ARCOLA ALUMNI ASSOCIATION
|Oldest Living Alumni|
As the Arcola Alumni Association continues its recognition of Arcola High School graduates who have reached the age of 90 and beyond, we honor 1944 graduate Lowell Garrett. Garrett attended AHS at a time of historical events in our school and in the world, and later experienced nuclear testing in his service to our country.
Lowell Gene Garrett, the fifth child of Dillard and Nora Ewing Garrett, was born at home April 5, 1926. His parents were livestock and broom corn farmers who lived 1.5 miles north of Arcola, just east of the railroad tracks, where Fari Shafer now resides. Their rural home had no electricity and was heated with coal. Lowell worked in his father’s broom corn fields, which were farmed with 22 head of horses. The Garretts also raised feeder cattle, milk cows, hogs, chickens and turkeys. In addition to their livestock, the family had produce from their 11-acre garden, as well as potato and melon patches, which provided most of the food their family and their field workers needed throughout The Depression years.
Wanda Lee Garrett, Lowell’s sister, was 13 years older than Lowell and passed away when she was just 16 years old. Brother Richard Garrett was 12 years older and attended school with the class of 1932. He withdrew from school during his senior year in order to help at home on the farm during the early years of The Depression. Louise Garrett Clausen graduated with the Arcola Township High School Class of 1937 and another brother, James, who was just two years older than Lowell, died in infancy.
Lowell and his siblings walked to Scales country school, which was located about one mile west of their home. By seventh grade, Lowell had a new bicycle and was able to ride to school. He remembers when Dolores Turner, a 12-year old student from the Arthur schools, came to Scales school to give a dance performance. Lowell was 14 at the time and “fell in love” with the young lady. Lowell finished grade school in Arcola his eighth grade year, and continued to ride his bike to and from school until his junior year at ATHS. At that time, he was able to drive himself to school in a 1933 Willys-Overland automobile that had previously been used while dumping corn on the farm. There were no keys for the vehicle and Lowell relates his friends liked to gather around to watch him start his car without a key. The trick to starting the car involved a secret lift on its horn.
The ATHS Class of 1944 elected Lowell “Shorty” Garrett president of their freshmen class in the fall of 1940. Despite his 5’11” height, Lowell was often called “Shorty” in high school. Lowell explained that Ralph “Baldy” Knaus, a high school classmate of his older brother Richard, had given him the name when he was a young child after Ralph watched Lowell climb and then ride a pump handle in order to prime the well pump for a cup of water.
While actively involved in Arco-Lite, Glee Club, 4-H, Masque and Gavel, senior class play and as FFA president, the senior class history in the May 25, 1944 Arcola Record-Herald also reported, “Lowell Garrett was our leading man in sports. He led the loyal men to the football fields as well as to the track meets. Everyone turned out to see Raging Garrett.” Lowell was a four-year standout in football, basketball and track, lettering three years in basketball and all four years in football and track.
Garrett remembers his high school football teams were coached by a different head coach each year – Coaches Edward Lesnick, Fred Scharf, Floyd Covill and Earl McLane. Lowell was captain of Arcola’s football team his senior year. The October 28, 1943 Record-Herald displayed “Garrett Runs Spectacularly” in its title of an article that reported, “Garrett’s running was the standout of the game. He carried the ball from scrimmage 19 times for a net gain of 205 yards, averaging almost 11 yards each time he carried the ball. In addition to that, he also handled the punting. It was by far the best game he has ever played.”
The November 11, 1943 Record-Herald reported the Riders were defeated by Newman the previous week, following injuries to quarterback Jim Ghere and Captain Lowell Garrett. In the following week’s newspaper it was noted the Purple Riders, playing without their Captain Lowell Garrett, suffered a 13-0 loss to Tuscola in a game that was played on Armistice Day, rather than the traditional Thanksgiving Day holiday.
While Lowell relates their basketball team was not too successful, their track team proved to be better. During his senior year, the March 30, 1944 Record-Herald noted the track team was summoned to a March 24th meeting after school, when they learned there was no coach to lead the team. Lowell remembers Mr. Floyd King, their superintendent, agreed to enroll the 6-8 boys in track meets if they would practice on their own without a coach. The May 18, 1944 Record-Herald reported the Arcola track team, represented by just three members, had qualified for the upcoming state track meet by placing 5th in the May 12th district track meet at Mattoon. The group of three had accumulated more points than six other teams representing some larger schools with full teams. Those who had placed in the district meet included Lowell Garrett (1st) and Jim Ghere in the high jump, Charles Edwards and Ghere in pole vault and Garrett and Edwards in the 400 and 100 respectively. At state, Lowell recalls he placed third in high jump and also placed in the 120-yard high hurdles.
Sports continued at ATHS despite other disrupting historical events of the time. On July 24, 1941, following Lowell’s freshman year, the high school was struck by lightning and a subsequent fire burned the top floor and auditorium. Their class history noted, “Because of the great fire we ambled amidst ashes and water from class to class for most of the entire school year. Some classes were forced to meet at West Side grade school. Chuck Davis furnished his little Austin as a faithful taxi – just didn’t hold enough.”
Lowell and his classmates were sophomores at the time of the December 7, 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent U.S. involvement in World War II. Their class history reported members “wanted to do our share in helping the country, so we came to school on Saturday mornings.” With an anticipated shortage of farm labor for the spring 1942 farming season, school was in session on Saturdays, beginning January 31, 1942, with students completing the school year on May 6th, rather than May 31st. Lowell recalls there were no new cars during the war, gasoline and tires were rationed, and junk was collected for scrap metal.
As seniors, their class sold war bonds and stamps. Their two bond drives were so successful Mr. King rewarded the class with a half-day vacation. Enrollment at ATHS declined from 155 in the fall of 1943 to 142 in May of 1944. The decline included six young men who left school to serve in the armed forces: Perry Gardner, Pat Harrington, Jim “Burley” Honn, Charles Hudson, Dick Miller and Bob Rich.
The May 18, 1944 Record-Herald reported thirty members of the ATHS Class of 1944 were to graduate in the high school auditorium on Wednesday, May 24th, with only 28 in attendance to receive their diplomas. Charles Hudson and Pat Harrington were both air cadets in the service of their country at the time of graduation and “had practically completed their work before having been called, having left during the semester, the board of education voted to award them diplomas.”
Lowell Garrett’s 1944 classmates also included several graduates who may be known by local readers: Charles Bickel, Jr., Jean Blagg Ghere, Bobby Bright, Charles Edwards, Patricia Lindenmeyer, Martha Pullen Herrington, Wanda Roberts Dilliner and Frances Sisk Thompson.
The dance floor at Lester’s Arcola Sweet Shop, Mike Poulos’ Arcola Candy Kitchen and a pool hall were entertainment spots while Lowell was in high school. His classmates and close high school friends included Bobby Bright, Pat Harrington, Junior Bickel and Junior Sanders. Others special friends were Bob Holaday and Milton Butler (Class of 1943) and Bill Seaman (Class of 1945).
At age 18, Lowell began a two-year courtship with Dolores Turner, the young lady from Arthur who had danced at the Scales country school. Following high school, he continued to work on his family farm and then worked at Swift Company in Chicago. Lowell made repeated attempts to enlist in the Air Force during the later years of World War II, but was not released by the draft board because of his farm deferment.
Lowell and Dolores Turner, a 1945 Mattoon High School graduate, were married in the First Christian Church of Mattoon on December 15, 1946, with classmate Bobby Bright serving as Lowell’s best man in their wedding. Garrett worked at Koehne Manufacturing in Mattoon for a short time before moving to Davenport, Iowa, to work at the Case factory in Bettendorf. He left his work at Case after a long strike and then managed a Mobil gas station in Davenport a short time before returning to Pesotum in 1947. He then worked at Pioneer Seed, Goodrich Tire and Black’s Hardware in Champaign.
In 1951, after being “frozen to the farm” during World War II, Lowell was called to military service during the Korean War, first to Fort Sheridan Army base in Illinois, then to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, and finally to Fort Sill in Oklahoma for his basic artillery training. He was then assigned to special training with one of the Army’s new top-secret weapons, the atomic cannon. Lowell was named Fire Direction Chief as a result of his high math test scores and was then sent to Yucca Flat, Nevada, a major nuclear test region within the Nevada Test Site. Lowell and others were assigned to guard the top-secret weapons and were not allowed to photograph or talk about the testing of nuclear devices at the time.
Lowell was one of 200 men involved in a 1952 nuclear test that duplicated the blast of Hiroshima in an effort to study the effects on 45-ton Sherman tanks, houses, buildings, railroad trestles and test dummies. Each man was warned of unknown dangers of the testing and each was given the opportunity to withdraw from the project in advance. Prior to the nuclear testing, the troops built the various buildings to be tested at blast distances up to 25 miles away. They dug 30” deep trenches and were ordered to lie face down in the trenches at the time of the blast. Lowell remembers the glow from the nuclear detonation was so bright he was able to see the bones in his hand like an X-ray. The results of the test revealed the homes were disintegrated at 4 miles and 45-ton tanks were tumbled nearly 2 blocks. Garrett has enjoyed good health following his experiences at Yucca Flat, but he reports most of the 200 involved in the nuclear testing developed cancer, believed to be a result of their exposure to the radioactive fallout.
Garrett was later ordered to Korea and then to Germany, but his orders were changed and he remained at Fort Sill, where he taught new recruits. Their daughter, Laura, was born in 1953 while Lowell and Dolores were stationed in Oklahoma.
Following his discharge in 1953, Lowell was able to return to his work at Black’s Hardware in Champaign. The Garretts were living in Champaign where their son, Mark, was born in 1956. Lowell was salesman for Builder’s Supply in Champaign before he became manager at Courson’s Hardware in Sidell in 1960. The Garretts moved to Sidell in the early 1960s and later built their own home in 1986. Lowell retired as manager of Courson’s Hardware in 1992. They soon moved to Port Charlotte, Florida, where Lowell states he was able to “scoop sunshine instead of snow”. He and Dolores enjoyed biking, fishing, good neighbors and dining out in many different restaurants from Tampa to Naples.
Lowell and Dolores were married more than 65 years before her passing on July 7, 2012, in Port Charlotte, Florida. Today at age 90, Lowell is still active and living in his own home in Port Charlotte. He enjoys daily biking, occasional fishing and the good company of his friends, neighbors and family. Their daughter, Laura, lives in Colorado and Utah, and son Mark resides in Macomb, Illinois. Lowell’s nieces and nephew, children of his brother Richard (1932) and Minnie Sargent Garrett (1935), each attended Arcola High School: Sally Garrett Krasuski (1963), Rick Garrett (1966) and Peggy Garrett Alexander (1969).
Last Revision December 14, 2017