One night in '63, Gorillas gave way to 'Special Angel'I traveled to Gregory the other day for the Capital for a Day festivities. The community auditorium hosted the main event, and I was able to bore some friends with tales of the long-ago, the Gregory Gorillas and a magical summer Friday evening when I knew without question that the Creator had placed an angel on Earth just for me.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
I traveled to Gregory the other day for the Capital for a Day festivities. The community auditorium hosted the main event, and I was able to bore some friends with tales of the long-ago, the Gregory Gorillas and a magical summer Friday evening when I knew without question that the Creator had placed an angel on Earth just for me.
First, about those Gorillas. Gregory’s Gorilla mascot was a pretty daunting creature back in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I haven’t paid so much attention recently, but in the long ago, the football players seemed as big as the oversized gorilla that guards the main door of the gymnasium. Chamberlain and Gregory used to have some pretty spirited athletic tussles. A kid named Cal Stukel, whose obituary I read recently, was a powerhouse running back in those days.
I didn’t play football, so I escaped some of that punishment. Unfortunately, some of the football guys played basketball. To a 150-pound center, every one of them looked like a gorilla driving the baseline, and I was more than a little reluctant to step out in front of them and take the charge, as the coaches directed me to do. To me, it made no more sense than stepping in front of the Chicago and North Western Railway locomotive as it rolled through town.
My basketball exploits in the Gregory gymnasium fell far short of the stuff of legends, and by rights, the place should hold nothing but bad memories. Ah, but there was that angel.
During the summer of 1963, a year after I graduated from high school, I saw a flier for a Friday night rock and roll dance featuring Myron Lee and the Caddies. Well, except for Elvis and Carl Perkins and maybe Buddy, Myron Lee and the Caddies was my all-time favorite rock and roll band. They were mostly South Dakota kids. Myron himself dropped out of Washington High School in Sioux Falls midway through his senior year to tour full-time. He and his musicians played for huge audiences all across the country and up into Canada. They shared the state with Bobby Vee and traveled a couple of seasons with the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars. I had been a fan of theirs from the time I was a high school freshman, but I’d never been to one of their dances. Right there on the flier was my chance. They were playing at the Gregory Auditorium, one evening only.
If I remember correctly, it was mid-summer, probably grain-harvest time at our farm. Getting off work early enough to get clean, drive to Chamberlain to pick up my girlfriend and then make it to Gregory in time for the dance must have been no small feat. I have no idea how I convinced my dad it was worth it, but I’m guessing I made up later for the lost time.
We arrived just as the thing was starting. The place was packed, the band was rocking and we were swept up in the enchantment of being teenagers in love in the simplest time in the whole world. My date, who agreed a few years later to be my bride, wore a pale blue dress with spaghetti straps. Her dark eyes sparkled like all the stars in the July sky, and for one crazy night, we danced to nearly every song Myron and the gang played.
The other day, standing in the middle of the gym, I could remember where we sat, where we danced and where we were in the crowd that pushed against the front of the stage between songs.
Years later, I met Myron Lee at a firefighters dance in Pierre. He told me the Friday evening Nancy and I danced to his music was the only time his band played Gregory. They were on their way to Spearfish to open for the Everly Brothers the next night, and the Friday date was a good break and a money maker.
After the break at that Pierre dance, Myron Lee dedicated a song to Nancy and me. We danced to Bobby Helms’ “You Are My Special Angel,” and we were teenagers once more.