Fun times at the old Palmer School
As told to Pete Hjellen by Sheila (Postishek) Christenson
I‘m sure there are many stories that will go untold surrounding the old Palmer school. But by chance, one of those stories, relating to my brother, Gary Hjellen, recently came to my attention. I ran into an old friend, Sheila Christenson, in Anchorage several months ago and what follows is an event based on the information she told me.
Mom seemed upset that morning, so I said to her, “Mom, you seem disturbed with me, but I haven’t done anything.”
In a most serious tone, Mom replied, “Dear, it’s not what you’ve done—it’s what you’re not saying that’s bothering me.”
“Mom, I really don’t know what you mean?”
“SHEILA … you were expelled from school yesterday!”
Holy Moly, Mom found out …
The day before was one of those warm sunny days in Palmer, Alaska, when at 40 degrees students ran around in t-shirts, or at least short sleeve shirts, and a spring was in everyone’s step. School was almost over for the year and we were all excited for summer vacation to begin. Jeanne Diedrich, Sylvia Sisley, Kathy Stephan and I (Sheila Postishek) at Palmer High School were no exception. Jeanne’s boyfriend, Gary Hjellen, had just purchased a hot 1948 white Ford coupe with red trim and was coming by at lunch to show it to her. She asked us if we wanted to go for a ride? We soooooo wanted to go for a ride—get away from school and enjoy the beautiful spring day. However, we knew it was not permitted to leave the school grounds during lunchtime.
Throwing caution to the wind, and suffering from a little bit of cabin fever, we could not refuse the offer to just “go around the block” in Gary’s cute little car. We snuck around to the rear of the school, near the Mat-Valley Farmers Co-op, so we would not be seen. When Gary drove up, and we saw his sparkling white car with red trim, we could not resist and quickly climbed in. We scrunched down in the seats until we were around the corner and out of sight of the school, we thought. With the windows down, the wind on our faces, and the radio turned up playing rock and roll songs, we relished the feeling of freedom, and the excitement of “breaking the rules.” What more could one ask for on a warm spring day in Alaska?
After a short ride, we were all giggling with excitement as we exited the car and briskly walked back to the school, only to be told to go directly to Principal William Benish’s office. We had been seen leaving the school grounds.
Our mood quickly changed and we feared the consequences of our foolhardy adventure. But we did not expect what happened next. Principal Benish was a stickler for rules and informed us we were expelled from school. We were to go to our home room teacher and let him know before we left for the day. Our happy faces were quickly covered with tears of fear as we realized our lives would be over when our parents found out. We dutifully went to Coach Rousey’s office, our home room teacher, and told him Principal Benish just expelled us for leaving the school grounds during lunch. After he heard our story and dried our tears, he returned to the principal’s office with us four girls in tow. After some time, going back and forth with Principal Benish, Coach was able to get our sentence reduced. We each had to write an essay explaining why we should not leave the school grounds during school hours. It was due at the end of the day—and it better be good.
What a relief, now our parents would never find out, and life could go on. We quickly produced the essays, let Coach Rousey read them, and then delivered them to the principal. After another serious lecture we were finally excused to go home.
“I was at the bar last night where Coach Rousey plays music,” Mom said. “He joyously told me you and your three friends were seen leaving the school grounds yesterday, went cruising around town in someone’s car, and were expelled from school! While I didn’t think it was so funny, he just kept laughing the whole time he was telling the story. You should have told me!”
So much for staying out of trouble. Lucky for me, even Mom couldn’t be angry for long with spring in the air, and summer just around the corner.
This story took place in the late 1950s when things were a lot simpler and rules were different. When the colonists arrived in 1935, one of the priorities was to build a school where students could get an education. In 1936, the new Palmer school was dedicated and all twelve grades attended until a new school was built and the high school students moved out in the early 1960s. In time all the students were moved to newer buildings. The original Palmer school, with its abundance of history, is now utilized as offices for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.