1958 reunion inspires Connie Bachman

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Tiny hand-painted windows on buildings barely 2 inches tall depicting Brainerd were painstakingly placed to reflect the city's history in cloth.

All in time for the Class of 1958 to celebrate its 60th reunion.

The project—creating quilted table runners of downtown Brainerd streets—was born two years ago when a classmate brought in a menu preserved for six decades. The menu was saved all those years and provided a direct link to the times when the average income was less than $4,000 a year and a gallon of gas cost 25 cents.

The menu brought back more than memories for Connie Bachman. It inspired her to tackle a project she never expected before that day. As the group decided to use the theme of Back to 1958 for their reunion, Bachman started to think about what would work with that menu they planned to make into a placemat for the reunion dinner. In charge of decorating, Bachman suggested table runners would go well with the placemat and she offered to plunge in with both hands and make them.

"So I started the project and I didn't know what I was doing," she said. "I'd never done quilting in my life. But I was determined."

Determined and dedicated to both learn a new skill and put in hours of research to make sure it was an authentic depiction of downtown.

Bachman created the designs and the buildings. She had help with the sewing from Janet Jensen, Suzanne Sunquist and Jean Mahling. And for a reunion meeting she asked about a dozen people to bring scissors to cut out those tiny windows. She estimates it saved her 10 to 11 hours in one fell swoop.

To actually count up the hours in the entire project is daunting. With research, design and sewing for the eight 50-inch long table runners, the tally may rise to about 60 hours on each. It was such small and delicate work, tweezers were needed to place window panes. The buildings are designed so each person sitting on opposite sides of the table will see a facing side of the street.

Bachman's research turned up a directory from the 1960s but they knew there were changes in those last years in after their graduation. Her search led her to the Crow Wing County Historical Society where records recreated each street for specific years. Based on the addresses, she placed each building and found photos to recreate their look. She said there are a few spots where an alley got in the way—meaning the spacing was a little off, but the order was right.

The quilted table runners are designed to provide a caricature of the buildings as in some cases three-story structures were created missing a story to save on that window work.

"I'm very pleased with it," Bachman said of the final product done just in time for this weekend's reunion. "If somebody asked me to do it over again I would have. I enjoyed doing it. I've asked people who quilt and they all tell me 'I wouldn't do anything like that.'"

The work hasn't made Bachman a quilter but she is ready to tackle more detailed work like the table-runner project. Now after all the hours with them, it will be hard to see them go. The plan is to auction them off at the class get-together and help pay for future reunion gatherings. They talked about leaving the collection together, putting it on public display first or giving them to a museum. Bachman said they didn't want the pieces to end up stashed away and forgotten, and there wasn't time before the reunion for a display, but they'll talk about a possible public viewing option before the auction winners take them home for good.

"The people that buy them can enjoy them," she said. "They won't be put somewhere out of sight and out of the way. ... Everybody that's seen them has just loved them."

The Class of 1958 had 222 graduates. About 150 classmates and spouses are expected at St. Mathias Park Sunday, Sept. 9.

So this weekend, beneath a forecast for sunny skies and 70 degrees, the Washington High School Class of 1958 will gather in St. Mathias Park. Undoubtedly, as they gather for a shared meal with old friends, the table runners will inspire memories of a by-gone Brainerd when cars had tail fins, "South Pacific" played at a local theater, Ike was in the White House, the Hula-Hoop was invented and a RCA Whirlpool refrigerator cost $118. That year in Brainerd, a solid Armory still stood downtown along with a picturesque railroad depot and a host of businesses lined both sides of the streets—the big and the small. And now they still do, at least on Bachman's table runners for the Class of 1958.

She said: "It's fun to look back—it is—it's just great."