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The chance to walk the halls of his old grade school again was like taking a trip down memory lane.

Of course, John Balzer likes to joke that at his age, any memory is good.

Yep, if he wasn't considered the class clown in 1959, when he and his friends graduated together from McKinley Elementary School in Davenport, he certainly is now - as he helps plan his first elementary school class reunion.

Adding his special touch of humor, the 63-year-old Balzer, of suburban Chicago, has been posting stories and old black-and-white photos for weeks on a Facebook page dedicated to the reunion, which is set on the same weekend as his classmates' high school reunion in Davenport.

Sure, he's looking forward to seeing his old friends from the Class of 1965 at Central High School in Davenport over Labor Day weekend.

But Balzer and his fellow reunion planner, 63-year-old Bob West, of suburban Los Angeles, are really excited about the rare chance to go back to their elementary school. Those who attend the reunion will tour the school, meet up with two of their old elementary school teachers, eat lunch and take a new class photo together.

"McKinley, to me, seems to represent a time in my life that was simpler, more innocent, and it was a time that found me surrounded by nurturing parents, teachers and friends," West said. "There's an old saying, ‘You can't go home again,' but whenever I come home, it still evokes some of those feelings, and those are good feelings."

The idea for a McKinley reunion came to the two old schoolmates in 2008, during a visit to the Quad-Cities. They drove around Davenport, reminiscing. And they ended up taking a tour of their old elementary school.

They had a lot of fun but thought it would have been more fun if their old classmates were there, too. So, they started talking about planning a reunion.

Based on an old class photo from 1959, Balzer and West started searching for their old classmates. Out of more than 100 students, they found 65 or so.

Several from their original class have died. Others ended up moving away from Davenport before they reached high school or took married names their classmates don't recognize, Balzer said.

Although last year was their 50th anniversary of graduating from McKinley, they opted to hold a reunion on the same weekend as the high school reunion this year, hoping that more would voyage back to the Quad-Cities that way.

They expect about 25 classmates and their guests to attend, among others. That includes Paulee Lipsman, who also was in the 1959 McKinley School class, and said she is looking forward to it.

Officials at the school have been extremely supportive - and so have their old teachers, Balzer said. In fact, one of their kindergarten teachers, Gwen Korn, of Bettendorf, and their former physical education teacher, Clint Strong, of Indiana, plan to attend.

"I remember he always wore a white polo and perfectly white pants," Balzer said.

He has other memories of his elementary-school days, too: Getting sent to the school basement for nuclear-war shelter practices; looking at cereal boxes adorned with pictures of wild West scenes and rocket ships going to the moon.

"We were the first generation to sit there and stare at this thing called TV," Balzer said.

Korn, their kindergarten teacher, said she remembers how all the students knew each other from playing together in their neighborhood. All their parents knew each other, too. They all walked to school - there was no busing back then - and Locust Street had little traffic.

"It was a very different time," she said. "They are going to be amazed at the changes at McKinley School, the physical changes in the building. And the whole curriculum is different than it used to be."

Korn retired in 1993 but still volunteers at the school. She remembers the 1959 class, because they were her first kindergartners.

One detail in the invitation swayed her to say yes to the reunion: Balzer enclosed a copy of his kindergarten report card in the envelope, and Korn recognized her handwriting on the fourth-quarter marks.

 

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