WINDSOR, Ill. (AP) — It's been 80 years since Dean Bennett, Lola Belle Bottrell, Treva Cole and Clarice Swain graduated from Windsor High School, but they agree the decades have brought them closer together.
The Windsor Class of 1934 graduated 36 or 34 students -- depending on who you ask. Regardless, 1934 saw one of the largest classes the school district has seen; however, the four surviving members, who all still live in Windsor, say 80 years has changed much about town, education and friends.
"We all came from one-room schoolhouses out in the country," said Bennett, 97. "Of course the one-room school quite often had teachers who didn't go to college so we arrived in high school at various stages of education. You were lucky to go, to have a high school you could get to. High school was pretty new -- even in those days."
Bennett and Bottrell, 98, say they "go way back" since they started together at the same country school at about 6 years old.
"One teacher had eight grades -- poor teacher," said Swain, 97.
After they completed elementary school, they were able to go to school in town at the high school, which once sat on Ohio Street. However, because many families didn't have cars, students stayed in town with friends, family or rented apartments to make it to class. Swain was able to stay at home since her brothers could drive her into town each day and Bennett's family decided to move to town after farming became too much of a burden.
"We all went broke so we had to do something; we had to move to town," he said.
Bottrell and Cole, 98, ended up rooming together their final two years at Windsor school.
Bottrell said while growing up during the Great Depression they were used to eating one meal per day. Bennett added that it was common to place a piece of cardboard in a pair of holey shoes.
"All the boys carried a little pocket watch," Bennet explained. "You carried about 25 cents in there so that was all your spending money for probably the week. You worked odd jobs to earn your spending money. You could pull weeds for about 15 cents per hour."
"You were lucky to have 25 cents; you were rich," Cole joked.
Bennett said they didn't "have to fool with driver's licenses" either.
"If you had a Model T you'd just get behind the wheel and away you went; I started driving when I was probably 10 years old," he said.
Despite coming of age during the Great Depression and raising young families during World War II, Cole Swain said they were happy because, well, they didn't know any better.
"We went through the Depression, and we could not have a banquet because there wasn't money for it or any money for the yearbook," Swain said. "The good old days -- I wouldn't want to do it again, but we didn't know any better."
"We was happy enough," Cole added.
Following graduation, Bennett said, about two or three members of their class headed to college, but most stuck around the area to find jobs.
Swain went to beauty school in Decatur, Bennett eventually bought out his brother's service station and opened up a tire business; Cole and Bottrell became farmers' wives after they married best friends.
"I was just glad to be out of school," Cole said.
Despite "hating beauty school," Swain moved back to the area where she says she collected a lot of dimes offering haircuts for 10 cents and perms for a dollar.
Bennett spent "about 40 or 50 years in the tire business."
"You talk about people not paying their bills," he said. "People didn't used to pay their bills until fall -- there were two times, with the wheat and later on with corn -- if they had a good crop. If not, they'd wait until next year. You didn't charge them any interest, because if you did you'd lose customers.
"It was a rough go at times. There wasn't much money to be made in a service station. You made about 2 cents per gallon (of gasoline). You didn't get very rich, so I just fixed flat tires."
The four still live in their own homes with help from their families, and up until the last three years or so, they had an annual reunion when their classmate, the late Fred Goddard, visited from his home in Tennessee. Goddard died in 2013.
"Whenever he'd come up we'd go somewhere to a restaurant, but there for a while we were getting together every year," Swain said.
"I'll tell you one thing about this class, we didn't have any problems with drunkards or dopers," Bennett said. "About the orneriest thing you could do back then was smoke cigarettes."
"I feel sorry for the kids now; they have too many temptations," Swain added. However, Bennett says students graduating high school today are smarter than their generation, but Cole says they aren't learning enough base knowledge in arithmetic.
"That's a fact," Bennett said. "They have more technology and communications are entirely different."
Bottrell and Cole, who served as last year's grand marshals during the annual Windsor Harvest Days parade, attend the Methodist church together, while Swain and Bennett attend the Christian church. However, they say familiar faces are not as frequent today.
"It used to be everybody knew everybody, but I sure don't anymore," Cole said.
"I don't either -- everyone has moved," Swain added. "There's so many who have passed and so many that have moved that I don't know who a lot of people are anymore."
Bottrell said she was at Cross County Mall in Mattoon several weeks ago when she ran into a classmate from elementary school.
"The girls that were with me said evidently I hadn't changed much if they remember you from grade school," she said with a soft laugh.
Bennett said after eight decades, they've grown to appreciate each other, and Swain said it's nice to have friends she can count on within the community.
"We've all gotten closer as time goes by, and we appreciate each other," Bennett said. "A good small town is not a bad place to live."
Cole said her family is another reason she has been able to live in her own home for as long as she has.
"I couldn't live like I do without them," Cole said.
Bennett agreed, and each one of them has several generations of grandchildren.
"I still have some coming this year," Bennett said. "There are three in the oven right now. When they get here I'll have 19 great-grandchildren and nine grandkids. I love every one of them; they're great kids. I'll tell you one thing though, kids are the one that will keep you living."
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