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Proms from the past: South Washington County Schools teachers recall their big high school event

East Ridge High School science teacher and former Park High School teacher Nancy Berg (third from left) attended her high school prom in Platteville, Wis., where she was a member of the prom court. Submitted photo1 / 2
East Ridge High School physical education teacher Bridget Plante (second from left) attended prom at Park High School in 1999. Submitted photo2 / 2

High School proms have been an annual tradition for students for many decades.

However, over the years prom has changed as societies have changed -- in fashion, in traditions and in location.

Here, local high school teachers reflect on proms past.

More memorable

Back in 1974, prom was the social event of the year, said East Ridge High School science teacher Nancy Berg.

She grew up in the small town of Platteville, Wis., and prom had a very different look and feel to what it is today.

"In retrospect, I think what we had was much more memorable because it was the highlight of the year," she said. "It was a culminating thing."

Berg's prom would begin months before the actual night when she would go with her mom to pick out the fabric for her dress.

"Everyone had homemade dresses, nobody had their dress off of a rack -- we didn't have the glitz and glam," she said. "The moms made all the dresses."

"Now, I bet you there isn't a girl at the prom who has a homemade dress, and back then we all did."

The boys at prom also had different fashions than those today.

"Nobody had a tuxedo, the guys wore their dad's suit," she said. "They'd have shoes on too big because they didn't have dress shoes."

The dresses and bowties weren't the only handmade items at the prom, however.

In addition to making their own dresses, the high school girls were responsible for making and decorating the cafeteria.

Berg and all of the junior girls would spend hours making flowers out of tissue paper for decorations.

"Now it seems like those flowers wouldn't be good enough," she said.

On prom night, rather than renting a limo and heading into the prom, Berg drove her father's car to the dance since her date couldn't yet drive.

"I remember having on my prom dress and getting in my dad's big Pontiac Catalina," she said.

Similar to today, Berg's high school held the grand march in the school gym, however at that time the entire town came out for the event.

Today, going out to a nice dinner is almost a staple of the prom, but Berg said that wasn't the case in 1974.

"We ate at the prom," she said. "All of the food we had was brought in by the moms"

Berg had an extra responsibility during her 1974 prom since she was a member of the prom court.

"The prom court was like the Miss USA Pageant back then," she said. "It was a popularity contest like it is now, but it was taken very seriously -- you were the representatives of your class.

"Nowadays it's more of a relaxed atmosphere."

Berg said seeing today's high school proms bring back a lot of memories, but they also bring about a sense of lost traditions.

"I think it's kind of sad in a way because I think that hometown community feel is gone and it's become an elitist social event," she said.

'Different music'

Even though the 1990s seem far away for today's high school students, prom really wasn't that different back then, East Ridge High School physical education teacher Bridget Plante said.

"To be honest, I don't think it's changed that much," she said. "The dance is essentially the same, just different music."

Plante, who attended prom in 1999 at Park High School, said one difference in her prom and today's prom is the transportation.

Today, party buses and limos are almost expected, but during Plante's prom they weren't that big of a deal.

Another difference in today's proms and the proms from the 1990s were the events the following day.

Plante and Woodbury High School physical education teacher Jennifer Olsen said the day after prom would consist of some other exciting activity such as camping, golfing and horseback riding.

"The kids don't do that sort of thing anymore," Olsen said.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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