Mike Gustafson Story

The 50’s, 60s, and 70s in Valley Junction will be forever etched in our minds of those who lived, breathed, and led their being during that moment of time that will never be forever more! What a time, what a place, what a life!

“It’s been a long time coming, yes it’s been a long long time gone.” (Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young late 1960’s)

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“It’s been a long time coming, yes it’s been a long long time gone.” (Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young late 1960’s)
It’s also been a long time coming for a Valley Junction Reunion. Thank you Rachelle Long for your time, effort, and thoughtfulness to make this event possible.
This is Mike Gustafson and I will share with you my roots and memories of my life experiences growing up in the Valley Junction Community. I need to omit any specific names of people and stories of Valley Junction because Rachelle ask me to write a letter and not a book. Believe me because it would be a really thick book!

The 50’s, 60s, and 70s in Valley Junction will be forever etched in our minds of those who lived, breathed, and led their being during that moment of time that will never be forever more! What a time, what a place, what a life!

In 1953 my father and mother moved from Des Moines south of University on 24th Street. We moved to 516-13th Street in West Des Moines. 1 ½ story house (cost $9000). I and my four brothers shared one big room upstairs. I can still remember the distant whistle of the trains at night time as they passed through the Junction.

Life was simple, life was good. The bridge over the Raccoon River on 63rd Street was of one lane steel and wood bridge.

All located on 5th street were our family doctor, dentist, eye doctor, clothing stores, bike shop, hardware store, malt shop, a little hamburger joint, and a movie theater (now the Theatrical Shop). Within blocks were all the grocery stores and churched, all within walking distance.
At the earliest age I learned very quickly and eagerly to play outside-summer, winter, day or night. That meant playing and meeting new friends of all colors in all of the Junction area. Discovering things to do, places to go. To this day, 50 and more years later many of those friends are still in my life and we greet one another with a hug and say the “love” word. (But no kissing!)

As a young boy I know where all the sweetest apple trees were, the plums, cherries, pears, the grapevines, the raspberries, vegetables gardens. It was like the Garden of Eden-and yes IZ did eat of the forbidden fruit!
We played baseball in the streets by day and hide and seek at night. Holiday pool all summer long, baseball diamonds, sledding on the golf course in the winter, ice skating at Legion Park, the roller rink.
I once wrestled a live black bear on 5th and Maple and have pictures to prove it!
I remember a band of gypsies the early 60s came to town and set up in “Annie’s Bottom” full of rides, games, gambling, and strip tease shows. I saw it all! Valley Junction had it all and all within walking distance.

Fishing by the hog bins exploring the many sandpits swimming in Jordan creek (some places had six foot of water) Hunting where the Raccoon River Park is now, shooting rabbits, squirrels, and pheasants. Racing on the flats (stretch before Commerce on Grand Ave) Driving over the Commerce bridge to get to “Muscle Beach” (a whole book could come from stories about that place!)
The many pool halls and taverns on 5th street. “Rake em up macho!” The best pizza for evermore came from the Tavern, the best tacos came from LaBamba’s.

We had no cell phone, I pads, only two, three, four, five, six or more kids from 6-16 years old walking and a talking and driving and exploring the streets of Valley Junction.

Now over 60 years later from moving to Valley Junction four of five Gustafson’s brothers still live here, our Mother of 91 years old also. Some of our children –four generations.

God has truly blessed our community! I feel unique, humbled, and wonderfully created by being blessed to have called “Valley Junction” as where I grew up and call home, because home is where the heart is!
I will close by paying tribute, honor, and prayers who grew up in Valley Junction but are no longer of this world. We know who they are and how each one impacted our lives. My God have mercy on their souls!
See you at the Junction,
Mike G.

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