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Transcript of interview with Laura Kelly by Cindy Gaylor, February 27, 1979






On February 27, 1979, Cindy Gaylor interviewed engineering aid accountant, Laura Kelly (born December 31st, 1928 in Silverton, Colorado) in her home in Boulder City, Nevada. The two discuss Kelly’s reasons for moving, as well as her early life in Boulder City. They also discuss Nellis Air Force Base, as well as local politics. The interview concludes with a discussion of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Southern Nevada, during the Great Depression.

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Kelly, Laura L. Interview, 1979 February 27. OH-01004. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly i An Interview with Laura Kelly An Oral History Conducted by Cindy Gaylor Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections and Archives Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2019 UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly iii The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly iv Abstract On February 27, 1979, Cindy Gaylor interviewed engineering aid accountant, Laura Kelly (born December 31st, 1928 in Silverton, Colorado) in her home in Boulder City, Nevada. The two discuss Kelly’s reasons for moving, as well as her early life in Boulder City. They also discuss Nellis Air Force Base, as well as local politics. The interview concludes with a discussion of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Southern Nevada, during the Great Depression.UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 1 An interview with Mrs. Laura Kelly, generally about early life in Boulder City. It’s February 27th, 1979, at 6 o’clock P.M. Do you want to start with a question? Yes. Okay. When and why did you move to Nevada? Oh, I moved as a small child with my parents. My father came to work in Nevada in Southern Nevada for the construction of Hoover Dam. Okay. What was it like in the early stages without all the people around here? Well, first of all, it was a construction camp with thousands and thousands of people from all over the United States who were coming through there because it was the only major construction job in the whole nation. And my father, as most of the workers on the dam was a veteran. Veterans had preference for work on the construction than others. When we came here there were, in our family, the four children of us, and our mother and father, and then we arrived, but the community had not even begun to be built. Boulder City had not even begun to be built. It was being designed and the site had been chosen, but we lived in tents made of my mother’s Utah (unintelligible) blankets on a river bottom in a little community called Ragtown or Williamsville. Was there very many people down there? There were several hundred people in Ragtown and it was just—it was on the Nevada of the river and it was just far enough away from the river for a good campsite. The nearest location on the river then was the ferry across the river, to the road, to Kingman, and (Unintelligible) and points east. UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 2 And you had to take the ferry? You had to take the ferry to cross the river. If—the cars in those days, and I was too little to remember, but I’ve heard the stories many times, most of the automobiles had wooden spokes in the wheels and you had to sit the car in the summer time in the water at the river’s edge in order for the spokes to soak up enough water to be tight enough to drive to Las Vegas to get supplies. Hmm. And it was a little tiny store there in the little community and it was owned by Murl Emory. And it was Murl’s father and Murl who owned the ferry that was owned to take the men and the materials down for the digging of the diversion tunnels. Because the river, of course had to be diverted before they could begin work on the dam in the location where the dam now stands. Do you know how long you lived in that community? We only lived there about three and a half months. And then one day, late in August, a number of people—three women, I believe, died from heat exposure. And so many of the people with families moved as quickly as they could into Las Vegas where they could camp in the shade of some trees because Las Vegas of course, means the Meadows. Hmm. And there was more abundant water and there was some someway to get out of the intense heat of that valley between the mountains where the desert was flowing. And did you move first to Las Vegas after you had moved from down there? Or to Boulder City? We lived then in Las Vegas for about a month and a half. And then moved back to Boulder City and lived at the Railroad Y. Which is just about where the building is where the park warehouse and storage yard is, just north of Lake View. And Lake View was called “McKeeversville” and UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 3 lots of people lived in Tent City that was the Railroad Y and a number of the families like the (unintelligible) lived at the Railroad Y and the men went over when the water tank was caved in, of course there were no wells here. There had been a well in the Ragtown but there were no wells up town, no water, the water lines weren’t in, and the water came in for the drinking people by taking the water in large contains and walking it back to their tents until such time. And we moved then into the, what is now Boulder City in February of 1932. My father built the first privately owned home in Boulder City. All of the other housing was Six Companies, Edison Company, Water and Power User Companies, and the Bureau of Reclamation Housing. So were there very many houses around you when this was built? Even by the big company? We were immediately across the street from the end of the construction of the Six Companies. The houses on that side of the street were from Six Companies houses and the houses on the east side of the street, which is where we lived, were all then privately owned homes on leased land. There was no privately owned land in Nevada until much later in the early sixties when the town became incorporated. How did your home cool? Was it really hard? There was no such thing as air conditioning in those days. (Laughs) Everyone had open screened sleeping porches so that there was a way to keep fairly cool in the summer and they had roll-up canvas awnings and in the mornings, when they wanted to be able to have the sunshine and so forth on the Westside of the house in the cool part of the day, they would roll them up and then the minute the sun came over they would drop them and wet the awnings down and it was just so intensely hot that from the beginning of the time that we came, UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 4 mother (unintelligible) having wrapped us, in her kitchen towels, dampening the towels in water and ringing them out and then laying them over us so that we could take a nap in the afternoon. Mm. And children all took naps in the afternoons because it was too hot for them to be out and play. They did their playing in the early morning and then in the late afternoon and early evening. But in the daytime, the parents virtually had to keep the children in to keep them out of the intense heat. There were no lawns and no trees. Did people live in tents around Boulder Town? Yes, people in the Railroad Y lived in tents. Everybody lived in tents such time as the housing was built. And when we look at the houses today and think of them the way they are today, we forget that there was only bedroom in any of the houses that were built. And then a sleeping porch around. Mm-hmm. And now all of the homes that we see that are the two and three bedroom homes have had that sleeping porch closed with windows and so forth to make them into completed houses and so forth. That was done after the houses were sold to individual owners following the completion of the construction, as the companies would move out, other than the power companies, as they finished their contracts and moved out, they then would put their houses up for sale, and people bought those houses and upgraded them. Okay. What kind of a ranch did your family have below Boulder? Well, when we were little children, after my father had worked on the early days on the building of the roads to the Dam, he went to work for the Bureau of Reclamation. He worked for a contracting company at that point and then he went to work for the Bureau of reclamation as an UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 5 operating engineer at both the filtering plant where they purified the drinking water for the city and also at the disposal plant where they purified the waste products from the community. And below the community then, there was the area where the disposal plant was and there was some property below there that would, that my father felt would be ideal for a small ride. He got permission to utilize that land and he put in a small farm. We had a horse, and cows, and chickens, and rabbits, and corn, and watermelons, and almost any young person from fifteen to fifty-five or sixty will tell you that half the fun of their life was stealing watermelons from the garden we ran in the summer time. We also raised alfalfa roots to feed the animals. So did you get quite a lot of watermelons? Oh yes, we had lots of watermelons and lots of corn and lots of fun. (Laughs) (Laughs) (Unidentified woman) Tell her we had goats too! I told her Alfalfa was for—we had the only horse in the whole area and the kids used to come down and share rides on the horse. They enjoyed themselves. (Laughs) Of course a lot of the children who had come out here during the Depression, whose families had come, had been city people and they may never have seen farm animals before. So it really was, being the only one in the area was an oddity as well as a very nice thing for our family to have. Hmm. ‘Kay. During World War II did you have very many servicemen visit your home? (Laughs) Yes, as a matter of fact we did. So many that sometimes, we girls, our brothers were in the service, both in the navy, would have to go and spend the nights of the weekend at a friend’s UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 6 home, and that friend was a girl whose father was in Alaska on a construction job and of course, they, the mother, a mother alone with teenage children couldn’t host us, the servicemen—so we girls would go and spend our nights there and my parents would open their home to many, many young servicemen. And they just, a lot of those young men still write to my mother and correspond to her and come to visit when they come to the west. They had a home away from home at the (Unintelligible). What do you remember about the Air Force Base? Nellis Air Force Base? I love it. Nellis Air Force Base was one of, was not the earliest of the facilities. The early group of young men who used to come to Boulder City were the men who were in fact training for at-tank and anti-aircraft and tank-core and they were down in the Searchlight area and below doing (unintelligible) maneuvers before they went over to the active campaign and some to the South Pacific. And they of course, built Nellis Air Base, and it was a gunnery school. And so a young man of every size, the tail gunners were little bitty young men and they were learning to be—who would later be commissioned officers who were learning to be bombardiers and navigators, and that sort of thing. They didn’t have so much pilot training over there but they trained navigators and bombardiers and gunners at that. And then of course, the gunnery range was on North at Indian Springs, so there were young men from the Indian Springs Air Base from the Nellis Air Base and even from Kingman. And as the war progressed, there were even a number of young men who came to visit who came to our visit, oh, in Boulder City and were referred to our home who came from El Toro Marine Base. And where is that? That’s in the Mojave Desert between Barstow and Las Vegas. What were the early school years like in Boulder City as opposed to Las Vegas was? UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 7 First of all, the Boulder City School was an exceptionally nice school because it was built by the Bureau of reclamation with Bureau of Reclamation Funds. It was however only through the eighth grade, so that the older children, high school youngsters, all took a bus to Las Vegas to school. It was only in 1941 that we began having full high school in Boulder City. The class in which I graduated was the fifth graduating class at Boulder City. And that was the class of 1946. So all of the students went to school in the same building from first grade, or kindergarten as we later had a kindergarten, through to whatever the graduating class was, from the time the school was built until they began, in about 1938, adding additional classes so that they can eventually absorb the students who were going to Las Vegas. So we had first—first we had a freshman class, and then next year a sophomore, the next year a junior, and then the final year, in 1941, was the first graduating class from Boulder City High School. Forty-two was the first graduating class from Boulder City High School. Weren’t you guys separate from Las Vegas as far as rules and regulations? ‘Cause you were on the other— Yes, oh yes, was not accounted—we did not have the same kind of a unified county school district. Each community had their own and schools and school board. And so Boulder City had its own School Board and they helped with the administration. But you have to keep in mind, that the funding for our school was primary Bureau Reclamation funds. And they did have a county superintendent of schools who would come and visit the school to make sure that the school was staying up with the curriculum and the standards at the county at Clark, but they didn’t have the administrative arm over our school. And then during World War Two, the Bureau of Reclamation funded the building of the building that is now the recreation building for the city of Boulder City and that building was the gymnasium, the auditorium, and it had four UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 8 classrooms—five classrooms. It had downstairs, the chemistry labs, and the woodshop and upstairs home economics, business administration and one regular classroom in which they had both physical education health classes and classes from the business head department that did not logically fit in the typing room. In other words, they had the bookkeeping classes and that sort of thing in that room and made the schedule for the day. So they had health classes one hour and the other classes. When I was in high school then, during the war, there were so many students because of the building of the Basic Magnesium. And again we had a tent city around Boulder City. There was no houses, they lived in tents—or trailers on the outskirts of Boulder city and all around Henderson and so forth. They brought in four buildings—no two buildings, two buildings later they added. But they brought in two buildings that were temporary building, annex buildings to the high school. And in each of those, it was about four classrooms, but two buildings, and each of those buildings had two additional classrooms so that there would be enough. And at that time, also, the elementary school then—many of the youngsters in the elementary schools had to be housed in the different churches, there were so many, and in the old American Legion Hall that was where they National Park Service building was at the time. And so that building, there were a couple of classes that were made into two or three classrooms. There was a classroom in Grace Community Church basement. One of the LDS church and one in the Episcopal Church, so that everything in the community to be converted into school facility was converted to school facility in order to handle the numbers of children that were here. And that was exciting. We had six man football team. (Laughs) Did you have any other sports? UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 9 Well yes, basketball we had of course. We had an exceptionally good basketball team, even in those early years. And by 1945 and ’46 we were vying for the state championships and won the championship and won the first time in 1946, which we’d only been a high school for five years. Oh Lord. And then our football team had been a six-man football team until 1944 and started with the twelve man football teams at that point. And of course we played a lot of the same schools we played a day, except in those days, we played Las Vegas High—it was the only high school in Las Vegas and of course you had Henderson High, which was Basic High, and then the Lincoln High and Overton and Pioche and it was nothing to go four hundred miles to a football or basketball game. Were you involved in any sport? Yes, I belonged to the Girls’ Athletic Association and was involved in the basketball and the volleyball teams. And we had baseball but it was strictly intramural sports—we didn’t compete with other schools, except on what we called “Play Days,” when you would go and compete with the other schools, but it was all intramural sports between the classes. But we had tournaments, just you know, among the different classes. (Unintelligible) except that our competition was among ourselves as opposed to with the other schools, the way that they do it now. What do you remember about the early political years around here? Actually, I didn’t—we didn’t get very much involved in politics except of course, you always had the national races and the state races in Boulder city until Boulder City became a community of its own. My father was already involved by the mid-fifties and became an assemblyman. At that time, an assemblyman ran at large in all of Clark County which meant that you were competing against all of the other people in Clark County vying for an assembly post. During the UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 10 later years that dad was tin the Assembly, the one man who had won vote ruling came down and they redistricted so that Boulder city and a number of the outlying areas, including a part of Henderson and skirting all of Las Vegas, but including the farm valleys and the rural valleys of Clark County, became a single seat assembly district just as it is today. And that was the district then that my father ran in. (Unintelligible) And what year was that? Sixty-three? Sixty-one to Sixty-three. Sixty-one to sixty-three were the last two elections in which he was elected to the assembly. And of course when Boulder city became a community, when we became a community, we were always a community, when it was incorporated, after the Bureau of Reclamation after World War Two, the Bureau of Reclamation decided that they would like to be rid of the responsibility of the residential community four Boulder City. And so a citizens’ group was formed, of which my father was a member to right the first charter, the original charter committee for a charter for the development of a city or a city government that would compose of the unincorporated city of Boulder City. And they chose—the group chose and then the citizens voted on a city managerial form of government which means that we elect a council who then appoints a city manager or hire a city manager. And from the members of the council, they elect the mayor. We do not elect the mayor, it is not a mayoralty, and we do not elect them, aside from commissioners. And then each year, at the beginning of the year, they, among themselves, elect the mayor for that year. Mm-hmm. Do you remember what is called the “Old Ranch” and what used to be called the Stewart Ranch and then is—can you tell me about that? Oh yes, mm-hmm. I remember more, a little about the old ranch. We did go a time or two to the old Ranch. More people went for recreation in those days, either to Lad’s Ranch swimming pool UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 11 and so forth which was on your way into Las Vegas. Or out to what we now call Twin Lakes, but was then, Lorenzi Ranch and Lorenzi’s owned it. And there was where more people, we had more picnics and that kind of gathering. Do you remember it mostly as the Old Ranch then, the name? It’s now known as the Mormon Fort? Well, the Old Ranch what they called it in those days yes. And there was some, a little natural spring and always a pond there and so forth then. A lot more people went for recreation to Lad’s and Lorenzi’s, which is Twin Lakes. Can you describe any of the buildings on the Old Ranch property? There really no buildings and such on the Old Ranch Properties, they were just what were the buildings that are now the relic, the replica that is being done. What is left of the buildings—that is being reclaimed and rehabilitated, that was the old Fort. But there was never very much there, never very much there. It had long been gone by the time the railroad really came in and began a community in 1911, a community as we know it in 1911. Because of the experiment, the Mormon experiment had virtually been given up and the people had gone to Overton, they didn’t really stay and the Mormon Fort went into disrepair before the time of the UP Railroad which was 1905. Was it five and then the first school in Las Vegas was built in eleven, but of course, I’m not too sure. (Unintelligible) Did you go to Vegas very much for recreation other than those places? Well mostly, people did not go to Vegas for recreation. In the first place, we didn’t have the gaming or the kinds of recreation—the only thing they had was the few clubs that were on Main Street and anyone from Boulder City, there was Railroad Pass Casino which was the biggest UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 12 casino in the county anyways, was right out railroad pass. And of course, we were too young for those things anyways, at that time. But as we grew older—we went a lot to dance at Railroad Pass and so forth, but the strictly gambling casinos never interested me. If there wasn’t some kind of other entertainment involved, like a nice supper club and dancing, or shows, we often went to the El Rancho Vegas because they had beautiful—they had the first of the nice show rooms and the better shows. And the Sliver Slipper had the dancing. The second floor was a dance hall and the old Last Frontier had very nice facilities and dining homes and show rooms, but I never did go to any of the places for the (unintelligible) so a lot of the places were just—there was the Plunge, back when we were kids, if you went to Vegas, you went swimming in the Plunge if you had the opportunity. What is that? A Plunge—a swimming pool, and it was called the Plunge. And that was on Fifth Street or Sixth Street, I don’t remember. But in any event, it was about two blocks off of Fremont Street and that was one of the places that everyone enjoyed going and of course, when we were in high school we had the teenage club here and they had he Wild Cat Lair in Lass Vegas and we used to go over to any of the athletic meets over there and the things that they would have at the Wild Cat Lair. The kids from Vegas would come from Vegas to our high school dances, when we had a game, they’d come to the dance after the game, and we would go in there, and we could to the dance after the game. And they always had dances after every game. Hmm. At both high schools. So there was actually three high schools? Three high schools: Boulder City, Henderson Basic High School, and Las Vegas High School. UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 13 Did you associate with Henderson at all? The high school? Oh yes, a lot of the kids here dated the kids from other high schools and vice versa and there was just a lot of rivalry—but it was not, there was no hatred or destructive rivalry or anything like you hear about today. You never had to have security people to take care of the things—always the dances and all of the students from either high school, any of the high schools were invited to the other parties. You’d have a fight once in a while— (Laughs) But then you’d have those—even if it’s all just your own kids and your own community either, somebody that once in a while decides that they want to have a disagreement with someone else. Those things, then of course, when we were growing up, the American Legion Hall was the social center of the community. There was no Masonic Temple, there were no early Masonic Temples—but then later was built up on the hill but is no longer. But the Masonic Temple that we have Downtown didn’t exist and of course the American Legion used to sponsor dances, both for adults and for teenagers and they had the teenage dances with the teenage orchestra that was led by Jimmy Mannix who was the son of the people who owned Mannix Department Store where in the Block, where the (unintelligible) the Shopper Stopper and all of those things are. There was a store there called Mannix’s Department Store which was not only a grocery store and meat market but also had all sorts of hard goods. Like a wood store? Hard goods and soft goods, clothes and shoes and fabrics and all of that sort of thing. And an old fashioned mercantile type store. And then there was a little alleyway and north of that was a drugstore, which later then became the drugstore that we knew as Boulder Drugstore, that the county commissioner (Unintelligible) and his sister owned. And then that then, after two fires, UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 14 was converted into a fabric store that it is now. But the young man who led the orchestra, was the son of the man who owned the grocery store. So there was about three stores, you would say? In the early days there was Mannix Department Store, and the Government—Six Company Store. And there was a little store, out close to where the Seven-Eleven store is, at a little motel that was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Watson, (Unintelligible) and (Unintelligible) Watson. Then a few years later, central market was built. And it was built in the location that is now the medical building that is just next to Grace Community Church. Well, across the little alley— The one beneath the building there. The one is that is now Doctor (Unintelligible) office. Oh okay. That one was Central Market. And then when Central Market moved up to where it is now, that building was sold to the Elk’s Lodge and became the Elk’s Club. And then it was converted back to a market and was the Ranch Market for a while, and then the Ranch Market moved up into the area that is now the mini mall. And then that market after a fire was never rebuilt. But in the early days, grocery stores, there was just the Six Company Store, a little (unintelligible) store, and Mannix Department Store. I’m telling you (unintelligible) Right, yes, Six Company Store is where the Bureau of Power and Light building is now. What would you say the big difference was in life—? (Tape one ends) I think the big difference between then and now is the things technologically that have happened in the world. The types of communication when we were children—we used to rush home from UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 15 school to listen to the serials—Terry and Pirates or Orphan Annie or whoever happened to be on at noo—at lunch hour, and everybody listened to the serial and raced back to school. And now the media that most people to use most is the television. And when we were children, there were many, many families who did not even own an automobile, and everyone walked, and every one of every age spoke to each other on the street. You knew everyone in the whole community by name. And it was just more of that kind of small town atmosphere that you lose when there is so much vehicle mobility. Now that every family is, or most families are at least two-car families, and when they’re teenagers and ready to be out and start working because their jobs are usually in Henderson or Las Vegas, they become three-car families, and most youngsters didn’t even own bicycles. We were lucky, it was just— (Unintelligible)? The world was coming out, the nation was coming out of a depression, we were lucky to have roller skates. Now I can remember roller skating parties up by the elementary but is now the City Hall. And up into the upper park area where we would have forty or fifty or sixty kids skating. And would play crack the whip and race down those hills and all of the kids, lots of kids of all ages played up in the park or in the upper park by the school on the monkey bars and the—they had trapezes, swinging trapezes, that we could use as well as a number of big swings. And all the kids would go up town and in the evening, and we had the sweet shops, was the name of a little soda fountain next door to the theatre. And all of the kids went immediately after school. If you had a nickel, you went to the sweep shop and bought a coke and— (Laughs) Everybody congregated at the Sweet Shop, and then at the theatre. Most kids tried to go to almost every change of show. Of movies, when they were, because of course, we didn’t have UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 16 television. And the movie changed—it was Sunday and Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and then Saturday a different show. And it was always bank night on Saturday and people used to go to the movies for the chance that they might win the bank night, which began at twenty-five dollars and when it got to a hundred dollars, they drew until the person was there and won. And everybody’s name—you wrote your name down on a little stub and put it in the big basket that they turned then and every week, they drew for bank night. Now this was an interesting thing and the different groups—that was the days when little girls took tap dancing and ballet and did a lot more of that. Almost every little girl took dancing sometime during her growing up years. And the different people who taught dancing then when their groups were ready to have a little—when they were ready for a recital, they would have their recital usually right at the theatre on Saturday night between the movies and they had the chance to really perform for a lot of people, and of course I performed and did a number of those, and once in a while, they would have an amateur night; just when amateur nights were really popular. And different people in the community who were talented or thought they were talented would compete to win an Amateur Night at the theatre and that was one of the things that used to happen periodically in our theatre. And of course, Mister Brothers, who owned and operated the theatre would help to sponsor the holiday parties for all the children of the community. And organizations like the American Legion Auxiliary would, at Christmastime, for instance, fill stockings with candy and fruit for every child in the community. And all of the children would go to a Saturday matinee, and then they would be given their Christmas stocking and they all looked forward to these big, complete community parties. And in the early days, we used to have Halloween parties that were the whole community to keep the children from doing things that were scandalous. They would have—every age group went to a different area for their party. For UNLV University Libraries Laura Kelly 17 instance, maybe the Junior High School kids would go to the Legion Hall and the High School kids would go somewhere else. And they went all over town holding little parties for the children, and the whole community—they had a group that was called the Coordinating Council for the city at that time. And all of the organizations used to try to calendar so that they didn’t overlap each other on activities. And then we had the Boulder City Recreation Association that planned all of these community type activities for the young people of the community. We just had lots of fun. (Laughs) Is the Easter egg hunt that we have now, did it used to be one of those? Yes, it was one of those things that started at that time and it would be an Easter egg hunt up in the park, just as it is today. And the Legion Auxiliary started that, doing tha