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Q&A with Carolyn Gleason, Founder and Organizer of Lost in the ‘50s

Celebrating its return with its 35th year By Abigail Thorpe | Photo By Rachel Adair

Lost in the 50s sandpoint idaho

If the name Carolyn Gleason sounds familiar, there’s a reason. The Hope native who moved to Sandpoint after college is the face behind Sandpoint’s beloved Lost in the ‘50s celebration and car show, and also the owner of Second Avenue Pizza. Since 1986, she’s been delivering community, music and fun to the people of Sandpoint, and this year marks the 35th return of Lost in the ‘50s, after it was put on hold the past two years. In her limited spare time when she’s not planning the next Lost in the ‘50s or running the restaurant, you might find Gleason shooting photography, or out doing what she does best—meeting new people.

Q. What inspired the Lost in the '50s event, and what keeps you motivated to continue providing such an incredible event to the community?

A. First of all, it was the music that drove me. I love the music from that era. I remember dancing on the street in Hope to The Stroll—it’s a Diamonds record. The music resonates with me. North Idaho isn’t known for rock ‘n’ roll, especially back then. I didn’t get the opportunities like if you were living in Philly, or Detroit, or New York. I thought, “Why don’t we bring them here? We should do something to bring these artists here while they’re still alive.” That’s kind of how it started. All of our people that created history in our town, who became our icon people in our community, they got behind me; when I asked them to do the stupidest of stuff they did it. It grew from there. I went okay, you've got to have something else besides the music. I loved the cars, so I [thought] let’s do a car show. We’ll drag people in just to see cars, we’ll get people excited about the music, and it will connect it all.

The first year we had 26 cars; 56 cars the second year. It just kept growing. When I first started it was a novelty. In my eyes it was always a community thing, it wasn’t to raise money for someone else. My intention wasn’t a fundraiser, it was “look what it does in our community, look at everybody who’s coming into town.”

Q. After holding it for so many years, was it difficult to see this beloved event put on hold two years in a row? What’s in store for the future of Lost in the ‘50s?

A. You get to the point where you feel like everybody who’s coming and counting on it, that they’ve now become part of your family. I would tell people, “Hey, welcome home, it’s your town now, for two days, three days, or whatever it is.”

The reason we didn’t do [2020] was the pandemic. I waited until the last-ditch effort to even call it off. The following year I thought about doing it; again, I thought, “This is still too scary.”

Two years being gone makes people go “Whoa, where’s ‘50s?” It’s nice to see my community totally, completely excited. It was important that as a handful of friends we could make something like Lost in the ‘50s go across the nation and be the place to be. You never know who you touch. I think that’s what we do with Lost in the ‘50s.

I tell people, let’s get through this year, let’s make this year the best we’ve ever done. This is 35, let’s not lose. Let’s see what happens and if we can continue. It does well for the merchants, it does well for the community.

Q. What are you most looking forward to at this year's Lost in the '50s? Anyone in particular who has helped make this year's event possible?

A. Seeing everybody come back that hasn’t been here for a long time. I’m so excited about Darlene Love. She’s been on Broadway, she’s put out hit records, she’s been a backup singer to people like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones. The Righteous Brothers are playing on Saturday. They’ve been here before and they blew people out of the water. They’re phenomenal. I wanted Friday night and Saturday night to both be powerful people.

I’d say there’s a lot of people that encouraged me along the way, [who] helped me stay excited about it because they got involved with me. There’s no one particular person, it’s my crew that has followed me. They’re there for my support. I’ve been very lucky in my life to know a lot of people, and that’s how we’ve gotten here. It wouldn’t have happened without the people. The community has been awesome this year. I turn around and I’m in tears. I’m grateful.

Q. How long has Second Avenue Pizza been in business, and what do you believe have been the successful ingredients to keep it running all of these years?

A. Thirty-one years. I worked at the Garden Restaurant for 21 years before that. When I left there and went to start Second Avenue Pizza, all my people followed me. They knew whatever I did they were going to be there. What I learned from being in the restaurant business is you have to have community involvement, you have to stay consistent, you have to try to be a pleaser to anyone and everyone. You have to be consistent in what you do: Your food, how you treat the people that walk through your front door.

Q. What do you treasure most about Sandpoint and the community?

A. It’s the people, it’s the community, the beauty. Growing up here in a different era, where you didn't have to lock your doors, you knew everybody in town. The environment has changed, like all things. [But] our basics, our structure that we’ve had from ancestors to whoever built our community right on through—[for] all those reasons, it’s been a treasure to grow here. I wouldn’t change where I grew up, how I grew up, all the people I grew up with, for anything.

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