No Place Like Home

“No Place Like Home: Growing Up in Manhattan, Kansas 1948-1964,” by Jerri Garretson. Claflin Books, 2021. 298 pages, $29.95.

Told with refreshing candor and exceptional detail, Jerri Garretson’s topical account of her life growing up in Manhattan from 1948 to 1964 presents vivid and entertaining verbal images of not only her own life, but the times in which she lived.

As she points out, life for a Manhattan kid in the 1950s was dramatically different from the life kids experience today. In her particular home, the absence of TV (and, of course, video games, cell phones and the internet) helped spawn a flurry of creative activities by her and her three younger siblings throughout differing seasons of weather and differing seasons of life. They spent a great deal of time outside, and often played together in their back yard with many neighbors and friends.

Just like several generations of Manhattan school children, Jerri attended grades K-6 at Eugene Field Elementary School, grades 7-9 at Manhattan Junior High School at 9th Street and Poyntz Avenue, and grades 10-12 at Manhattan High School at 10th Street and Poyntz Avenue.

While she shared many of the experiences a Manhattan “local” will quickly recognize, Jerri had a wide variety of unique experiences growing up that were due, in large part, to her parents.

Her father, Donald G. Kundiger, was a professor of chemistry at Kansas State, while her mother, Marion S. Kundiger, was a biologist. Jerri wrote in her preface, “Both our parents were scientists. This alone contributed to odd pets and unusual conversations and activities. In addition to that, our parents, especially Mom, were far more tolerant of our many hobbies, friends, and creative activities than some parents were.”

Another part of Jerri’s unique experience growing up involved her parents renting extra rooms, often to students or Fort Riley soldiers. The way their house was configured, their guests normally entered through the family living areas, so they became less “renters” and more a part of the Kundiger family. Being around people of different ages and nationalities opened Jerri up to many learning opportunities.

As a special feature, scattered throughout the book is a series of mini-biographies of Manhattan adults which played an important role in Jerri’s life. Many Manhattanites will probably recognize Florence Brooks, the children’s librarian at the Manhattan Public Library from 1943 to 1966; Mary Helen Jerard, who worked with the Manhattan school system music program for 40 years; and Ruth Elizabeth Socolofsky, the Manhattan school system art teacher for 31 years. The 10 other short articles may either remind you of or introduce you to some women and men who were special to Jerri and helped make Manhattan a better place to live.

The book is packed with 800 photos, taken from a wide variety of sources, that illustrate and enhance the information in her stories.

If you would like to see Manhattan as a young woman would see it, especially in the 1950s and early 1960s, this book will provide you with a storehouse of details and individual insights. The Great Flood of 1951. The 1955 Manhattan Centennial celebration. Holidays and segregation. Girls Scouts and dramatic productions. Clothing fads and fashions. And much more.

In her book “No Place Like Home,” Jerri Garretson has not only added a great treasure to her family’s history library, but she has captured a detailed look at day-to-day life in Manhattan that will be highly valued by our community for years to come.

Dan Walter is the author of several books detailing the history of Aggieville and Manhattan.

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