THE QUEEN OF PROM
By ANDREW MCGINN
Teresa Green still doesn’t know who snatched the dead elk’s tongue.
Some things about prom are better left a mystery.
But after 39 years of organizing the high school prom, Green has about as many stories as there have been hairstyles.
In that time, she’s learned that real candles on tables will invariably lead to decorations being set on fire.
And that goldfish in ornamental bowls will be eaten.
It also now goes without saying that if a couple is destined to break up on prom night, they’ll implode almost as soon as they walk through the door.
Green has consoled the heartbroken and once attended to someone suffering from full-blown anaphylaxis after they ate shellfish for the first (and last) time.
“I do carry an emergency kit,” she explained recently, “which has the essentials in it, like hairspray, lipstick and safety pins.”
The only thing certain about this year’s Greene County High School prom, which will be held Saturday at the Wild Rose Casino event center, is that memories will be made that last a lifetime.
“Everybody has a story about their prom,” said Green, who has been teaching business education at the high school since the fall of 1980.
Locally, an age limit has been in place ever since the one year a student brought a date to prom older than the chaperones.
But if this year’s prom happens to not be so memorable for the adults, that’s probably OK.
That means no one ate the decorations or set anything on fire.
Then again, Green has an uncanny ability to remember the previous 38 proms she has organized in her role as junior class sponsor.
Somehow, in her mind, she can still keep “Tropical Paradise” (1981) separate from “Polar Paradise” (1982), and she can still differentiate between “Midnight in Manhattan” (1988) and “Midnight in Paris” (2012).
There’s no confusing “Jewel of the Nile” (1994) with “A Night on the Nile” (2010).
“I could probably tell you a story about each one,” Green said.
Part of it stems from the fact that, like any great teacher, Green has never forgotten a student. Many of those students, she said, have since become friends.
This year’s prom, “Viva Las Vegas,” should be even easier to remember, in part because it’s the first time the prom has had a Vegas theme, unless you count the year (2013) they did “Dining at the Bellagio.” (Future Vegas-themed proms could include “Cirque du Prom” and “One Night at Area 51.”)
But what truly will set this prom apart for Green will be the absence of fellow teachers and longtime friends Randy Reuter and Dave Destival, the three of whom planned prom together for 33 years, a feat that isn’t likely to be repeated here or anywhere else.
“We just gelled,” Green said.
Reuter, who taught English, was the first to retire in 2017.
Destival, who taught industrial tech, followed in 2018.
With Destival, in particular, gone, there will be no one Saturday night to keep the DJ on his toes.
“You’re losing them! You’re losing them!” Destival was fond of saying on prom night, knowing full well that idle feet can often determine whether or not the decorations get eaten.
Green is now the longest-tenured teacher in the entire school district — and, yeah, she’s just as startled by that notion as anyone.
“You get close to the kids, and close to the families,” she said. “Next thing you know you’re old.”
Students became parents, who produced more students.
“Some of those parents will say, ‘You are still doing this?’ ” she said.
She hasn’t yet had any grandchildren of former students (she had to think for a moment) — but they could only be so lucky.
There’s a certain comfort in knowing that even though Place’s, Ben Franklin, Pamida and Shopko are all gone, Miss Green with the long hair is still Miss Green with the long hair.
“I’m starting to get a little gray here,” she noted, pointing out the tiniest splotch of silver.
At 61, Green’s first job out of college is also likely to be her last.
“I’m having a good time,” she said. “Being around good kids has kept my life very fun.”
If anything, Green has thought about moonlighting as an events planner, naturally calling on her 39 years of experience organizing prom.
As a longtime Jimmy Buffett fan — a proud Parrothead who has been to 23 of his shows and counting since 1980 — she admittedly enjoys tropical-themed proms the most.
Green, who served as assistant junior class sponsor her first year of teaching, claims to have been “young and naive” when she was “tricked” into becoming head junior class sponsor by then-teacher Sue Richardson.
“This is all her fault,” Green joked.
With that role comes the responsibility of organizing prom.
Green quickly discovered that, unlike Marshalltown, where she attended high school, Jefferson is serious about prom.
“It wasn’t as big of a deal to decorate,” she said. “You don’t have the camaraderie you have in a school of this size.”
Hundreds will turn out Saturday like they do every year for the grand march of couples into prom, with as many random community members as parents angling to see the latest fashions.
Most everything this year, including the grand march and the banquet, will be held at Wild Rose. The after-prom party will still be held in the Greene County Middle School gym until the wee hours of Sunday.
In keeping with tradition, the community also is welcome to admire the decorations earlier in the day.
Students this year will enter the event through a roulette wheel arch.
“We’ve made a lot of things out of Genesis double-sided cardboard,” Green said, reflecting on nearly 40 years of proms.
Students one year entered prom through a shark’s mouth. Another prom featured a volcano.
In 1991, for “Enchantment Under the Sea,” students passed under the tentacles of a giant octopus constructed from balloons.
“Our community and our parents are so supportive,” Green said. “They help out so much it’s really not a chore.”
In many ways, the kids of today are little changed from the kids of the ’80s and ’90s, except that Green remembers a few kids in the ’80s getting the boot for smoking right on the dance floor.
“I love to watch them dance and see all the new dances,” Green said. “When they get there, they work out for three hours.”
For her first decade, music was provided by a live band, not a DJ.
One year, Green recalled, an agent phoned her the Monday before prom with bad news — the band hired to play the prom had been busted for doing drugs at the previous prom and wouldn’t be able to make it.
But, the agent added, he had a band from Kansas City with an open date.
“And there was a reason that band from Kansas City was available,” Green said. “They were terrible.
“The kids were gone by 10:30 the band was so bad.”
Times may change, but there’s only been one fight in all of Green’s years, which Reuter broke up.
The rest of what happens at prom remains somewhat cloaked in mystery until the lights finally go up at 11:30 p.m.
One year, for a Big Apple-themed prom, they spray-painted apples gold to use as decorations.
Afterward, Green and the other chaperones found half-eaten apples.
Green got the idea to put live goldfish in little bowls of water after seeing something similar at a wedding.
Afterward, the bowls were empty.
“A lot of the kids ate the goldfish,” Green said. “I kid you not.”
While cleaning up, it’s also not unusual to find every part of a tuxedo other than pants.
And then there was that year the tongue went missing from the elk mounted on the wall of the Elks Lodge, the site of prom for years before Wild Rose opened.
Green was mortified.
“The elk is sacred,” she said.
The following Monday, she issued a terse demand to the student body: “Put it on my desk, no questions asked.”
“By the end of the day,” she said, “it was on my desk.”