Roberts recalls life in Colfax during the 1960s

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  Although the Roberts family only lived in Colfax for two years in the 1960s, those two years must have made quite an impression on young Garyn Roberts.

Dr. Roberts was the featured speaker at the Colfax Public Library July 10 as part of an early Colfax Sesquicentennial event.

Roberts’ mother, Cleo Roberts, taught first grade at Colfax Elementary.

During their time in Colfax from 1963 to 1965, Roberts’ father, Glyn Alyn “Bud” Roberts, was a student at UW-Stout.

“Colfax’s Centennial celebration in 1964 was really something — at least to a little boy. I remember standing near the bank on Main Street and watching the parade,” said Roberts, whose presentation was given in Tower Park, next to the Colfax Public Library.

“One of the big events of the centennial was a beard-growing contest. Issues of the Colfax Messenger from those days carried lots of photos of the contestants,” Roberts said.

“There was a jail for all men who did not participate — including my dad. There may have been a charity involved, and it was all in good fun,” he said.

Roberts went on to say that his father had never been a fan of facial hair and did not want to be part of the beard-growing contest.

“After all, his professors at Stout might brand him as one of those ‘radicals.’ So, he snuck out of town early each morning to go to Menomonie and Stout. He hoped he would not be pulled over and sent to ‘jail.’ He never was,” Roberts said.

The Roberts family lived in one side of the two-story duplex on the corner of River Street and Pine Street that was at one time the Colfax Messenger office. Juel and Gladys Freestone occupied the other half of the house.

Gerhart Hammer

Roberts and his brother, Tom, counted Colfax resident Gerhart Hammer as one of their best friends in Colfax.

At the time of the Colfax Centennial, Hammer was in his 80s, Roberts said.

“Gerhart Hammer lived from 1882 to 1973 … I remember going to a birthday party for Mr. Hammer, and I remember that he was in a wheelchair at this stage of his life. I do not remember much about why Mr. Hammer was in the wheelchair, and it sure did not seem to matter. He was very kind to us and played with us — games of all sorts, and he would also come outside and play catch and visit. He had a big heart. Mom says that Tom and I would go a couple of houses down to his house at 610 Pine Street and ask Mrs. Hammer if Mr. Hammer could come out to play. The Hammers had a back porch on their house, and we were allowed to play there whenever we wanted,” Roberts said.

“As children, we really did not know how important he was to Colfax history. The Colfax Municipal Building Restoration Group relates that ‘in January of 1919, Gerhart Hammer purchased the Joy Theater motion picture business from Mr. Harsh and installed the equipment in the village hall auditorium.’ The first motion picture shown there debuted on January 21 and was entitled ‘Pershing’s Crusaders.’ This was the era of silent film, and the 1918 film documented American soldiers’ experiences in World War I France,” Roberts said, noting that Gerhart Hammer was the Colfax village president in 1924 and 1925.

Leave it to Beaver

“For the rest of my life, Colfax has and will frame my childhood. I think of it often. When watching reruns of the old television series, ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ I often see the Cleaver family’s garage as our garage in Colfax. Whenever June Cleaver goes to the kitchen in their fictional house, complete with glass-windowed cupboards, I think of Gladys Freestone’s kitchen,” Roberts said.

Dr. Roberts is the author and editor of a number of books.

He donated several copies of books to the Colfax Public Library that he has edited or written, including “The Prentice Hall Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy (2001),” “Chester Gould: A Daughter’s Biography of the Creator of Dick Tracy (2007),” and “A Cent Story! — The Best from Ten Detective Aces (1986).”

According to a biography for Garyn Roberts on the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention’s website (www.midatlanticnostalgiaconvention.com), “Roberts received his B.B.A. in Marketing from the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater, in 1981, his M.A. in Popular Culture Studies and Ph.D. in American Culture Studies (with emphasis in English, History and Sociology) from Bowling Green University, Ohio, in 1983 and 1986 respectively … Dr. Roberts’ love and passion for nostalgia pop culture includes Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, the writings and creative works of Robert Bloch and Ray Bradbury, the detailed and invaluable histories and scholarship of Sam Moskowitz, dime novels and related 19th century fiction, the ‘pulps,’ classic newspaper comic strips, old movies, old radio, Big Little Books, comic books, paperback books, old TV and other related forms of popular fiction and popular media.”

Garyn Roberts was the 2013 Guest of Honor at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention.

Dr. Roberts and his family live in Chippewa Falls.