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The Last Class

by Pat Dougherty ‘57


The class of 1957 was the last to walk across the auditorium stage of the “old” high school at 10th and Poyntz. Rev. Paul Olson gave the invocation and closing benediction. Dr. Raymond Q. Brewster from K.U. gave the featured address, massaging our already abundant vanity and reminding us of our duties to posterity. We had two valedictorians that year, Gary Martin and Joann Scritchfield. Center stage, Herb Bishop, our venerable Principal, and Mrs. Carl Wilen, Board of Education president, handed out diplomas. The Rev. Samuel S. George had given a stirring address to the class at an earlier Baccalaureate service.

Class officers, Jim Howe, president; Dick Cunningham, VP; Judy Kuykendall, treasurer; and Christy Fitzgerald, secretary; successfully led the class of 172 individuals through the tranquil and happy waters of the 1956-57 school year. Everybody graduated.

The “new” high school was then in the process of completion way up at the western summit of Poyntz, right next to the south wall of Sunset Cemetery. The new school… a low one story air- conditioned building looking somewhat like an insurance office or perhaps a new and improved Manhattan Saving and Loan…. None of that last class much envied those future graduates who would miss the “ancient” tradition of marching, sweaty hands out- stretched, to finally grasp their diploma center stage in our grand and cavernous auditorium. The Auditorium, connecting the old Jr. and Sr. High, let the massive three story limestone institution occupy the whole block from 9th to 10th streets, between Poyntz and Houston. That will forever be, for such as we, the “real” high school.

When fully opened, the Auditorium stage expanded to contain a full basketball court. For years it was the scene of regular junior and senior high basketball contests played before spectators that filled the same seats that provided the audience for innumerable school plays, assemblies and graduations. Gigantic windows ran from ceiling to floor along both sides of the lower level to provide lighting during the day, and a heavy smell combining the aroma of gym class, nervous students, and painted stage backdrops, furnished the permanent atmosphere. It was a smell as unique to that place as the smell of a train station or an old smokehouse is to those places. It could easily hold an audience of nearly 1000 attentive students or screaming fans on the main floor and spacious balcony. And, though there was not a bad seat in the house, the senior class, by tradition always got the center section, main floor, as their designated seats during assemblies. We were the last class to hold that exalted and holy ground.

Born in the midst of the 20th century, a century consumed in the most destructive and deadliest wars known to mankind, this class slipped silently through the cracks, too late for the First or Second World Wars, or The Great Depression; we were born too soon, with a few exceptions, for the Korean war, and the endless line of limited wars that followed in tow. We served, for the most part, as civilians and peacetime soldiers, enjoying the glory and productiveness of our forebears in a time of the greatest freedom and prosperity ever known. This class was just lucky, very lucky. A fact unknown at the time and only fully appreciated much later when the scope of the century could finally be seen. Though not consciously, this class, probably as a result of just good fortune, was singularly unburdened with the heavy weight of envy. Undoubtedly petty jealousies were indulged when called for, but evidence of hard-core envy was strangely and happily absent. The absence of that bitter plague on human nature was probably the distinguishing mark of that class and to a large extent that generation. We would as a result be dubbed the “silent” generation by the succeeding, but less fortunate, “boomer” generation. It marks the class to this day.

Tradition back then dictated that the class take a “senior sneak,” paint “57” on the water tower at Sunset Zoo and the “K” on Mount Prospect, now called, “K Hill,” and hang colorful banners from the roof of the high school announcing the stunning fact of our graduation. Tom Dunn and sophomore Billy La Shell took care of the water tower and Ed Wimmer and friends painted a large blue “57” on the white “K,” of “K Hill.”

On the day of the sneak, large banners mysteriously appeared draped from the roof of the school, and the class divided up into smaller groups of close friends to skip classes. Some traveled as far as Kansas City for their sneak, while others stayed closer to home or ventured to near-by Lake Wabaunsee for an overnight of beer drinking and highjinks in the abandoned German P.O.W. barracks still in existence on the north side of the lake.

The heavy gray caps and gowns were returned to the rental company less the blue tassel removed from the cap. Those hung from the interior rear-view mirror of our cars all summer long, announcing, so we thought, that the driver had just graduated, a member of the Manhattan High School Class of 1957.