Special to The Gardner News
Pat (McConnell) Cloud, GHS Class of 1960 remembers Teen Town, a gathering place for teens in the basement in what is today, Ken’s Swap N Shop at 140 E. Main Street.
“Teenagers now have cars, and jobs after school to afford their cars. When I was a teenager, we walked everywhere,” Cloud told The Gardner News in 2008.
She remembers walking across the street to Teen Town on Friday nights after a basketball game at the gym, which is now the parks and recreation building.
Cloud was usually in her cheerleading uniform after games, and remembers carving her name into the wooden benches.
Those benches remained at 140 E. Main Street, when the shop was Gardner Floral, owned by owned by Walt and Nancy Bickley. Bickley used a small, wooden bench in the store window for displays. The artifact was left behind from the old Teen Town.
The ceiling isn’t very high and the concrete floor is extremely uneven. Before the shop was Teen Town, and long before it was a flower shop or a swap n shop, the building housed a bank.
In 2008, the old bank vault was still located to the south of the staircase. The flower shop had turned the vault into a cooler to preserve bigger arrangements. The door appeared to still be the original metal vault door used in the early 1900s.
Cloud remembers parents such as Nelly Tunison and Margaret Gay watching over activities in that old basement.
Margaret Gay, who spoke to The Gardner News in 2008, remembered her son Jerry and her daughter Jackie asking her to bake a cake to take to Teen Town.
“So I would be baking a chocolate cake for the kids, while eating supper on Friday night,” she said.
Margaret was part of the Grange along with Naomi Kincaid, Russ Hanes, Linda Roswell and many others. In the mid 1950s, the Grange entered a national contest with other organizations, competing for the best way to help and support their local community. Gardner’s Teen Town concept won first place. The Gardner Historical Museum has a book about the local Grange activi
ties where the concept and creation of Teen Town is documented.
In the early 1950s The Gardner Lake Resort had reserved a space for teens, but the teens had to walk through the resort’s tavern to get there, and it was not as well organized.
Gardner’s Teen Town was open every Friday night. The drug store had donated their old benches and tables. The snack bar was placed in an old elevator cubbyhole that previously assisted the store above. Food and drink served included, soda, nuts, and popcorn. The Odd Fellows owned the old bank building and donated the basement space, because it was so close to the high school which was located on the northeast corner of Elm and Shawnee streets.
Different parents would take turns sponsoring and looking over the teenagers.
Margaret Gay recalls, “There wasn’t anything for the kids to do. It was a place for the kids to have for themselves.”
Lois (Ahlenstorf) Howell, who now resides in Prescott, Ariz., graduated in the GHS class of 1957.
She remembers her girlfriends would wear a leather dog collar around one of their ankles. The collar would have a tag attached and engraved with their sweethearts name dangling over their bobby socks. Recently, she has been trying to find CDs containing the music from her Teen Town days, such as Ed Fisher, and Patty Page.
Jerry Stricker owner of Stricker’s Auction, and a graduate of GHS class of 1959 remembers Horner’s Grocery Store was above the basement. His buddy, Larry Smith worked there and would come down and join him at Teen Town after his shift.
Jerry also recalls a hit song in 1956 called, “The Green Door.” Because it was such a popular song among the teenagers, the entrance door to Teen Town was painted green. The door was a rear entrance to the basement, facing the alley.
“Nobody drank or smoked,” recalls Donna (Dunlap) Pearce, GHS class of 1958. “It was such an innocent time for us.”
Pearce recalls her own parents taking a turn to sponsor Teen Town.
“I hated it when my own parents were there watching me,” she said.
Donna remembers listening to Chubby Checkers and dancing “The Twist” while wearing her cheerleading uniform.
She also remembers Spring Hill boys were dating some of her friends, and they too, attended Gardner’s Teen Town.
Donna’s husband, Larry Pearce, GHS Class of ’56, recalls Lee Peters being president of Teen Town in 1956.
Marilyn (Laquet) West, and husband Bob West, both GHS class of 1956, recall listening to records at Teen Town and having a special insert to switch the player from 78s to 45s.
Bob said they always looked forward to attending Teen Town after games.
“After a basket ball game we would tune into WHB Radio out of Kansas City and our local game scores would be announced,” she said.
Bob said they
Marilyn’s parents were members of the Grange and also sponsored Teen Town.
“It seemed like all of our parents were members of the Grange. It was our parents’ own social community back then,” Marilyn said.
Sondra (Cunningham) Losh, GHS Class of 1962, remembers when they moved Teen Town to the gym across the street.
“Dancing is what we mostly did. I remember dancing to Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis,” she said.
Sondra danced often with Dennis Coffee, and she practiced the West Coast Swing with Duane McIntire during lunch at school.
Rock ‘N’ Roll is what all the kids listened to, Sondra said.
“Elvis Presley was also very popular and my older sister Yolanda was an official member of the Elvis Presley Fan Club,” Sondra said.
When a fellow student passed out and collapsed on the floor of Teen Town, parents rushed over to the boy and began asking other kids if the boy had been taking drugs.
“My friends and I looked at each with confusion and couldn’t figure out what they were talking about,” she remembers. “We didn’t know what this man was really asking us at the time. We didn’t know what drugs were.”
Judy (Freund) Lenahan, GHS Class of 1967, remembers her parents, along with Dolores Cordell, and Ruel Rousselo sponsoring Teen Town.
By the mid-1960s, Teen Town began charging kids around 50 cents to enter. Some nights a live band like “The Searchers” would perform.
Concessions in the gym sold soda pop, chips, and candy bars.
“Girls wore their father’s white button up shirts with black stirrup pants or the fashionable Liz Taylor blouses,” Judy said. “And the guys wore those Ben Casey shirts.”
She loved dancing at Teen Town.
“After it closed around 10 p.m., I would go home and rush to the closet just to pick out what I was going to wear next Friday night,” she said. “I lived for Teen Town.”
Judy also recalls when Teen Town shut down around her sophomore or junior year due to kids coming over from other towns and starting fights.
“Gardner only had one cop at the time, and the sheriff’s department helped out when they could,” she said. “But when it became too much to handle, they finally decided if there was no dance, there was no reason for fights to break out.”
Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in the March 21, 2008 edition of The Gardner News.