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A Sign of the Times

Fri, Nov 7th, 2003
Posted in Features

A piece of local history is on display at the Minnesota History Museum in St. Paul. The historical artifact is a hand-lettered sign advertising a teen dance in the Fountain elementary school gym during the1960's.

The sign is part of the museums Sounds Good To Me exhibit honoring Minnesotas musical history. The exhibit features Minnesota artists and music venues. The exhibit includes inter-active displays in which visitors can select jukebox hits in a cafe setting that spans multiple decades or sing along with the 1980 Minnesota-produced hit Funkytown.

The sign announces the appearance of a rock band called The Pagans at the Fountain school gym on November 25. While the sign does not note the year, it most likely was 1963 or 1964. The entry fee was advertised at 75 cents. The sign states that the dance was sponsored by the Fountain Alcos. The sign itself was donated to the museum by ex-Pagan Kip Sullivan of Rochester.

The Minnesota History Center likely displayed this sign to depict the proliferation of garage bands during the 1960's as well as the grass roots nature of entertainment during that era in small- town Minnesota. But, if this sign could talk, it would tell a far richer story.

The Fountain Alcos, or all-community volunteers, grew out of the desire of a handful of Fountain teens to bring some entertainment to a town of 300 people that rolled up its streets at the end of the work day. The teen group initially rented the towns elementary school gym for a dance featuring a portable record player. The group gambled that a 25 entry charge would cover the $5.00 gym rental fee. When that venture proved profitable, the teens began to book local bands such as Lanesboros Trashbeaters at somewhat higher stakes. Continued success led to better known acts including regional headliners such as The Pagans and The Mustangs from Rochester.

Rita Rustad was the idea person behind the dances. I booked the bands and worried about the organizational details. And, a whole host of our friends contributed to make the events happen. Not the least of these contributors were the sign makers, such as Terrie Rustad, Linda Asleson, and Nancy Stevens. Their signs appeared all over Fillmore County during dance season.

The financial success of the dances presented a dilemma of sorts - what to do with the profits? The teen group eventually decided on an all-community solution. For several years, the dance proceeds financed free bus trips to the Minnesota State Fair in St. Paul for all Fountain-area teenagers. About 40 teens would depart from the Fountain post office at 6:00 a.m. and begin the return trip only after the end of the fairs grandstand act. The day-long marathon at the fair remains a unique memory for many Fountaineers.

The dance sign, in short, reflects a period in which small-town kids scrambled to provide their own entertainment. In addition to the dances, these Fountain teens organized co-ed softball games at the Catholic churchyard, flooded the town skating rink, and created a swimming hole by damming a creek in the Big Springs. In an ironic twist, the old Fountain elementary school where the dances took place now houses the Fillmore County History Museum.

I wish that all of our old gang of Fountain teens could experience the thrill of stumbling upon this sign as I did. But, not all of them are still with us. In particular, sisters Rita and Terrie Rustad, though opposites in many ways, shared the tragic fate of being cut down in the prime of life by breast cancer. This dance is for you.

Steve Befort is a 1966 graduate of Preston-Fountain High School. He now lives in St. Paul and teaches at the University of Minnesota Law School.

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