Make way for Yoopers

illustration by Mike McKinney

illustration by Mike McKinney

by Larry Chabot

Is there a Yooper Hall of Fame, and can a troll get in? If so, here’s a candidate for the ages: a downstate hunter who pulled off one of the greatest survivals ever. Here came Herman Simonds of Gregory, a town southeast of Lansing, bringing his two sons north to Alger County in 1956 to hunt deer. The sons hung around a few days before heading home to their jobs, but Herman stayed to hunt some more. On November 20, he curled up for a snooze in the little shelter he’d built on the back of his pickup. While he slept, a squall blew in, trapping him in four feet of snow, miles from the nearest town.

“I slept when I shouldn’t have,” he said later. “That was my mistake.”

He was in an endless field of snow, not another soul in sight. When he didn’t return home on time, his son, Harold, notified the state police, who launched a search. Meanwhile, Herman had to do something, and quickly: he grabbed his shovel and began digging himself a road. Shoveled and shoveled, moved the truck, shoveled some more, slept in his truck, rationed his food, as he inched ahead.

After 26 days (yes: 26 days) of tossing snow, he broke out on an old, driveable railroad grade, drove seven miles to Shingleton, gassed up (he still had two gallons left), drove home to Gregory, and rolled calmly into his driveway. His relieved sons asked police to call off the search. Dad was home. “It was a lot of fun,” said the retired railroad engineer, speaking like an honorary Yooper. He’d lost 26 pounds, one for each day of shoveling.

Victories galore

On the football scene, after Michigan State beat UCLA 17-14 in the Rose Bowl, a Yooper got the game ball for his heroics. Marquette’s Carl “Buck” Nystrom, a walk-on who became a star, played tough despite a shoulder injury. “I wouldn’t trade Buck for any guard in the country,” said his coach. Among the game’s spectators was Negaunee’s Karen Violetta, one of 2,800 Michigan State students who rode special trains to California. Also in the stands that day were William Tobins of Negaunee, who went by plane. A few days after the game, Buck Nystrom married Joan Whitmarsh in Marquette, then went on to a fabulous coaching career. Chuck Fairbanks, a former teammate at Michigan State and later coach at Oklahoma, has this to say about his friend: “He’s the greatest line coach who ever coached in high school or college, without question or exception.”

More U.P. heroics

As an omen of things to come, Negaunee’s basketball team traveled across the Straits to upset top-ranked Traverse City. Then Yooper squads blew the doors off in the state tournaments. Class B Stephenson and Class C Crystal Falls both carted home first-place trophies. In Class D, Chassell trailed Portland St. Patrick 68-53 with 2:13 left to play, then stormed to a 71-68 victory ­— the first of three straight titles amidst a 65-game winning streak, still a state record. A downstate fan said it “was a good thing the U.P. didn’t have any Class A schools or they would have won that one, too.”

In hockey, Marquette’s Weldon Olson played on the 1956 U.S. Olympic team, which came in second. At a dinner honoring his achievements, he was handed a slide projector and screen. Weldon played four years at Michigan State and was on the gold medal 1960 Olympic squad.

Oh, no — not again!

Paquette’s gas station was in a bad spot in Lake Linden. Situated on a sharp turn in this Copper Country town, the station was hit for the 20th time by drivers who couldn’t negotiate the turn; this time, only the sign was damaged.

In early January, a tall man in a fur hat was window-peeping at St. Luke’s Hospital and college dorms, but vanished before he could be nabbed.

An unidentified Munising man was handing out silver dollars to polite drivers and pedestrians in that Alger town.

Mrs. Felix Baldasari of Negaunee made the papers when she cracked an egg and found another egg inside.

A local disc jockey shook up the March of Dimes organization by accusing it of spending chapter funds on a drinking party; the charge was denied and an apology accepted.

A Munising Wood Products building (on the current Marquette High School site) burned down in January, furloughing 200 workers; they rebuilt, but closed permanently in 1960.

WDMJ-TV, the U.P.’s first television station, began broadcasting in April, started by Frank Russell, Jr. Local appliance stores placed a blizzard of ads in the Mining Journal for new-fangled TV sets.

An open house at Sawyer Air Force Base caused the biggest traffic jam in county history.

To accommodate the new F102 and F104 jets, the air base added 1,700 feet to its 7,300-foot runway (it’s now 12,350 feet long).

Vice President Richard Nixon drew a huge crowd during a campaign appearance at the Negaunee gym in October.

Just after Christmas, and shortly after Ironwood miner William Heileg had left for work, a house fire claimed his wife and five children.

On the national scene

The United States exploded the first airborne hydrogen bomb over Bikini Atoll in the Pacific.

Dr. Albert Sabin’s discovery of an oral polio vaccine was a major factor in breaking the nationwide polio scare.

Dwight Eisenhower was elected to a second term as U.S. president.

”Heartbreak Hotel” became Elvis Presley’s first No. 1 hit.

The Price Is Right, still going strong, debuted on NBC-TV.

Marty, the story of a humble butcher, won the Oscar as best motion picture of the year.

Actress Marilyn Monroe was fined $55 for driving without a license and for failure to appear in court.

Another actress, Grace Kelly, married Prince Rainier III of Monaco, who talked her into quitting the movie business.

For 44 cents, folks could buy one gallon of gas, one loaf of bread and a first-class stamp.

Tragedies

The top area story was the murder in April of Grand Marais teacher Patricia Burdick, who was hitchhiking back to school after visiting her family in Sault Ste. Marie. A parolee from Marquette Branch Prison had kidnapped and murdered her; after his capture, he led the police to where he had hid the body north of Seney. After the crime became public, prison inmates wrote the state prison bureau asking them not to judge all prisoners by this parolee’s actions.

In another gruesome murder, a prison inmate described as “the most hated convict” was torched by another prisoner who doused him with gasoline and then set him afire. The deceased had been transferred to Marquette after leading a deadly Jackson Prison riot in 1952. According to Ike Wood in his book One Hundred Years At Hard Labor, no one was surprised when the killing went unavenged.

The prison opened its fourth U.P. prisoner-conservation camp in Alberta to house 70 convicts on outdoor projects. Relatives of Ellen Hayes of Simar in Ontonagon County, who had been murdered by an escapee from a similar camp in the Porcupine Mountains, showed up at a hearing to protest the new facility, without success. Two weeks later, Marquette warden Emery Jacques died at the Mayo Clinic after emergency surgery; his tenure as warden was lauded in the inmates’ newspaper.

This and that

After finishing second in the National Cleanest Town Contest, Negaunee welcomed the Jozsef Juhasz family as the first Hungarian refugees to resettle in the area.

Wiggling in their cribs were newborns Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, Geena Davis, Ann Curry and Joe Montana.

On the last day of the year, Canadian storms roared across the lake to dump heavy snow on New Year’s Eve revelers.

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