Lessons plentiful at early-1970s Co-Ed
It has been more than 39 years since my family left Fairfield, and I have only been back to town a handful of times since then. Yet, I can’t help but think that I lost a member of my family when I heard today that the Co-Ed Theatre closed and then read about it in the Daily Ledger.
My father’s family owned and operated the Co-Ed (and the Drive-In) for a number of decades into the early ‘70s. For the last ten years or so, my father managed both theatres. During the last four years of his management, our family had moved to Fairfield so that he did not have to commute back and forth from Des Moines on a regular basis. The entire family went to work at the theatre.
The Co-Ed was my first job. I started working there in the summer of 1969, not long after we moved to Fairfield and right before my freshman year of high school. I started working in the concession stand and, over the next four years, moved up to ticket-taker and then on to projectionist. What a great progression of jobs. Thinking about the Co-Ed brings back so many memories, great memories.
I learned how to count back change to a person who bought a box of popcorn, a pop and a box of Hot Tamales and paid with a $5 bill. I mean actually counting back the change into his/her hand, not like now where the computerized register tells you how much money to give back. I started with the pennies, maybe gave a nickel, one or two dimes, a few quarters and single dollar bills until the total went from the purchase price to the amount of money that I was given by the patron. That was real arithmetic.
I remember working at the summertime 25-cent kiddie matinees with my older brother. The films were very old and broke very often. When that happened, it seemed like thousands of kids would race to the concession stand, lining up tens (seemingly hundreds) deep, driving my brother and me crazy as we attempted to keep up with the onslaught of orders. During one kiddie matinee, my brother, who was the ticket-taker, decided to take a short break and sat down on the stairs to the balcony to watch a little of the movie. As he was sitting there, a small child walked up to him, sat down on his lap and began watching the movie. My brother, who was not a big fan of small kids (believe me, I knew) froze. He could not move and couldn’t even speak enough to ask the kid to find his “mommy.” I don’t recall now how long he sat there in the same position before the kid eventually got up.
I remember my dad pioneering into the world of adult movies by holding a Saturday midnight X-rated special showing at the Co-Ed. For that movie, I was a ticket-taker and was absolutely forbidden to enter the theatre to see any of the movie. The crowd was pretty good for a very late show. Imagine my surprise when one of my FHS teachers walked in, bought a ticket and handed it to me to rip in half on his way into the movie. More importantly, imagine HIS surprise! (I got an A in the class.)
I remember telling my father that I was not cut out to be a projectionist at the Co-Ed, just about a week before I became a projectionist at the theatre. I can’t believe that I actually learned how to operate those huge old machines that required changing reels every 18-20 minutes. I even remember the night I was working in the projection booth and typed a history paper that was due in school the next morning. Someone had the gall to complain about the rat-a-tat-tat noises coming from the projection booth as I typed away. At one point, my father pounded on the locked booth door and demanded that I stop the typing. I was up pretty late after work finishing the paper.
I remember my entire family working at the theatre for the Christmas Day matinee so that the regular staff could have the day off to enjoy a happy holiday with their families.
It is amazing how much one four-year stretch of time so early in life can mean so much to a person. My memories of the Co-Ed are, for the most part, happy. I learned a lot there — about math, about customer service and about technology. It is a shame to see such an important part of my life close.
— Richard Sandler, 1973 FHS graduate and current resident of Deerfield, Ill.