Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins: Tales and Tips from Growing Up in the '50s and '60s

By Susan Sanvidge, Diane Sanvidge Seckar, Jean Sanvidge Wouters, and Julie Sanvidge Florence

Paperback: $18.95

ISBN: 978-0-87020-446-3

264 pages, 150 b/w photos and illus., 7 x 8


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A Midwest Connections Pick for October 2010 by the Midwest Booksellers Association

"In the fifties, sleek Mixmasters were replacing rusty eggbeaters, and new pressurecookers blew their tops in kitchens all over town. There were kids everywhere, and new ranch-style houses filled vacant lots ... Turquoise Studebakers and dusty-rose Chevy BelAirs with flamboyant fins and lots of chrome replaced dark pre-war cars. Cameras took color snapshots instead of black-and-white. We wore red canvas tennis shoes and lemon yellow shorts, and bright blue popsicles melted down our chins." -from the Introduction

In "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins," the four Sanvidge sisters, whose birthdates span the Baby Boomer period, present a lively chronicle of growing up in the 1950s and 1960s in a small midwestern town. Each sister writes about the facets of her childhood she remembers best, and their lighthearted stories are illustrated with period photos. Sprinkled with mentions of pedal pushers, home permanents, and "two-tone" cars; early TV shows and the first rock and roll; hula hoops, Tiny Tears, and Mr. Potato Head (played with a real potato); and memories of their grandparents who lived nearby, "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins" also features "how-tos" for re-creating the fads, foods, crafts, and games the Sanvidge sisters recall in their stories.

In their first book, "Apple Betty & Sloppy Joe," the Sanvidge sisters gathered food memories and recipes from their midwestern Baby Boomer childhood. In "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins" you'll find out what they were up to - when they weren't eating.

To receive a review copy or press release, to schedule an author event, or for more information contact the WHS Press Marketing Department:

Susan Sanvidge is a freelance graphic designer. She lives in Chicago.

Diane Sanvidge Seckar is a journeyman electrician and co-owner of Seckar Electric in Winneconne,Wisconsin. She also designs and makes crocheted hats and purses.

Jean Sanvidge Wouters is a homemaker, seamstress, and volunteer in Winneconne.

Julie Sanvidge Florence is the director of the Lebanon Public Library in Lebanon, Ohio.

The sisters are also the authors of "Apple Betty & Sloppy Joe: Stirring Up the Past with Family Recipes and Stories."

Interview with Susan Sanvidge, Diane Sanvidge Seckar, Jean Sanvidge Wouters and Julie Sanvidge Florence

Wisconsin Historical Society Press: Your first book, "Apple Betty & Sloppy Joe," came out of a book you put together for your family. What inspired you to write "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins?"

Susan: We gave the first batch of what we called "Oshkosh Stories" (we grew up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin) to our parents for Christmas, in a small ring binder as a "gift-in-installments." We added two more batches of stories to fill the binder on Mom's birthday and the next Christmas. Most of the stories in "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins" were already written before our first book was published.

Diane: The first book we put together for our family was a Christmas present for Mom and Dad. They were hard to buy for. They asked us to write more, so we wrote stories for two more Christmases and Mom's birthday. Our parents weren't so hard to "buy for" anymore. Those stories became "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins."

Jean: Mom said we should write more stories after the family cookbook we wrote for our parents, so we did. I really liked the fact that our stories were very meaningful gifts to our parents. They were also a wonderful way to thank our parents for the great childhood that they gave us, and a legacy for our own children.

Julie: What better present could a parent receive than their children's written testimony to a memorable and happy family life? As my sisters said, Mom wanted more stories and we wrote more.

WHS Press: Did you find that your sisters remembered stories that you had forgotten or remembered differently?

Susan: Our ages span ten years and the age we were at the time had a lot to do with who remembered what. Jean wrote a story about early television shows, and because I am three years older, I could remember the arrival of the first "television set" in our living room, so we added my memory as a comment on her story. We did that throughout the book. It was great to have four memory banks, four perspectives.

Diane: One sister would remember something… say pin curls… and the emails would fly. "Remember Tonette perms?" "Remember Jean and her orange juice can rollers?" "Susan, did you iron your hair, too?"

Jean: Coming up with stories for our books was like opening doors to the past. One memory would definitely spark another one, if not more. We didn't always remember things the same. In our books' conversational manner, we all got to express "our version," which is one of the aspects of our book that I really like. Because this difference of memories happens in many families, I think a lot of people relate to this characteristic of our books and enjoy the back and forth banter.

Julie: Because I was the youngest and—for a time—the only kid at home, I think I spent more one-on-one time with my parents. It gave me an opportunity to hear more family stories and get to know their friends in a different way than did my sisters.

WHS Press: In your opinion, what was unique or special about growing up in the '50s and '60s

Susan: I was a teenager in the 60s, and so much happened in that one decade that people are still talking about it. Summing up what was unique about growing up in the 60s could take pages, so I'll limit my answer to two things: 1) The assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Life didn't feel as safe and innocent after that. 2) The size of our generation—that so many kids were growing up, becoming teenagers, then adults at the same time as we were, and what that meant.

Diane: Our childhood seemed fun and worry-free. Ride your bike with the wind blowing in your hair, stay outside 'til dark, ride in the car with no seat belt…

Jean: Our life in the 50s and 60s was very different than today, although I don't know if we thought of it then as "unique" or "special." As my sisters and I wrote our stories of our growing up years, we couldn't help but notice how much things have changed. I think the biggest change is the structure and lifestyle of the family.

Julie: Our generation was raised by people who had toughed out the long years of the Great Depression and World War II. They weren't going to have their children grow up under any dark clouds of worry or dread.

WHS Press: What do you hope readers take away from "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins?"

Susan: For readers who grew up or raised families in the Baby Boom era, I hope our book is a little bit like opening a time capsule, a little romp through our common past that will spark their own memories and make them laugh. For everyone else, I hope our book provides a glimpse of everyday life back in the 50s and 60s, when grandpa drove a turquoise Studebaker and Mr. Potatohead's eyes and nose were poked into a real potato.

Diane: I hope readers will remember their stories of growing up and share them with their parents, siblings, children, and friends. Remembering is great fun.

Jean: I hope that readers are able to stir up their own good memories of the past and hopefully share them with their family and friends.

Julie: Like my sisters, I hope that the book reminds readers of the long-forgotten lore of their own childhoods and to share their happy memories with their parents. I would love to see a few blank pages added to future printings of the book for readers to write down some of the memories the book jogged for them.

Candy Pearson, Apple Blossom Books, Oshkosh
"Cruise down a Memory Lane lined with nostalgia, humor, and how-to's in this irreverent memoir of growing up Baby Boomer in the heart of the Midwest. From a first peek at television as a child to weekend trips in a converted city bus, first communions, and homecoming parade floats, the Sanvidge sisters deliver it all again with the same flair as their incredibly popular cookbook memoir, 'Apple Betty and Sloppy Joe.' Honest, clean good humor from a more innocent time in life and in America is fun reading for everyone—this is a book you'll want to share with all of your best-friends-forever, sisters, and especially your long-suffering mother (bless her soul!). Reading the Sanvidge sisters' stories is sure to spark many memories of your own. Laugh until the tears come and relive a piece of childhood: try one of the craft how-to's, hairdos, or another scrumptious homemade recipe from Grandma Noffke!" 

Mary Ann Grossmann, "The Pioneer Press"
"There's much talk about baby boomers these days, with the first wave of this huge population hitting 65 this year. This fun-filled memoir by four sisters who grew up in Oshkosh, Wis., will trigger lots of memories for women who came of age in the post-World War II years. There's a little bit of everything in this book — memories of the girls' time at the lake, how-to tips on making pin curls correctly (not something we'd want to relive) and Kool-Aid 'in the battered old aluminum pitcher,' as well as poodle skirts and petticoats, girdles (shudder) that held up stockings before the invention of pantyhose and weekly doses of 'goiter pills' handed out at school. Mingled with the memories are such recipes as make-it-yourself chocolate syrup and Aunt Millie's Southern Fried Chicken. This book is lots of fun. It's not surprising it was a Midwest Booksellers Association Midwest Connections pick, meaning it is being recommended by staff of independent bookstores." 

This feature article by Patricia Wolff appeared in the "Oshkosh Northwestern" on Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sanvidge sisters' second book shares tips, family stories

Breakfast in a bustling local restaurant on Labor Day with four women who grew up in Oshkosh in the 1950s and 60s as they shared their favorite memories was a lot like their new book – full of flavor, warmth and laughter.

They laughed robustly recalling some of the details of the stories in their newly released book, "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins." The book chronicles the lives of four sisters growing up in Oshkosh, attending St. Mary's Catholic School and Lourdes High School, playing with neighborhood children during an era when outdoor adventures were the epitome of fun, shopping in downtown stores, and spending quality time with extended family.

The new book follows on the heels of "Apple Betty and Sloppy Joe," a cookbook the four authors penned as a labor of love for their parents several years ago.

The authors – who range in age from 52 to 62 – include Julie Sanvidge Florence, a public library director in Ohio; Jean Sanvidge Wouters, a homemaker in Winneconne; Diane Sanvidge Seckar, an electrician and business owner in Winneconne; and Susan Sanvidge, a graphic designer in Chicago.

The Wisconsin Historical Society Press published both books. The first one sold more than 5,000 copies.

"That's a very successful book for us," said Kate Thompson, the historical society's acquisitions editor.

The Sanvidge sisters' first book is a treasure trove of favorite family recipes intermingled with photographs and snippets of family legend and Oshkosh lore. It resonated with both men and women and people of all ages, Thompson said.

The new book has a few recipes in it and a smattering of "how-tos," and lots of photos, but the meat of this book is the family stories.

"There is real heart in their stories and a quality of writing that lets us see what growing up in their neighborhood and their family meant to them," Thompson said.

The "how-tos" show readers how to make a Chinese jump rope, a yarn octopus, a gum wrapper chain, a paper fortune teller, a book cover like they did in grade school and many more fun and useful things.

"When I heard the Sanvidges were still writing down memories we felt there was more to tell and that people would respond," Thompson said.

What followed was "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins," a 240-page capsule of life that reflects the lives of these four sisters with humor and a sense of nostalgia.

The book serves the Historical Society's mission of telling the history of everyone and making it relatable, Thompson said.

Wouters did some research to write one of her favorite parts of the book. In four parts she takes readers on a virtual shopping trip in downtown stores circa the mid 1960s – some stores still there and others long gone. You can almost taste the goodies she describes at Caramel Crisp and Oaks Candy Shop and visualize the mohair sweaters stacked neatly at Jeffrey's. On her trip she visits shoe stores, clothing stores and drug stores.

Seckar likes the parts that point out how the things people used on a regular basis were so different back then. "Shampoo used to come in glass bottles," she said.

Florence remembered actually breaking thermometers to get the mercury out to play with it.

"Today if some is spilled they close the school and bring in the guys in haz-mat suits," she said.

Susan Sanvidge wrote about the stern Sister Attila (not her real name), a wiry little nun who ran a tight ship at St. Mary's. She routinely slapped students. Sanvidge can still see the red marks on her classmates' cheeks.

For some reason Sanvidge was teacher's pet that year in sixth grade. Imagine her shock and horror when Sister Attila threatened to slap her if she dropped something a second time and imagine that horror coming home to roost when she did drop the thing again and Sister Attila made good on the threat.

Even today, Sanvidge refuses to divulge that former teacher's name.

"I'd have to join the witness protection program," she said.

Sanvidge recalls Sister Elvis (Alvis maybe?) as someone whose name was something to contemplate to wile away the time during a particularly long sermon. The page contains a drawing of a beatific-looking nun in a wimple. Underneath it are the words – "I am nothing but a hound dog."

Like their first book, "Penny Loafers & Bobby Pins," came about from discussions about food from their childhood.

"It was like opening doors. An open door lead to one more opening," Florence said.

"The food memories jogged more memories," Sanvidge said.

Seckar said the book is really about the concept of family and how important the connections are. Their books inspire others to jot down memories, they said.

All four have a strong sense of gratefulness for their own childhoods. They were inspired to write down their memories to convey to their mother and late father how happy their childhoods were.

"We really had it all," Sanvidge said.

Their father Neil Sanvidge, a house builder in Oshkosh from the 1940s to the 1970s, lived to enjoy the early collection of stories that would become their first book. He covered the packet in return address labels.

"He wanted to make sure he'd get it back if he lent it to anyone," Wouters said.