It was a simpler time.
Kids played in their neighborhoods more freely, riding their bikes everywhere. When the streetlights came on, it was time to go home.
Microwaves were a novelty, MTV was new, and “Gilligan’s Island” and “Happy Days” were just a couple of the popular shows on television.
Here, several Altoona residents in their 40s and 50s share those childhood memories and more.
Letting music take her back
When Jody Stagner puts her records on, she and her husband are transported back to their youth.
“We start remembering, and (talking about) what you were doing when that song was playing,” says Stagner, 46, who grew up between Altoona and the east side of Des Moines.
She held on to about 30 to 40 records — Pat Benatar, Tears for Fears, Huey Lewis and the News — to name a few. From time to time, she’ll take them out and play them on the eight-track/record player combo she received for Christmas when she was 12.
“I can remember a friend and I would ride the bus to Valley West Mall and get a new 45,” she reminisces. She was a fan of rock music, listening to bands like 38 Special, The Eagles and Asia.
When she was younger, Stagner and her two sisters spent a lot of their time playing with Hot Wheels. She and a group of friends would ride their bikes all over the neighborhood. They played pick-up games of baseball and softball and stayed out late for nighttime hide-and-seek.
They made trips to Riverview Amusement Park in Des Moines and went to Adventureland. In junior high, the roller skating rink in Altoona was where she’d be on Friday and Saturday nights.
At home, she liked watching “Happy Days” and “Laverne and Shirley,” along with “The Wonderful World of Disney” on Sunday nights. Cable TV was just coming out, Stagner recalls, with HBO and MTV.
And every year there was the anticipation of watching the annual showing of “The Wizard of Oz” and “Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.”
On the large screen, her favorite movies were “The Goonies” and “Sixteen Candles.” Her top celebrities were Tom Cruise and Molly Ringwald.
On the technology front, there was the video game Pong, which they played on their Atari, she says. Then there was the excitement of bringing home their first microwave. She remembers putting in a hot dog to see how fast it could cook up and seeing it burst open.
Growing up, Stagner summarizes, things were “just more free. You didn’t have to check in with cell phones all the time. You were outside a lot. (It was) just fun.”
Remembering popular Altoona spots
Growing up in Altoona, Stacie Horton has fond memories of many of the hot spots in town.
“Joe’s Pizza was huge,” the 47-year-old says. “They served salads in a styrofoam container with a big, hot pepper and paprika on top.”
The Cardinal would be the spot to get your doughnuts, and Maid-Rite was where everyone went on Saturday mornings, she recalls.
There was one place especially close to Horton’s heart, although it wasn’t in Altoona. It was called Bob and Frankie’s Evergreen Inn in Mitchellville.
“That was a place where my dad would take me on a Friday or Saturday night,” she says. “And you would get your Shirley Temple and we’d have dinner, and they had a dance floor, and we would dance.” It was a tradition of theirs for seven or eight years.
Horton spent a lot of time with her family growing up. They also often spent time
with other families, doing things like dancing at the Legion Hall on New Year’s Eve.
They lived in a neighborhood where they knew everyone, something that may not be the case for many people today, she muses. Their neighborhood was their playground, with Horton and her older sister venturing everywhere on their bikes.
“One of the main things I remember is being outside constantly as a kid and not having to come in until the streetlights came on,” she says.
Indoors, they spent their time watching Saturday morning cartoons and shows including “The Partridge Family,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island” and “The Floppy Show.”
When it came to movies, “The Breakfast Club” and “Dirty Dancing” were popular films. On the radio, Horton preferred Garth Brooks, Pat Benatar, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.
Overall, life was uncomplicated.
“It was simple, and kind of back to the basics,” is how Horton describes her childhood to her kids.
A simpler time
Joe Horton remembers playing a lot of pick-up backyard football and driveway basketball games with neighborhood kids growing up near Haines Park in Altoona.
“When I was a kid, it was a lot of ‘disorganized’ games,” says Horton, 49, whose wife is Stacie Horton. “I think I learned everything I needed to learn about sports through those games.”
He was the youngest of the bunch and was always the shortest and slowest, he says. So he had to learn how to compete.
All the rules were unwritten, but you had to know and abide by them or suffer the consequences (You might get picked last for a team, for example.) The kids were their own referees, which taught them how to resolve their disputes.
It was an environment much different than today, Horton says, when kids interact in more controlled settings such as organized sports and planned play dates.
“In terms of our social interactions, they we much more organic, rather than planned or contrived, rather than so much structure,” he says.
Along with playing came a lot of hard work. Horton was about 10 or 11 when he began working for farmers, doing chores like baling hay, sowing beans and detasseling corn. Not only did he learn valuable life lessons, but many farmers became his mentors.
When he wasn’t playing or working outside, there were a lot of TV shows that kept him entertained. He enjoyed an eclectic mix, from “Get Smart” and “Medical Center” to “Mork and Mindy,” “The Jeffersons” and “Saturday Night Live.”
At the movies, “Rocky,” “Star Wars,” “Jaws” and “Planet of the Apes” were just some of the films that had an impact on him.
As a kid, his taste in music was influenced by what his mom listened to — artists like Peter, Paul and Mary and Joan Baez. As he got older, his favorites included Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Billy Joel, The Police and the Ramones.
Growing up, they played a lot, had close friendships with other neighborhood kids and families and could play football games that lasted all day without getting tired.
“I would sum it up as just simple,” Horton says of his childhood.
Childhood traditions endure
It’s what is at the core of many of Deb Starcevich’s memories growing up in Coon Rapids.
The love and unconditional support of her parents and the importance they placed on family and special traditions made a huge impact on Starcevich. She’s lovingly continued the same customs with her own family, passing down to her three sons the values she learned from her parents.
“They were just great parents,” says Starcevich, whose her father recently turned 74. Her mother passed away in 1996. “I couldn’t have been luckier.”
Starcevich was the oldest of three girls. Their home was a welcoming place, she remembers; always open to their friends, with their mom ready to cook for a crowd.
When Starcevich graduated from high school, her mother hand wrote all of her recipes in a Precious Moments cookbook and gave it to her.
Today, Starcevich’s home has that same open door policy, offering a warm, inviting environment where visitors are treated like family. She often consults her mom’s well-worn cookbook when preparing meals and has passed along those recipes to her sons — Kyle, 20; Luke, 19; and Shane, 15.
Mealtime is another tradition that’s carried over from her childhood. Growing up, they made it a point to sit down and have a meal together. She’s worked to do the same with her family, Starcevich says.
Holidays were always special. As a child, she remembers her family going to a tree farm to cut down their Christmas tree. Their Easter baskets were always sitting by
their beds on Easter morning. Her sons have experienced the same.
Being a kid in small town Iowa was great, Starcevich says. There was “scooping the loop” (driving around the town square) and seeing the whole town shut down to watch the homecoming parade. Because they had such a small class, you had to be involved in everything — Starcevich played a couple of sports and was involved in numerous activities.
“Growing up in Coon Rapids was pretty amazing,” she says. And her parents played a big role in that.
“It was loving, it was warm, it was unconditional, supportive,” says Starcevich, reflecting on her upbringing. “My parents were always kind, patient. I couldn’t ask for better, I really couldn’t.”