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The Beasty Buddies Gang

by David Uphoff January 15, 2006

One of the things that help me cope with adolescence was belonging to a gang. Back in the 50's young gangs were not the criminally oriented type but rather a more benign confab of bored and restless guys seeking an outlet from school and family.

The gang I belonged to was called the "Beasty Buddies". Does that strike terror in your heart? Well, it shouldn't because we were about as dangerous as a one legged centipede. The name was derived from the head of the gang, the late Gail Cullen, who was given the nickname "Beast". Mind you, Gail was not a beast in manners but his presence demanded respect because he was strong and tall and his dark heavy eyebrows came together in the middle of his forehead which could give a stranger a hint of danger to his persona.

Gail had an ignominious origin for his nickname. Ed Denson and Gail were on a double date and had parked the car for a little necking. Suddenly, Ed heard a slap and Gail's date uttered "You beast"! From that point on, he was known as the "Beast". We all had nicknames - most of them bestowed upon us by the "Beast". If you didn't have a nickname you were not in the gang. My nickname was "Parrot" supposedly because I would rant and rave and screech like a parrot whenever I would lose at a game of pool at Bill Shirley's pool hall on South Chestnut Street.

Back in those days, MAD magazine was just getting started and we all read it and were influenced by its zany articles. A more appropriate name for our gang should have been the crazies because we were always trying to out gross or out goof each other. We were an irreverant bunch and did not shirk from giving each other undignified nick names. John Denson was called "Craze" because of his crazy antics, Ron Millard was called "Moby Ron" because of his physical likeness to the whale Moby Dick, Jack Cullen was called "Greebus"" after a fictional character out of MAD magazine called the Giant Horned Greebus. Ed Denson was called the "Fang" because he would occassionally flip out his front false tooth bridge. Another member was Tom Guinee whose nickname was "Bino".

Duane Baumann's idol in those days was the late James Dean and so we called him Jet Rink which was Dean's name in the movie "Giant". However, we starting calling him Duaaaaaane and then Dweeeeeeen and then Weeeeeeen and then it finally morphed into the name "Weiner" which he hated. That is one of the secrets of a nickname. If you hate your nickname it will surely stick with you.

The only normal nickname was "Cass" for Mike Gross. The only person who did not have a nickname was the late John Walker. I don't know why he wasn't given a nickname but I think it may be due to the fact that John was a great athlete from the right side of the tracks and was more sophisticated that the rest of us and so we were probably intimidated by his social standing. However, John was in reality just as crazy as the rest of us and a great guy to boot.

Our hangout was the bank corner at Fifth and Chestnut were we would hang out at night to watch the world go by and to joke with each other. While writing this article I happened across a cartoon that I drew of our gang hanging around bank corner. The cartoon shown below reveals how depraved I was as a cartoonist and a person.

To solidify our status as a gang we decided to buy black jackets. On the back of the jacket was an orange circle with a gray profile of a wolf to signify a beast. We started wearing those jackets to let everyone know that we were a member of the Beasty Buddies! Little did we realize that people would snicker and laugh behind our backs when seeing us wearing the jacket. A picture of the wolf emblem we wore is shown to the right. Click here to see a picture of some of the Beasty Buddies wearing their black jacket.

One time a few of the Beasty Buddies wore their jackets and went to a restaurant in Streator known to be a hangout for young toughs. After sitting awhile in the restaurant one of the Streator guys came over and told our boys that they had better leave the premise if they didn't want to lose their teeth. Needless to say, our fearless Beasty Buddies marched right out of the restaurant and headed back to Minonk. The jackets weren't worn much after that incident.

The Beasty Buddies was not a malicious group and did not destroy property but there were a few ignoble incidents. During a Good Friday evening some of the boys caroused around Flanagan and pelted a few cars with eggs while people were coming out of church services. In another incident, a cherry bomb was thrown into the screen door of Superintendent R.L. Yates's house on North Maple avenue that lit up the whole neighborhood when it went off.

Other than that, most of our time was spent on bank corner or riding around in the car late into the night listening to WLAC on the radio, a rythmn and blues station from Nashville.

Being the resident cartoonist, some times we would congregate at my parents house when they were gone and I would draw unflattering cartoons of local school officials and of unpopular students while my cohorts would cackle with glee. Unfortunately, most of the cartoons were torn up because I didn't want anyone to blackmail me.

Looking back at that period in my life I feel that belonging to a gang was a positive influence on my life. During adolescence one is trying to break away from their parents to become a new individual. Being able to share your hopes and fears with your peers facilitates the transition from an adolescent to an adult. We were not a macho group trying to outdo each other. Rather, we were supportive of each other. I think we also knew that we were a spoof on gangs and took our belonging to a gang as nothing more than entertainment for ourselves.

I don't know how kids interact nowadays but I know that back in the 50's it was unusual for a group of boys to get together for the sake of conversation and kidding rather than for a macho exhibition. Rather than isolating ourselves with computer games or the internet we interacted in person.

The Beasty Buddies was a zany group that helped each other cope with the pressures of adolescence and when we were ready to grow up we became successful and responsible adults. I hope today's youth can enjoy their adolescence as much as we did.

Beasty Buddies Epilogue

Gail Cullen

Worked for Allstate Insurance Company in Northbrook, IL. Died in 2001.

Jack Cullen

Elementary teacher. Retired and living in Washington, IL.

Ed Denson

Retired architect in Chicago, IL.

John Denson

Computer programmer in Chicago. Retired to Tampa, FL. Died in 2013.

Mike Gross

Teacher in Sullivan, IL. Died in 2016.

Tom Guinee

Teacher and coach in Watseka, IL. Died in 2010

Duane Baumann

Professor at Southern Illinois University. Retired to New York City and Scottsdakle, AZ.

Dave Uphoff

Software programmer and web designer. Semi-retired in Minonk.

John Walker

Commodities broker in Bloomington, IL. Died in 2000.

Ron Millard No picture available.

Retired from United Airlines in Chicago. Living in northern Minnesota.