Catch-Up Post – A (Literal) Trip Down Memory Lane in June

Eventually, somehow, someway, we all go home. For me, “home” could be one of two places outside of my current city – Fort Dodge, Iowa (where I lived until I was almost 11) or Omaha, Nebraska (where I moved with my family after we left Fort Dodge). With my parents and one of my brothers still in Omaha and literally no family in Fort Dodge, I’m usually thinking of Omaha when I think about home, but since I spent the first decade of my life in Fort Dodge, it holds a lot of nice memories for me. Being the youngest of four, we didn’t travel a ton outside of the Iowa area when we lived there (no airport nearby [and flying would have been too expensive anyway] and it’s just not super easy or fun to move a family of six around) and most of our family was within a few hours’ drive (though none actually in Fort Dodge), so it was an easy place to settle into. And when you’re a kid, it’s not as if you have much say in where you go anyway! Because I was in fifth grade when we left, I had friends, but hadn’t really made any lifelong bonds with anyone (though I’m happy to have found some of those friends again on social media as an adult), so once we left, I didn’t make many return trips. I remember going back once in sixth grade and maybe one or two other times, but outside of those trips, I can only recall going there once as an adult and that was about 15 years ago (just a quick drive-by as I was in Iowa anyway). Knowing it had been that long since I’d been there, I decided this year was the time to go back. I was going to go to Omaha to visit my parents around Father’s Day, my dad’s birthday, and my parents’ anniversary (they all happen within a week of each other!), so I decided I would first drive to Fort Dodge, revisit some old ghosts, stay the night, and then drive on to Omaha. Fort Dodge isn’t on the way to Omaha, per se, but it is in the same direction (you just have to get a little ways off the interstate) and tacking on a Fort Dodge visit was something I’d thought about in the past, so this summer seemed as good a time as any to make it happen.

We lived in two different houses during our time in Fort Dodge – one on S 16th Street and the other on N 21st Street. We went to church at Holy Rosary and we all attended Holy Rosary’s elementary school as well (though not at the same time!). Moving on to junior high meant moving to the Catholic junior high, Sacred Heart, and then high school meant another move to St. Edmond. Or rather, it would have, had we all made it that far. As it happened, Brian (oldest brother) made it all the way through and was attending college at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake (about an hour away – my parents’ hometown), Chris (second-oldest) was a sophomore at St. Edmond, and Dan (third-oldest) was in seventh grade at Sacred Heart, which left me in fifth grade at Holy Rosary. Sounds like a lot, especially knowing that we had no school bus to ride, but our parents made it work. My dad was working in cytotechnology at the local hospital and had been looking at new opportunities for a little while, but as a kid, I didn’t expect anything to come of that. Well, something did! He got a job in the same field in Omaha that was particularly alluring because one of the benefits of it was free tuition at Creighton University for me, Dan, and Chris (Brian missed out since he was already in college when we moved) since the hospital was part of Creighton’s system. It was too hard to say no to a job that gave three of your four kids a (mostly) free college education, so I don’t blame my parents for making the move – I’m sure I would have done the same thing in their position. It feels like a big, tough thing to do, but kids are resilient, so we relocated, started going to new school (not only were we moving in the middle of the school year, but we were also switching from Catholic to public schools), and made new friends. We grew up, went to Creighton (all three of us), established careers, and got on with our lives. Funny how that works. 🙂 But still, the memory of life in Fort Dodge was always there in my mind, floating to the surface occasionally.

The first thing I noticed about being back in Fort Dodge was how close together everything is. Some of that, I’m sure, comes from having spent all my life since leaving there in much bigger places, but I think a big part of it is the fact that childhood memories were made through a child’s eyes, so everything FELT bigger and further apart. I got there late afternoon on a Thursday and just drove from memory to memory, which was nice. As I did that, I would be on my way to one place and I would realize how close it was to the last one (or the next one). I was using Google Maps to tell me where to go and everything seemed to be only a mile or two from everything else! The next thing I noticed was how everything changed and nothing changed. Holy Rosary, where we spent our formative years in both school and church, had long since closed (2000 for the school and 2008 for the church), as had Sacred Heart (only as a school – the church is still there), and St. Edmond was much bigger as a huge addition was added to house K-8 students, putting the whole Catholic school system under one roof. Hy-Vee is still there, but in a different location – ditto for Target and Wal-Mart (the K-Mart closed a long time ago). The two houses we lived in look mostly the same, though the first is much more run-down than it was when we lived there (as was the whole neighborhood). I swear I recognized some of the same cracks in the streets! I mostly drove from place to place, stopping to take a picture or two while reminiscing, but I did also take the time to walk around a few places. My best friends, Matt and Molly, lived one block behind our second house and I also had some other friends in the area, so I stopped and walked around the whole neighborhood for awhile. I also visited the local mall, Crossroads, and WOW was that dismal. The mall was always a really exciting place when I was kid, full of all kinds of fun stores, but now it looks more run-down and houses a military recruiting center, a couple of restaurants, a book store, and a Younkers. I had a great dinner at Ja-Mar in front of the mall though – tasty food! It looks exactly the same and it’s still run by the family of one of my Holy Rosary classmates. After bouncing from memory to memory, I headed back to the local hotel I was staying in and turned in for the night.

The next morning, Friday, I planned to get on the road to Omaha (about three hours away), but I had one thing to do first – take a tour of what used to be Holy Rosary. Although the church and school closed years ago, it’s found new life as Community Christian School, so I had contacted them via their website a couple of weeks before my trip and Jean, their business manager, got back to me very quickly saying she would be happy to take me on a tour. Since school was already out, I wasn’t even sure anyone would be around to do that, but it turned out a couple of people were still there a few hours a day, so I was delighted to have the chance to walk those halls once again. The building is three levels, with the school on the lowest, the big gym/cafeteria/kitchen on the ground level, and the old church (now chapel) on the top. Surprisingly, the building looks mostly the same inside and out (especially outside), though a number of changes were made to turn the former church into a chapel (as well as some additional classroom space). In addition to going to school and church there, my family and I were also there most every Saturday night working/playing bingo in the gym. Oh, those were fun times! It’s crazy to think about people from the neighborhood playing bingo, smoking (hey, people smoked everywhere then!), and enjoying concessions every Saturday night, but that’s the way it was. The bingo boards are still there today and, according to Jean, so is all the equipment to run them. That gym was also home to Holy Rosary’s annual spaghetti dinners, championed for decades by the Italian women who attended the church. Apparently the dinner still happens today, though I somehow think it’s not as good as it once was. No matter though – the memories of it were more than enough for me on this tour!

Wow, somehow this post got away from me a bit as I took that walk down memory lane…again! The pictures below represent some of my memories, but hopefully other Fort Dodge locals will appreciate them.

The Blanden Art Museum. A great little museum with a nice collection!

A different angle on the Blanden.

I snuck a photo of this painting from the IOWA exhibit that was being put on in the West Gallery. If you recognize this as an “Iowa wave”, you’ve probably lived in Iowa at some point.

Another piece of art at the Blanden, seen on my way out.

The Webster County Courthouse.

Sacred Heart, where we occasionally went to church.

Community Christian School, formally Holy Rosary.

This is the only picture I took inside the school and that was because my brother Chris played the part of Psalty when we were kids. Obviously this isn’t the costume he wore, but it brought back lots of memories!

Today, this is just a house that is (literally) spitting distance from Community Christian. Previously, this was a convent for the nuns who taught at Holy Rosary. That wasn’t true when I was a child – at that time it was where the church office was. It was still a big house though and we lived there for about a month between closing on our house in Fort Dodge and moving to Omaha (we also stayed the extra month so we could finish the semester in Iowa).

St. Edmond is pretty near the second house we lived in.

This was (I think still is) the main entrance to the high school.

This is the entrance to the K-8 part of the school, which didn’t exist when we lived in Fort Dodge.

An old sign for an old café. We ate there often on Saturday mornings and I was happy to see it’s still in business!

I don’t have any memories of this sign, but I just like the way it looked, stuck on the side of an old building.

This used to be the Fort Dodge Public Library. A Carnegie library, it was funded in 1901, opened in 1903, and operated until 2000, when a new library was built. Today, it’s just apartments. 😦

A shot of the front doors of the former library.

I swear this is the same neon sign this Younkers has always had. Nice to see something familiar inside the mall!

Speaking of signs, this is DEFINITELY the same sign Ja-Mar has always had.

Mmmm, pork tenderloin.

Corpus Christi, another church we periodically attended. They also had their own elementary school, which has since been closed (and torn down, due to a fire).

I never knew it was on the National Register of Historic Places!

It’s a pretty imposing building. Wish I could have gone inside, but it was later in the evening by the time I got there, so the doors were locked.

I made a quick stop at Oleson Park on the way to my hotel. When I was kid, this splashpad was a big pool!

Oleson Park also boasts a small zoo, though I don’t know that there are many animals in it these days.

The Oleson Park Music Pavillion, also known as the Karl King Bandshell, is on the National Register of Historic Places as well.

These are the tennis courts near our second house. This same sign was also up when I was a kid, so I guess kids still swear, eh?

The entrance to the Fort Dodge High School field.

The Fort Museum and Frontier Village on the edge of town.

A Blue Star Memorial on the edge of the Fort Museum.

Part of the Dragoon Trail, which followed the path of the first mounted infantry unit in the US.

I had to stop and take this picture on my way out of town.

Thanks for coming on this journey down memory lane with me! I enjoyed revisiting these memories, but now, it’s onto the future.

8 thoughts on “Catch-Up Post – A (Literal) Trip Down Memory Lane in June

  1. Jeff, what a great idea to go back to a city you knew as home when you were just a young kid. Someday, Scott should go back with you to share in what sounds like some very amazing memories!! Really nice recap!!

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Yes, I was thinking of that! It had been so long since I had been to Fort Dodge that it was nice to reorientate to it on my own. Hopefully Scott can make the next trip!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this, Jeffy. You are a good writer. This was very nostalgic for me to read. Fort Dodge was a big part of our life as a family. Thank you so much for writing about it. Love you so much! Mom

  3. Jeffy-
    Oh the memories you had of Fort Dodge are so similar to mine. Though I did not goto school there, I visited and experienced a lot of the places you did. If you are needing another fixin’, just know that Mama Mersch would love to have you stay on the farm!
    This was so fun to read- it made me think two things: we both had good childhoods back in north central Iowa and I miss you! It has been too long, next time your in town, we need to schedule a visit!

    1. Yes! I’m sure you’ve experience the magic of Ja-Mar before, right? 🙂 Probably Taco Tico as well – I didn’t have enough time to go there this time!

      We definitely need to catch up next time I’m in Omaha. You’ve got a new kiddo I need to meet! And Miles is much bigger than he was when I held him as a baby! 🙂

  4. Ah, Psalty! That brings back some memories. I had such a blast doing that role. Two things stand out the most from that show. The divots that costume dug into my head. And the weird looks I got from people because I had to do the band concert in full makeup as there wasn’t enough time between it and the play to get it on.

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!