There are some stark contrasts in the lives of our children as opposed to the way things were during our own childhoods. Many people would say it was a different time. But no matter when you were a kid, there are certain things that most everyone else your age remembers, too.
Maybe it was racing home to watch your favorite show on television. Maybe it was the strong desire to have Santa bring you that special toy — whatever the most popular one was at the time. It was — as we like to say — a simpler time.
Read on to learn what sorts of things these Ankeny residents remember from their childhoods – and about growing up in Ankeny — and you just might be laughing as you remember right along with them.
The Grays — Tammy and Mark — grew up in Ankeny and graduated from Ankeny High School in 1980 and 1979, respectively. The couple started dating during their senior year of high school, and eventually were married. Though they spent six years in Chicago after college, it was the allure of time spent in Ankeny during their childhoods that brought them back home to raise their own kids.
“We had a great time when we were in Chicago,” Tammy says. “My husband went to law school and practiced there, and then we decided to come back home. We were married 10 years before we had kids, and I thought, ‘We’re not living here and having kids. We’d never have any time.’ We wanted the quality of life that we had growing up.”
Mark grew up in Ankeny and attended Northwest Elementary. Tammy says that, in those days, kids who were bussed in from out of town went to whichever school had room at the time, so she spent time at East, Parkview, Neveln, East and Terrace, which was new when she was in elementary school.
As a kid, Tammy says she remembers being outside all the time. They would walk down to the end of their road and play in the woods, and they rode bikes constantly. There was a Casey’s in Saylorville that was two miles away, and they’d ride their bikes there and spend a dime for penny candy — that was huge. When she got a little bit older, she says she was always asking someone older for a ride into town.
“There was a little theater here in Ankeny that we’d go to, and then Baskin Robbins was next door,” she says. “In high school, everyone went to the McDonald’s parking lot and would scoop that little loop. Back then everyone went to the games. There was always a big crowd, and so you were involved in school stuff. Friday night was the boys’ game and Saturday was a girls’ game, and every night you got to do something with school. It was so close-knit, and everyone knew everyone.”
The couple has two kids who have graduated from Ankeny, and they’re glad they were able to give their kids a similar childhood to the one that they had. Even though Ankeny has grown substantially since they were kids, it still has the same feel, Tammy says.
If you ask Missy Starr about her childhood memories, she will tell you that the 80s is her decade. She also met and married a fellow Ankeny resident — she and her husband J. met when she moved to Ankeny in 1988 when she was in third grade, and they now have four children and another on the way.
As a kid, Missy says she and her family lived on S.E. Richland Circle, and with the exception of one more street, it was literally the edge of town. Past that, it was all cornfields. All of the homes and retail currently on Delaware wasn’t there. As a matter of a fact, Delaware didn’t even exist.
“At the time, the swimming pool was where the city hall is now near Parkview,” she says. “Every day during the summer we’d ride out bikes there. I’d never let my 9- or 10-year-old ride their bikes to the pool every day, but we did. The Wal-Mart was where Mercy North is, so during the summer my brothers and I would hop on our bikes and go to Wal-Mart and buy candy while our parents were at work.”
Missy went to Southeast Elementary through sixth grade and then Parkview for junior high. She went through 9th-12th grades at the high school, and her class was the last class in which freshmen were at the high school. She says no one ever missed basketball or football games. The whole school went. One year, basketball went to state and the school would shut down because they wanted everyone to go.
“We’d all go to every game, and those were always at the old high school,” she says. “You’d run around with your friends. The movie theater was where Ankeny Christian is now, so every Friday and or Saturday night, that’s where we’d go and hang out. In high school, Dairy Queen was a huge hang out. We’d all park there.”
When it came to pop culture, she remembers New Kids on the Block being the band to listen to, and “TGIF” on ABC being the thing to watch, especially “Full House.” In middle school, it was common that parents would have birthday parties for their kids at the school gyms, so nearly every weekend it seemed like they’d get together and dance (as close to their boyfriends and girlfriends as they dared) at the school gym.
“We loved Summerfest, and now we take our own kids,” she says. “Being on Richland Circle, Christmas has always been a big deal there, and we’d put out luminaries made from milk jugs with actual candles and sand. Driving through there around Christmas is always fun and nostalgic.”
CJ’s bagels opened when she was in high school, and that’s always been a place they’ve gone since. She and J. dated in high school and would go to Crestbruck Park, and now they take their kids there, too.
“What I love about Ankeny is no matter how big it’s gotten, it still feels small town to us,” she says. “It’s a great sense of community. We both grew up here, and I get the feeling it’s not like this everwhere, and it’s what keeps us here. It still feels like people look out for one another.”
Meredith Miller has lived in Ankeny her enire life, and she says there is no place else she’d rather be. Born in 1976, she grew up attending East Elementary, a school her children attend today.
“We just finished a three-year reconstruction project, and it was fun to see the growth and updates and sort of reliving it through my kids’ eyes,” she says.
She says she remembers walking to school every day, no matter what. She always got into trouble for dawdling — some days it might take 45 minutes to walk those three blocks to school with the big group of kids because they were too busy having fun playing on the way there.
The pool was where city hall is now, directly to the west of there now were the fire station and the amphitheater. She says they were pool rats in the summer. They’d ride their bikes, and she would take $1, which would get her in and get her a treat.
“I got a safety pin, and I’d pin it to my swimsuit,” she says. “We’d ride our bikes everywhere. I remember there was lots of toilet papering houses when I was a teenager — and roller blading. We’d all get together and roller blade at 11 p.m. at night going through town.”
She remembers loving some of the popular stars of the day like Kirk Cameron, New Kids on the Block and Michael Jackson — “before he got weird.” Her most prized posession? A sticker book. From third through sixth grade, nothing beat the sticker book.
“We live in an amazing neighborhood and we’re very close knit, even now,” she says. “We have keys to each other’s houses and let each other’s dogs out. Your neighborhood makes a town for you. Some of my best memories as a kid were block parties that we had as a community. I want to try to do that for my own kids.”