It will be 62 years this spring that Alvin Buss and his basketball buddies at Aitkin High School just missed a chance for immortality.
In the Minnesota State High School League Region 6 championship game against the Hawley Nuggets, the Gobblers had a couple of tip attempts at the end of a two-point loss, just missing an appearance in the state tournament.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since that March night in Moorhead, but Buss wouldn’t change one minute of life since then.
“I loved growing up in Aitkin,” Buss said. “We moved here from Brainerd when I was in the sixth grade. It was the best time to grow up, a great era.
“Life was so simple and everybody knew everybody,” he added. “My friends’ parents were just another set of our parents, we played pinball in the back of Fred’s Cafe, fished all the time and went to the Rialto Theater. I remember seeing the original Robin Hood like seven nights in a row.”
Things were a lot different back then.
“We would hitchhike down to Hickory-Pine in the summer and, once in a while, State Trooper John Hogan would pick us up and take us down there,” Buss recalled. “It was seven miles so it was a long hike. We appreciated the ride. That probably doesn’t happen anymore. It was so carefree back then.”
Alvin led quite the life as a youngster.
“My dad owned the Rexall Drug Store so I worked there a little,” Buss said. “One summer I spent working on a farm and quickly realized how much easier it was to work for my dad.”
Buss played basketball for Herman Woock and Bill Conner while at Aitkin, as well as football for Elmer Salvog.
“They were three of the greatest in my book,” Buss said. “Woock was a disciplinarian, as most people know, and once I was in the class play ‘Off the Track’ and I played the village bum – a part I made up because I had to be in bed by 10 p.m. and I could be in and out of scenes.
“The last night it was almost 10, so I raced home and noticed his car across from where we lived,” Buss said. “It was the stroke of 10, and although I made it home in time, I wasn’t in bed so I still got punished. That was how Woock was so I had to take it.”
Buss also said, though, that Woock got him into the gym on Saturdays for practice – whether or not Woock could be there.
“He always made sure I had a key,” Buss said.
Bill Conner was a legend at Aitkin for many years and Buss had a story about him as well.
“We were going to Grand Rapids to play one night, and I slept through the time to meet the bus,” he explained. “I caught a ride with family but Bill was so angry, I think I only played the second half of that one.”
He also talked about Salvog – coach of the legendary unbeaten team of the fall of 1956. Buss said he didn’t play a lot because of players like Stan Doten, Jack Park, John Galarnault, Gordie Forsberg, Gary Jacobson, Gary Johnson, Jim Gillson and Rodney Holm ahead of him – to name a few.
“They taught me perseverance and to always be ready when my chance came,” Buss said.
Following high school, Buss went to pharmacy school fully expecting to follow in his father’s footsteps and work alongside him.
Life had other plans, though, and Buss interrupted his education to go into the military. Before he came out, his father passed away and Alvin went into microbiology, soon setting up labs at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, and Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
He eventually finished school and then for 35 years he worked as quality control manager, production manager and procurer of all divisions for Fuller Laboratories.
Buss has been with his wife, Audrey, for 51 years and the couple has two daughters.
He did mention another teacher that had quite an effect on his life.
“Alice Hudson got me into singing and it has followed me my entire life,” Buss said. He has been a member of the Apollo Male Chorus since the 1980s and had the chance to travel around the world. The group was invited to sing on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor for the 45th anniversary.
“As we sang, I realized that over 1,100 men were still entombed below us and it became an even more solemn moment for me,” Buss said.