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Joan Knows: Wishing a happy 75th birthday to the ‘Gleeful Generation’

Are you familiar with the TV ad that features young boys griping about how some younger boys “have it easy” because they can move their televisions to any room or even outdoors?

The ad makes a case for the kind of progress envy that is said to afflict a prior age group, leading to bitterness and strife. On the other hand it may be simply the inevitable progress that is celebrated by all generations. Sooner or later, each generation claims a unique identity and the accompanying pride and builds tolerable relationships with other generations. Right?

A cogent example might be the so-called Greatest Generation.

Then, consider my cohorts and me, who are at the halfway point in the year in which we all turn 75. We should perhaps anoint ourselves as the “Gleeful Generation!” We sure had fun.

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of where we have been and where we are going, starting with 1938 which – do the math – was 75 years ago. The country was emerging from financial distress, to see another world was on the horizon. We were not oblivious to world events since the adults were sitting close to their radios and rereading  the Chicago newspapers. Soon the focus would be on our entry into that war and tragedies and triumphs. The outer lobby of the Arcada featured propaganda posters, and inside the theater folk were hoping that Humphrey Bogart would  find true love with Ingrid Bergman in “Casablanca.”

We kids were having our laughs while learning the ways of a tricycle and rollerskates and hopscotching and leapfrogging around the neighborhood.

Later, after the war, we would enter Shelby or Lincoln school and discover the delights of “Dick and Jane” radio favorites, such as “Let’s Pretend” and “The Shadow.” Not to mention that other thriller, the fire escape at Shelby.

The ’50s found us at the long ago version of Haines Jr. High, where a strip mall now exists on East Main Street. We had a great time with the variety of teachers and subjects and yet another fire escape. Admitted low points were the separation of home rooms by an unfortunate ability stereotype and for the girls the cursed task of sewing our own graduation dresses on a pedal-driven sewing machine.

The wider world was hearing about a place named Korea and a general named MacArthur.

The glorious date of 1956 marked us as new graduates of the only high school from the building that is now Thompson Middle School. We knew the real George Thompson who had his office there. 

We discovered the art of the prank (ask a certain  superintendent’s namesake with the nickname of a certain rodent).We all went to Little Seven athletic events and cheered both wins and losses.

We found joy in Gilbert and Sullivan, made the most of Shakespeare and learned to laugh at corny jokes delivered by the faculty.

We certified Paul Bergeson as a favorite and learned Latin, French and the weird language of algebra. American history was presented by a sophisticated woman, Edythe Sinden, in the classroom with murals that were  politically incorrect by today’s standards but were the home of eye-opening discussion then.

New fashion trends, such as the racy Bermuda shorts, saddle shoes and Peter Pan collars emerged as we began to “Rock Around the Clock.”

Some of us went off to college, quite a few enlisted in the Marines, the Army and Navy, and many found jobs that would lead to successful careers.

The ’60s brought longer hair for all, protesting and pretending and the core question, “Where have all the flowers gone?” Lifestyle choices were widely available and embraced.

We listened to Peter, Paul and Mary and Simon and Garfunkel. We laughed as comedians made fun of our leaders. Our TV favorites ranged from “Perry Mason” to “Peyton Place” to a “Hey Hey” from Jack Brickhouse. The prevailing question was “Knock, knock. Who’s there?”

By the time of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, the Net generation caught up with us and we began to share the same experiences as we emerged as your parents and grandparents. We smiled as you discovered our Beatles and shaped your own versions of being green. We still rocked and rolled but preferred the “Oldies.”

As the generations begin to integrate into all ages, events such as the county fairs, the  Fourth of July fireworks and picnics or perhaps at a Blackhawks game, you will recognize us. Don’t look for gray hair. Most of us are remarkably well preserved and still involved in the community. You may hear us laughing out loud, flashing a peace sign or extending a middle finger. We’re still having fun. And speaking out.
Happy 75th birthday, my friends of the Gleeful Generation – party on!

• Joan Arteberry is a longtime resident of St. Charles. Her columns are featured in the Kane County Chronicle’s Neighbors section every other Friday. Write to her at

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