in February 2000. It wasn’t at the Surf, but at the ballroom in Duncan, a tiny town north of Kanawha. The hall was just beautiful with its hardwood dance floor. Outside it was a cold, desolate tundra on the vast Iowa plains. But inside it was alive with people of all ages dancing and having a great time.

I’ve been reading and watching with great interest about the activities in Clear Lake the past couple weeks, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the “day the music died.”  

Like I did while studying the pages of my parents’ yearbooks, I once again imagined what it was like to live in a simpler time. When I was a kid, I usually listened to my parents’ old albums – The Everly Brothers, The Mamas and the Papas and Peter, Paul and Mary.

Then albums were replaced by cassettes; cassettes by CDs; and CDs by downloads. In a time when technology makes it possible to socialize and keep entertained without ever stepping away from your computer, it’s comforting to know a ballroom in Iowa can still attract the attention and affection of people from all walks of life.

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1 Response to "Surf a monument of simpler times"

What a walk down memory lane. When I was in high school in Carroll in west central Iowa there was a dance hall/ballroom in Arcadia where people would hold their wedding receptions and make them open to the public for a small entrance fee (that went toward reception costs). I remember going in and dancing on the floors and watching everyone — what a great time that was.

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