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Staples man seeks to unite veterans among class of '61

A Staples High School alumnus put a year's worth of work trying to honor fellow veterans among his 1961 graduating class. Roger Randgaard, 74, went to college in St. Cloud immediately after getting his high school diploma, but grew restless and j...

The bench took Roger Randgaard more than a year to get created. It contains the names of 27 people from the 1961 graduating class at Staples High School who served in the U.S. armed forces. Photo submitted by Roger Randgaard
The bench took Roger Randgaard more than a year to get created. It contains the names of 27 people from the 1961 graduating class at Staples High School who served in the U.S. armed forces. Photo submitted by Roger Randgaard

A Staples High School alumnus put a year's worth of work trying to honor fellow veterans among his 1961 graduating class.

Roger Randgaard, 74, went to college in St. Cloud immediately after getting his high school diploma, but grew restless and joined the Air Force instead. He managed data, and was posted to South Korea for a while until being discharged in 1965.

More than 50 years later, Randgaard was walking through the Staples All Veterans Park when he got the idea to honor the veterans in his 1961 graduating class. When he graduated, his class was the biggest ever for the school, 132 students.

In the five decades since they graduated, Randgaard's classmates made careers and families for themselves, and then retired, spread out across the United States. With the help of fellow alumni, Randgaard did detective work to figure out which '61 alums were veterans (27), which of those were still alive (21), and which wanted to have their names on the bench (all of them). In addition, all six families of those veterans who died were willing to have their loved one's name on the bench, too.

Since Staples is a small town, Randgaard knew most of the people memorialized on the bench.

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"You might not associate with them, but you know who they are," he said.

Bob Hamann, president of the All Veterans Park Board, secured financing for the bench, Randgaard said-about $2,500. Although there are more than a dozen other stone benches already at the park, Randgaard's is the first to honor a specific high school class, Hamann said. The benches all face the memorial section of the park.

As if efforts to track down his old classmates weren't enough, Randgaard also hunted for a photo of the old Staples High School as it appeared in 1961, long before it was demolished. A search of his old high school yearbooks turned up no usable images, since his friends wrote messages over the photos. All wasn't lost, though-the Staples school system stepped in to give him a working image of the old building. A shop in Massachusetts helped put the 8-by-10-inch black-and-white image on the back of the bench.

Hamann said memorial dedications at the park typically occur around the Fourth of July or Veterans Day, but they made an exception in Randgaard's case since he wanted snowbirds among the class to be able to attend. The dedication Saturday, Oct. 21, will likely unite those alumni who attended every reunion and those who have dropped out of touch, Randgaard said.

"It'll bring a lot of us closer together," he said.

The Staples High School class of 1967 plans to duplicate the '61 bench with the names of veterans in their own class, Hamann and Randgaard said.

Randgaard's time of service occurred when America as a country was much different than it is today. He recalled an incident when he was posted to Wichita Falls, Texas. Randgaard and a group of buddies attempted to go see a movie at a theater off-base, but one of their number had the misfortune of being black in a time when Jim Crow was still enforced in the South. A theater employee told the group the white soldiers could come in, but not the black man-shocking Randgaard and the other northerners. The black man, who was from Virginia and likely accustomed to racism, said it was fine if his white friends left him behind but Randgaard and the rest of the group weren't having it.

"We ended up going to the USO club or something," he remembered.

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Randgaard's bench seeks to enshrine a good thing from the era: the bond a group of kids from Staples felt for each other, and their dedication to the country they chose to serve.

If you go

The bench dedication is 10 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, at the Staples All Veterans Park, 820 U.S. Highway 10, Staples.

This new bench at the Staples All Veterans Park honors the veterans among Staples High School's Class of 1961. Photo submitted by Roger Randgaard
This new bench at the Staples All Veterans Park honors the veterans among Staples High School's Class of 1961. Photo submitted by Roger Randgaard

Related Topics: VETERANS
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