Class of 1968 ….”50″ Years….

I just returned from a trip back to Illinois. The purpose of the trip was to attend my “50th” Class Reunion from Toluca High School. “50” ??? Really “50” How ever did that happen. I really doesn’t seem that long since we walked out the door for the last time after graduation. When you are a teenager, life is eternal. The thought of aging and growing old, is just never going to happen. That’s not even reality. Your whole future is ahead of you and your anxious to spread your wings and begin. But it does……….All of a sudden your caught up in life, what ever it me be, and you blink your eye…….Here we are “50” years later. Some stayed single, some became Parents, then Grandparents, even Great Grandparents. We have weathered 50 years of living in the adult world. Many of us are now retired. “Our Golden Years Are Here”. We have moved from one coast to another and from the north down to Texas. But we managed to get 18 of us to return to Toluca for this reunion.


50 Years ago, we graduated from Toluca High School in 1968. We were a class of 35. “The Home of the Wildcats”


Sitting….Kathy, Row 1….Morene S, Lyla N, Paul H, Sue, Martha B Row 2… Denise C, Cristy A, Me, Mary Virginia E, Karen S, Row 3…..Chuck B, Greg H behind, Don W, Bob B, Steve T, Fred B, Stan G.

And here we are today, 50 years later.

Last year Morine, our Class President emailed the plans for the reunion. Most of the reunions in Toluca take place over Labor Day Holiday. This is the Big Celebration for the town. They host a 3 day carnival, parade, entertainment, food tents, bingo, and many other activities for the town. It is a Holiday the town plans for all year. Of course as a kid, this was the time of the year you waited for. This was the Coolest, Biggest Event of the Year. I lived a block from town. I remember being so excited to see the carnival come in to town. We usually started school around Wednesday before Labor Day. We had 3 days of school. But why did those teachers have to give us homework for the weekend??? I seemed like they did that every year. So Cruel. So as we drove into town. It was actually exciting to see all the activities and the carnival in place. The Reunion was at Mona’s Italian Restaurant.

Mona’s and Capponi’s have been a Legacy in town since the 1930’s. They are family owned restaurants that are famous for miles around, for their fried chicken, spaghetti and ravioli, and their homemade VO salad dressing. As we were growing up, this was always the place to go for nice dinner. It was a place that everyone gathered for any event or party. This same sign has hung since I can remember. It signifies Toluca. I actually lived right behind Mona’s on the next street. Ohhh the aroma’s that would come from the kitchen. It was Wonderful. In the back ground, you can see Capponi’s. It was owned by the Capponi family, but was purchased and now both are owned by the Bernardi Family. Their Grandpa had the nickname “Mona” back in the 30s.


We were taken back to the private dinning room. On entry, this was the cool sign they made.


It was so nice to see everyone. We all wore name tags, which were our high school photos, but no names. A couple of people I had to look at their name tag, as I didn’t recognize them. 18 of us showed up. It was a very nice crowd. We did lot of visiting and getting updated on our families and lives.


They had placed lots of cool props for a Photo Shoot. Boas, hats, masks, etc were on the tables.


The committee also made a photo frame for us all to take our picture. We had a choice of chicken, steak or cod. After dinner they cut the cake.


Morene gave us the report on the people who didn’t attend. Some had plans, some just didn’t come. Their is only 1 classmate we don’t know what happened to. We’ve had 3 pass away.


This table was set up with their pictures and obituaries, and a candle for remembrance.


Diana was a good friend all through high school. She had went to St. Ann’s grade school, so I didn’t really meet her until we were Freshman. She moved to Texas several years after graduating. I never seen her again. She passed away from Cancer.


Rick Fleeman moved to Tennessee and passed of Muscular Dystrophy.


Tom Marchesi only moved to Lacon. Its not far. He passed away from an ice fishing accident.

Finally after eating, and much visiting and picture taking, we all went our ways, but we set the date to do it again in 5 years. Lets hope were still all here.

Toluca had 2 grade schools. St. Ann’s Catholic School, and Toluca Grade School. In grade school we were a very small group. I attended the Public School. Our classes sizes varied between 14 – 20. These pictures were supplied by Don Wettstein. His mom saved many of his things from school. This is why his name is written on the photos.


3rd Grade Mrs. Kresl? Row 1….Sandra Bisio, Roger Haig, ?, Brenda Runnels, Me, Don Wettstein Row 2….Kathy Imm, Racine Burks, Ron Jenkins, Randy Dalton, Martha Fulks, Vicky Peters (Deceased), Wilma Stutzman, Sue Schumacher

Vicky Peters father passed away, and she moved to Minonk for High School. Later in her early 20’s, she was killed in a car accident on Rt 51 on the way to work in Bloomington.


4th grade Miss Vespa.Row 1, Wilma Stutzman, Brenda Runnels, Sue Schumacher, Vicky Peters, Martha Fulks, Kathy Imm, Racine Burks Row 2….Don Wettstein, Rich Fleeman, Ron Jenkins, Randy Dalton, Leon (Russ) Myres, Roger Haig

I attended the grade school for all but 4th and 5th. My parents divorced and I went to live with my grandmother in Kewanee. In 6th grade I returned as my mom thought I was then old enough to behave after school until she returned home from work.


6th Grade Miss Brandt Row 1 ….Don Wettstein, Bruce Middleton, Rick Fleeman, Linda Armstrong, Me, Sandy Bisio, Ron Jenkins Row 2....Dennis Snow, Roger Haig, Randy Dalton, Chuck Bruell, Kathy Imm, Brenda Runnels, ? Row 3…..?, Sue Schumacher, Wilma Stutzman, Martha Fulks, Racine Burks, Vicky Peters


8th Grade Mr. Don Whitler…. Row 1 Sitting, Ron Jenkins, Rick Fleeman, Chuck Bruell, Kathy Imm Row 2 Standing Bob Mouser, Randy Dalton, Me, Racine Burks, Wilma Stutzman, Linda Armstrong, Martha Fulks, Dennis Snow, Randy Baldwin , Don Wettstein, Mary Crank, Tom Marchesi, Sue Schumacher, Lyla Nixon

Once we graduated 8th grade, St. Anns Catholic Grade School joined together with us for High School. Toluca High School was really a small school at this time, probably with an average enrollment of 130 kids. Everyone new each other. We enjoyed a great Basketball team through the years. It was the #1 sport in school and the whole town joined in supporting and cheering for the “Wildcats”. We were arch rivals of nearby Wenona High School. During our Junior year, our team actually made it to the Super Sectional, Sweet Sixteen, Thanks to the guidance of Coach Chuck Rolinski. We were defeated by a school with a 3000 Enrollment. Basketball was always the highlight of the school season. I can remember so many times the town would rally around the bus’s as the team came back after an important game. The sirens would be blaring and everyone cheering.

In 1887 Toluca was originated originally as a farming community, with the railroad coming through. It became the Santa Fe main line connecting Kansas City and Chicago. Eventually it carried the Passenger trains clear to Los Angeles California. It is now an Amtrak freight line . In 1892 the town became a booming coal mine town. Its population eventually grow to over 6000, settled mainly by Italians. You can still see evidence of this by the 2 coal mine slags piles that we call the Jumbos still to this day. This was the materials discarded after the coal was mined. The mines finally closed in 1924 due to the decreased need for coal. As kids, many of us would climb the Jumbo and look out over Toluca. A sight that is always so inspiring. To be up so high and see the whole town before you.


In front of you is the main street of town, all the different buildings, then beyond it becomes the farm land dotted with barns and homes. Every mile is a road. It looks like little squares of checkerboards extending to the horizon. Each checkerboard is different depending what stage the field is in. If you stay up their very long, you will hear a train in the distance. Soon, here it comes chugging away, “Toot Toot Toot”, in the distance until it passes the town right before you. As a kid, I crossed over the tracks many times. It was like an adventure to explore. The area was all grown up in weeds. Paths were their to access the Jumbo. Their was a small hay shed that we sometimes played in. The entrance to the mine shaft was still their, but a fence partioned it off. Nobody worried where you were. You were just enjoying the Adventure for the day.


Today Toluca is a small town of 1500 population and has formed the Toluca Coal Mine Association, preserving the area by developing a park and fishing pond. The history of the coal mines has been preserved for all future generations. The Jumbo is now covered with grass and a picnic table rests on the top. I actually climbed the Jumbo again in June of 2015. It was really a Long…Long…..Exhausting …Walk….lol.Actually almost a crawl…….I had to stop several times to catch my breath…..But was so worth it. Their is nothing like the view of Toluca from on top of the Jumbo….Amazing….


Finally in 1992, Toluca consolidated their school. The school system is now comprised of Toluca, Wenona, and MDR…(Minonk-Dana-Rutland) The High School is in Minonk and is now Fieldcrest High School. Middle School is in Wenona, and Toluca, Wenona and Minonk each have their own Elementary Schools. So our old Grade school was torn down and was St. Anns Catholic. Our Old High School is now the Elementary School with a new addition on the front.


This is the future of all the small town schools. One by one they are all consolidating so they can afford to give our children a better education. So many hours and days we spent in this school…

What a Great Labor Day it has been. “50” years since we walked out those doors. We anxiously entered the real adult world. This school prepared us for today. It did a great job. ……So in 2023, we Shall All Do This Again….

2023 Reunion…..”55″ years….


Heres an interesting fact for you: Did you know most of the Class of “68” was 68 years old on our 50th reunion? Also we were mostly born in the year 1950.

My Day with Cassidy at Toluca…..Visiting the “JUMBO’S” Toluca Coal Mine Park

On Saturday, Tammy text me if I could keep Cassidy over night.  She had to work this weekend.  I said sure of course.  I went out and mowed the grass so it would be done for the weekend.  Tammy dropped her off and OMG.   She was in a BAD MOOD.  Mom was talking about taking her I Pad AWAY…..This this is serious business to an 11 year old.  So now,,,,,what to do….what to do…..We went up to Scott’s bar, and eat sandwiches…..Nobody was in their on Sat. afternoon,  So how about a game of pool.   Well that seemed to cheer her up.   …..Making progress…….So came back home and checked FB.   My friend in Toluca was having a garage sale.   So lets make a short trip and visit.  Its only about a half hour drive.


Toluca is the town where I grew up.  We moved their when I was 5.  I went to school and graduated from Toluca High School.  Graduating class of 35 students…….The High School was a consolidation of 2 grade schools in town, Toluca Public School and St. Ann’s Catholic School.  1992 was the last High School graduating class, and then area schools consolidated to form the Fieldcrest School District.  It comprised the schools of Toluca, Wenona, and Minonk, Dana, Rutland.  It was sad but that is the way it goes these days.  Its all about money and what a small school district can offer for education.

Toluca is also famous for “Mona’s” and “Capponi’s” Italian Restaurants’.  They were both started around 1933 but Capponi’s was bought by the Mona Bernardi Family in 1965.  They still both serve the same traditional recipes of chicken ,Italian pasta of spaghetti, ravioli and Lasagna from when they were owned separately.  They are famous through out the state, also selling their VO salad dressing and pasta products in grocery stores.

We went to Gabi’s and another friend, Janet came over.   We had a nice visit and we were talking about old times.  The subject of the “Jumbo” came up.  As kids we all use to go over and explore.  It was were the old coal mines had been, and when we were kids it was all grown up in weeds and trees.   You had to cross the tracks and then climb over the old fence that was ment to keep people out.  lol…….Fight your way through weeds and trees.


A few buildings were their but falling disarray.  I remember an old shed full of bales of hay.  I would climb and play in them.  The old mine shaft was still their but had wire and some wood post around it.  It was really not safe at all.  You could throw things into the deep dark hole.  Its a wonder no kids ever got hurt or killed their. But the biggest attraction was the 2 “Jumbos”.  Their were 2 mountains made out of slag.  Slag is like a shale rock, which is left after they take out the coal from mining. They ran rail cars and dumped it out to eventually form 2 mountains.  Many small towns in the area have them. You always knew which towns had coal mines in their past.  We would climb the first one closest to town.  The paths were all washed out from years and years of rain, snow and the natural weathering of the elements.  Once you got to the top, you would look around and just be in “AWE”…..It was an Unbelievable sight.   Especially to a kid.



You could see for miles.   Past the edge of town, miles into the country.   You would turn around slowly and see for miles in all directions.  In the distant was all of Toluca, farms in the distant, fields, some planted some not, even the Christian  Church Cemetery that was several miles out of town.  You were even higher than the water tower.  At the base of the jumbo was the Santa Fe Railroad tracks.  It was the main line going from Chicago all the way to Los Angles California.  There was always a freight train or passenger train going by.  It was such an adventure.  Now you had to climb back down and fight to get back through all the trees and weeds and wild brush.  After you got to the edge, you would climb over the fence and cross the tracks and……… back to civilization…….gees, ….did our parents know????,….I’m sure they did….Did they care???…..I don’t ever remember getting into trouble….lol……It was the ” Fun” things we did as kids… cell phones, no I pads, No computers……really, we barely had TV……

I drove over to the Jumbo crossing over the tracks at the east end of town and down the road paralleling the tracks.  The tracks are now owned by BNSF Railway.  It is not the main passenger line anymore but it is still the main freight line to Chicago.  We pulled up to the parking area.  It is now a park.  “Toluca Coal Mine Park”.  Around the year 2000, the town formed an Association for the clean up and preservation of the property.  It is now a park to be use for hiking, picnicking and a pond for fishing.  They also hold some other town events in the park.


A nice fence surrounds the edge and a plaque about the coal mines is posted as well as a refurbished coal car sitting on a rail.


It was used to extract coal from the coal mines.  As we walked through the gate I noticed it has a beautiful natural park like atmosphere.  Trees, blowing grasses in the breeze and that wonderful feeling of nature.  Over to the side was a huge concrete circle.

This was the opening to one of the mine shafts.  It is now filled in and no longer a danger.  A huge pulley was housed inside this concrete.  It would turn and pull the buckets or maybe even people up the shaft.  Cassidy was actually starting to have fun.  Next we walked further, and seen the nice trail up the Jumbo.  I had sandals on but Cassidy headed up the trail to the top.   lol   and she ran……Great to be a kid……She made it to the top and looked like a little dot.

But acoustics were great, we could still shout to one another and hear our voices.  Gabi and I walked further and found the old pool.

Back in 1924, after the mine had closed, a huge concrete community pool was constructed.  When I was a kid, in the 60s, it was still here, but so broken with age.  The walls were still intact but people were throwing trash in it.  Old car parts….Stove and Refrigerators…..tree and leave debris…..Plus mother nature was allowing trees and bushes to grow up in the cracks.  Now it has been filled in and planted with grass.  But the foundation is still here.


It is so cool to still see it.  After Cassidy came down, we sat and talked abit.   The dandelions were done blooming and had their little feathery heads that blow in the wind.  Cassidy had fun collecting a bouquet  and then blowing them and watching them fly in the wind.



We sat for awhile and talked about the history of the mine.Gabi found a peace of coal and shale for Cassidy to take home.   She was actually very interested.

The Devlin Coal Company opened the mine in 1892, because it was next to the Santa Fe RR.  It eventually had 3 shafts some extending out 1 to 2 miles from the shaft opening.  Its average output was 1,000 tons a day.  In 1905, 771 miners produced 379,000 tons of coal.  The town grew very fast, bringing in Italians, Polish and many other immigrants.  It grew fast to around 3,000 people.  I heard often as a kid, that the town supported over 30 taverns.   Can you even imagine pay day?….lol….Party time…..The closed in 1924, due to rising wages, costs and newer mines elsewhere.  The coal veins were getting to far from the shaft openings.  It just wasn’t efficient anymore. Today the town has a population of between 1400-1500.

Now one of the story’s I heard as a kid was of a missing man.  In 1939, 73 year old former miner, Dominick Valesano had been missing for 2 weeks.  He was thought to have fallen or jumped down the 410 foot vertical shaft.  Due to the presence of “Black Damp” gas.  No one would go down to search.


Two brothers and a friend used their cheap brownie type camera and made a power device to power a flash bulb that had been attached to the brownie camera.  They  lowered it down the 410 foot shaft and took manual flash pictures.   The weight of the camera and light was over 10 lbs. and the addition of over 400 feet of wire brought the weight to over 300 lbs.  It took all the combined strength of the 3 to pull it back up.


When the pictures were developed, their was the view of the lower part of the body.  The top half was hidden by a beam.  There were efforts to bring the body up with a grappling hook, but eventually men had to go down with gas masks.  The story of the boys successful operation with amazing results made the national headlines in 1939.

It was a good and fun day…..We left and dropped off Gabi at home, having had a great visit.  On the way home, Cassidy said……”I really had a good time”…..Wow…..I succeeded……I told her about Cherry Mine disaster of 1909…..around 292 men were killed……Now Cherry is just up the road a half hour north of her house………Another Adventure for another day……I guess its just my small effort at preserving history…..and trying to make an 11 year old happy


Isn’t it amazing the history one finds so close to home……

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