The cast of characters assuredly changes some from year to year, and perhaps the stories they exchange.
But for seven decades now, alumni of the Drumm Farm Institute – now called the Drumm Farm Center for Children – have gathered each July to swap those stories about growing up at the home and work-farm of more than 300 acres on Lee's Summit Road.
Saturday's reunion picnic is the 70th annual gathering.
The institute for orphaned and indigent boys was established in Major Andrew Drumm’s will upon his death in 1919, officially opened in 1928, and the first graduates left in 1933. It now serves as a foster family residential area.
For this year, Executive Director Brad Smith said Drumm Farm staff will have a motorized tour of the farm, which has been built back up in recent years, and as always there will some alumni who haven't seen the grounds in several years, if not a couple decades.
“Every year we have guys who show up who haven't been here in 30 years,” Smith said.
For years, when the resident boys worked the farm land that covered much of the land where residential development and a golf course now sit, the institute was self-supporting with food and could even raise some funds.
“Six years ago we started bringing animals back, then the farmers market,” Smith said, adding that a modern greenhouse now accompanies the livestock, and the chicken coop is being renovated.
There will also be a celebration of life service for recently deceased alum Monte Hazen (Class of 1966).
“He was incredible with his hands,” Randall Winkler said of Hazen. “He could take the ugliest stone and carve the most beautiful things.”
Winkler graduated from Drumm Farm four years after Hazen and has resided most of his life since in Independence. He and Preston Rogers (Class of 1972) have been frequent reunion attendees, meeting “all the guys” and retelling stories like those of Hazen is the highlight of the annual reunion, which also includes family of the alumni.
Some alums rarely – if at all – attend, and Winkler and Rogers know some might not have the fondest memories of their years at Drumm Farm. But they have nothing but good things to say in their reflections and say that if not for Drumm their lives and many others' would have taken far different paths, and not for the better.
“I could get you 300 guys in two hours,” said Winkler, who came to Drumm Farm from a broken home and then a detention facility before he turned 10.
Rogers grew up as one of 14 children, many of whom ended up in the foster care system after their mother died and the father moved the family but was an alcoholic. After being removed from the last of his foster homes and being taken to the juvenile facility for a night – “Just to rattle my cage,” he said – Rogers ended up at Drumm Farm, where unknowingly one brother already resided.
“Drumm took care of me quite well,” he said. “I never had a bad day there.”
“Never had a bad meal,” Winkler is quick to add.
The two friends can share Drumm Farm stories for hours – about mischief like rotten potato fights that happens naturally with so many young boys housed together, about making homemade ice cream and fighting for the yummy task of cleaning the paddle, about dressing in their Sunday best for once-a-year trips to the bank to deposit individual earnings, about summer vacations to places like the Minnesota lakes for fishing.
They also remember the reunions during their time as residents, which meant a baseball game against the alumni, possibly the best meal of the year, and a Polly's Pop soda courtesy of then-superintendent George Berkemeier.
Smith said some children currently living at Drumm will help serve the lunch, and perhaps his favorite part of the reunions is the chance to connect those children with adults he considers “really good role models.”
“To see that grown person, successful and with a family, it's a huge thing for the young people here,” Smith said. “It gives them hope.”