High school seniors are packing away their prom dresses and their suits and storing their memories of when they danced to their favorite music with their best date and spent a night on the town “dressed to the nines”. But SDPB’s Jim Kent reports from a different kind of prom in the northern Black Hills, where the “seniors” aren’t in high school anymore.
It’s a nasty Spring day outside in downtown Lead. Brisk winds, temperature dropping and light rain just turning to snow. But inside the Homestake Opera House…
Dancing to the sounds of Tommy James & The Shondells...
A few die-hard prom-goers are here for that big moment they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
“I’m Lani Crosse. I work at the cement plant in Rapid City.”
“I’m Danny Crosse…and I work as a registered nurse at Fort Meade.”
“I’m Mim Hoff. And I’m a retired teacher.”
“And I’m Jim Hoff. And I’m a retired teacher.”
“My name is Debbie Vardiman. And I’m a wife and a homemaker.”
“I’m David Vardiman, her husband. And live with her here in Lead and I work up at the Sanford Lab. I’m a geo-technical engineer and city commissioner.”
Wait a minute. “Live with her?” “Retired teacher?” “Wife and homemaker?” Just what’s going on here?
“I’m throwing a senior citizen prom for my senior experience project," explains Sydnee Hamann of Lead-Deadwood High School. "I’m a senior. Couple of years ago there was a girl that did the same thing and I was like ‘This would be so much fun’. It was such a hit and…it was a blast and…I enjoyed it so much that I…that’s what I wanted to do.”
On the agenda is some punch – non-alcoholic, music and, Sydnee hopes, lots of nostalgia as Frankie Valli sings in the background.
“Bring back memories of when you were in high school," Sydnee adds. "And going back in time. It’s just something that you only get to do so many times in your life and sometimes it’s fun to live over again.”
As for those high school memories…
“Did you go to your senior prom?” I ask.
“Yes, I did,” replies Lani Crosse. “It was Stairway to Heaven. In Falkland, South Dakota.”
“What was that like?” I continue.
“It was wonderful,” says Lani. “But…I wasn’t sober and now I’m sober,” she adds, laughing.
“I attended it,” her husband Danny responds. “Don’t remember it. That was back in the age of leisure suits. And I got rid of that a LONG time ago.”
“I went to my junior prom,” recalls Mim Hoff, “but I didn’t go to my senior prom.”
“Why not?” I ask.
“Because a guy asked me and I didn’t want to go with him.”
“Was that a big deal to you not being able to go?” I inquire.
“No…no it wasn’t. It was when I was a junior because the juniors did all the decorating and all the ideas for the prom. But when you were a senior you just went…and I didn’t feel anything.”
“I went to both my junior and senior prom and had a great time at both,” Jim Hoff remembers. “You know…it just seemed like the thing you did. You know…actually…as I remember…it was pretty tame. The Beach Boys were big.”
“I did go to my senior prom…in Golden, Colorado,” Debbie Vardiman responds. “Oh, it was a wonderful night. I went with my best friend’s older brother…so there was no pressure…just a lot of fun.”
“Unfortunately, no," replies her husband, David. “I had to leave high school before the prom was held. You remember all your life that you missed out on that.”
“So…this is your… “ I ask.
“First senior prom I’ve been to,” responds David Vardiman laughing, along with his wife.
“How do you feel about that?” I inquire.
“Kind of hilarious. Never too late. And of course the song ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by the Bee Gees (which had played earlier in the afternoon)…just perfect.”
As Cubby Checker starts to sing about “The Twist”, I ask the prom-goers how they feel about today’s event.
“I like it,” laughs Lani Crosse. “I’m having fun…because we got the dance floor.”
“I’m havin’ a ball,” adds her husband, Danny.
“Well…it’s great fun to come and see the young people that are here and doing this,” Jim Hoff observes. “And what great people they are that they are doing this. But it’s fun for us to just go out and dance to music that is really quite a bit younger than what we danced to probably when I went to my senior prom.”
Revisiting his earlier comment, David Vardiman says “And of course the song ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by the Bee Gees…just perfect.”
“Will you do John Travolta?” I ask.
David Vardiman laughs. “I’m not anywhere near as good as John!”
And as the prom comes to its close, Sydnee Hamann draws the names of this year’s Prom King and Queen.
“And your 2016 Senior Citizens Queen is….Mim Hoff,” she announces to applause.
For South Dakota Public Broadcasting, I’m Jim Kent, at the first 2016 Lead/Deadwood High School “Seniors” Prom where at least one Bee Gees fan is finally attending his first senior prom.
Mony, Mony by Tommy James & The Shondells
Oh, What a Night by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
The Twist by Chubby Checker
Stayin’ Alive by The Bee Gees