Brought together by bells and a band
What began as a student’s idea ended as a concert that packed Jeff Gym which raised enough money to purchase a bell tower for Webster City High School.
Members of the WCHS class of 1965 met on Sunday to remember that concert which, as of Tuesday, was 50 years ago. They took a chance to ring the bell at the tower they helped fund. When the school underwent construction in 2012, the bell tower was moved to Graceland Cemetery. The class of 1965 then helped fund the purchase of a new victory bell which now stands on school grounds. The class also saw a new graphic outside of the new gym which details the history of the school’s victory bells.
In their junior year, the class of 1965 lived in a time when folk singing was big. Class member Bill Ostlund said he remembers The Chad Mitchell Trio performing on shows like “Hootenanny” with their famous songs such as “Lizzie Borden” and “Super Skier.”
One day, Ostlund and other students were on the way back from a chorus event in Iowa Falls. That’s when the idea to bring the group to town first came to him.
“We were on the bus coming back and I said, ‘What do you think are the chances of us getting a concert with them?’ Well, it was slim to none, but I said, ‘Well, there’s no harm in trying,'” Ostlund said.
When he returned home, Ostlund wrote a letter and sent it to the trio’s agent. Two months later, he returned home from school one day and his mother said he had received a call back. The Chad Mitchell Trio was to perform at the VEISHEA celebration at Iowa State University on May 7, 1964, and could perform in Webster City the day before.
“I think they were mislead to think we were like the junior college, but it didn’t matter because we were in then,” Ostlund said.
However, the class faced a daunting challenge to bring the group to Webster City. The asking price to host the trio was $3,000. Ostlund took the idea to the principal and the school board passed a resolution that they would underwrite the concert. But, funding would come from ticket sales in droves. Students took to the town selling advance tickets for $2 each.
Class member Kathy Dickinson, who helped to advertise the event, said she remembers running around town and putting up posters in local businesses for the concert. While she said many people thought the class was crazy for trying to host such a large event, they managed to pull it off.
“We worked hard. We were a class that was very determined and nobody was going to tell us we couldn’t do something,” Dickinson said.
On May 6, 1964, The Daily Freeman-Journal reported that 1,600 people attended The Chad Mitchell Trio concert at Jeff Gym. The story said “The trio received its heaviest applause with songs which were scorching with satire on the present American scene.” Ostlund said he was at the front row of the concert.
“I just won’t forget it. It was amazing,” Ostlund said.
When the excitement of the concert was over, the class of 1965 still had money remaining. With that funding, they were able to build a tower for the victory bell at Webster City High School.
Many years later, when the competition gym was under construction at the high school in 2012, the bell tower was moved to Graceland Cemetery with funding from the class of 1965. The class also helped to purchase a new bell for the school.
Class members were invited to the high school on Sunday to see a new graphic posted in the halls of the gym near the concessions area which describes the history of the school’s bells, a history that they all worked hard to help create.