By February 1959 it was generally accepted throughout Villisca that a replacement for the current Teen Haven was needed. But the question was how to make that happen. It was originally hoped one of the buildings in town could be used since that would be less expensive than building a new facility. The next question was how to ensure that a new youth center would be maintained. The existing leadership called for help.
In February 1959, a new board of directors was elected for Teen Haven. Under the leadership of Leonard Posten, the board was to look for a new location for the teenage hangout and formulate a plan for incorporating the organization. Once those “housekeeping” details were taken care of, they would face the difficult part—raising the money to carry out their plan.
By fall, the new leadership declared that there was no suitable building in Villisca and that fundraising to finance a new building would begin immediately. The new board would keep the existing Teen Haven open until a new one could be built. Mr. Posten emphasized the great need for a building which the youth of Villisca could call their own. It needed space for card playing, chess, ping-pong, bumper pool, shuffle board and dancing, plus a snack bar, and reading and lounge areas.
The Kids’ Day Kickoff for Operation Teen Haven was pretty successful, with more than $6,500 committed to the project. But a year later not much additional funding had been found, leading the board to conclude that funding a new building wasn’t possible. The money previously raised was put into a savings account and the board continued its research into solutions.
And then came the answer. In May 1961, the board purchased the Teacherage, the dwelling the school board had purchased for its married teachers in the post-war years when there was an extreme housing shortage in town.
“Operation Teen Haven began nearly two years ago with the initiation of a fund raising drive to make possible a youth center in Villisca…With the disposition and sale of the Teacherage property located directly south across from the High School, dreams and plans of a youth center are again taking form. For a consideration of $700 this particular site is now the property of ‘Teen Haven.’ The purchase was made at the auction sale of the property held last Friday night. Walter Gourley, President of the Adult Board, expressed the hope that the project could be in operation by the beginning of the fall term, but this would be possible only if the pledges made in good faith at the time of the kickoff are fulfilled.”
By August the town teens had started on the interior decoration of the two-story building. Like most things, the readying of the building took longer than anticipated but in September 1961 the new Teen Haven opened for business with room for dancing, ping-pong and snacks.
Several years later, Teen Haven was still going strong. Jan Stein Peterson, VHS 66, remembers taking her 45s to play on the Teen Haven phonograph. She remembered that Alan Wolfe was the dancer of her day (and mine), much like Delmar Wirth was in the ‘50s. Phil Wertman, VHS 67, recalls Teen Haven as a great place to meet after games with lots of good, clean fun just hanging out with friends. Kids today, he says, could use a place like Teen Haven.
Joel Fengel, VHS 68, also remembers good times at Teen Haven, including a juke box that didn’t require coins to run. Beverly Peterman Schelling, VHS ’68, also has fond memories of being at Teen Haven. “…feeling so special that the town was providing us with a place to ‘hang out.’ Villisca was a great place to grow up.”
But times change, and nothing changes faster than teenage fads. Despite an extensive remodeling in 1968, Teen Haven lost its ability to pay for itself and the days of Teen Haven ended with a whimper not a scream. Kids just simply stopped going there. By 1971 the building had been returned to a dwelling. Then Villisca Restoration, Inc. came to town with the idea of raising $75,000 to rehabilitate two existing buildings to use as a teen center and a senior citizen facility. The group hired a professional fund raising firm and the campaign got underway. What happens, the question was asked, if the fund-raising goal isn’t reached? “We’ll use what we get.” And that’s what happened although the effort topped over $60,000 in the end.
Restoration Villisca purchased the Karle Bakery building for its combined community – youth center. The money was poured into creating a new look with separate facilities and entrances for the two uses and renovating the interior. On April 19, 1974 the Bluejay Perch opened with Terry and Sharon King as the paid chaperones. As the Review noted, “Public donations and long hours of hard work combined to give the town an achievement of which they can be proud.”
Like its predecessors, the Perch had concessions, a juke box, booths, game tables, a pinball machine. All guaranteed to attract teenagers, at least for a while. In November 1975 it was reported that the Bluejay Perch was attracting 400 kids throughout the week, with larger attendance on weekends than on week nights. The Center provided games, pop, candy and sandwiches, and a place where students could congregate and/or use the telephone. (Remember those days of needing to find a telephone to use?)
Susie Enarson, who was part of Villisca Restoration, recalls those early days. “Terry King was the first manager and the kids really liked him. I volunteered to open it at noon and kids came over to buy sandwiches in a bag, and pop and chips for their lunches because they had open noon hours. They played pool, fooz ball and the juke box.”
The Kings stayed on until mid-1978. Now, Terry and Sharon look back fondly on their involvement with the Perch. “We enjoyed our time at the center, getting to know the kids. I think our success in keeping it going was the fact we earned the kids’ respect and trust. They could talk to us and knew it would go no further — they could hang out and relax…Like the Las Vegas ad, what happened at the Perch, stayed at the Perch (as long as it was legal!), and the kids knew that. It was six interesting years for us.”
By fall 1979 the Perch was no longer being used by the town’s kids so the Senior Citizens took over the entire building, leaving Villisca once again without a youth center for the next 20 years or so.
In 1994 Kim and Craig Winthur opened a new version of The Bluejay Perch on the south side of the square, as recalled by Amber Mullen. This Perch was meant for kids and adults alike although it featured arcade games as well as a pool table and juke box, but unfortunately, the new version of the Perch only lasted a few months.
It seems likely that the day of youth centers has come and gone, at least in Villisca. Villisca’s Teen Havens, no matter what they were called, served their purpose for a long time. But times change, in fact the town has changed as has the teenaged world. But my, oh my, the sweet memories of those days linger on. “Come on baby, let’s do the twist!”
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