My neighbor, Sam Wimberly, is a freshman at Kansas State. Sam graduated from William Chrisman last spring. He was an impressive two-sport athlete at Chrisman playing soccer and baseball. Sam is blessed with amazing speed and is a very bright young man with a very bright future.
Last summer, I asked Sam and a friend of his to help me move some furniture for a friend of our family whose mother had passed away. Sam eagerly helped and we spent most of a beautiful spring day together.
It was a great day. Most people around Chrisman know my affection for Chrisman kids. I was once one myself 47 years ago. Blue and gold runs deep in our family blood. Both of my parents were graduates and actually began their relationship at Chrisman at the dawn of World War II. My brothers and sisters all graduated from Chrisman as did my wife and three step-children.
In the midst of our day together, Sam told me that he was proud to be a Chrisman graduate, but he wished kids from other schools did not make fun of Chrisman students. I reminded Sam that anyone who ridicules another has a much larger problem than his or her subject, and that I had a hard time accepting ridicule, because I have such great admiration for the school and the Independence School District. I do remember a basketball game 10 years ago when a suburban district was yelling a “white trash” chant towards our student section at a basketball game. I was amazed that the other’s school’s representative tolerated the behavior that was deeply offensive.
What amazed me about our neighboring district’s attitude was the total ignorance that those kids have of the proud history Chrisman has. Of course, President Truman was a graduate of Independence High School, the predecessor of Chrisman. As a young teenager, the future leader of the free world was part of the infamous Waldo Avenue Gang with his future wife and the famous KU basketball coach, Dr. Phog Allen. Phog lived about a block and half from my house on North Union and began his coaching career at Chrisman.
The kids I grew up with continued the proud tradition of the Waldo Avenue Gang as our family home is a half block from the Truman boyhood home where my nephew and his family now live. The proud history of Independence surrounds us.
There have been many outstanding athletes from the school and I could fill a column with a list of those. Mort Walker, who graduated from Chrisman, was the National League most valuable player for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1942. Don “Red Dog” Ettinger, graduated from Chrisman in the late 1930s, played football at KU and in the NFL and later was a coach for the old Houston Oilers. He is credited with having invented the blitz, a football play used by every football team today.
Many lawyers have graduated from Chrisman. I have often thought that if we started a Chrisman Bar Association, we would have a large gathering. There were three in my class of 1971. Many of the lawyer graduates have held high positions in some of the biggest law firms in the country, in government and in the court system.
There was a time in the past twenty years when there were five circuit judges in Jackson County Circuit Court who graduated from Chrisman. There are only 19 circuit judges in the entire county, so almost a third of them were Chrisman graduates. The list includes J.D. Williamson, William Kramer, Ron Holliger, John Borron and Ann Mesle. In addition, another Chrisman graduate, David Russell, was a circuit judge in Clay County during the same time. Another, Rick Tucker, grew up across the street from where Phog Allen lived years before and is a judge in Macon County. Ron Holliger actually was appointed as an appellate judge too and served several years on the Western District Court of Appeals before retiring. My former partner, Mike Manners, attended school on the wrong side of 23rd Street and served 12 years on the bench during the same time so one-third of the judges graduated from an ISD school.
I could list a number of Truman High School graduates who are impressive lawyers, including four others from Mike Manners’ grade school class at Hanthorn Elementary School. I am not as familiar with the “Van Horn Bar Association” but undoubtedly there are many in it.
Judge Borron, who died in 2015, was probably the best known of all of the Chrisman lawyers. Judge Borron was a commissioner of the probate court for 18 years and then served 15 years as a circuit judge of the probate division. Judge Borron was widely viewed as the leading expert in probate law in Missouri. “Borron on Probate” was the decisive authority for lawyers seeking answers regarding wills, estate administration, civil commitment, guardianship/conservatorship and right-to die issues.
I should also mention that both municipal judges in Independence, Garry Helm and Susan Watkins, are Chrisman graduates. I am sure there are others I am missing, but this is an impressive accomplishment for the school that some kids ridicule.
Of course, I told Sam that anyone who makes fun of anyone else has an inferiority complex and should be pitied and not scorned. Yet, for anyone to make fun of students from a school with such a proud tradition is born of ignorance. The legal community is grateful for the service of these “Chrisman lawyers” and we should all be proud that such a great community produced so many impressive people.
-- Bob Buckley is an attorney in Independence, www.wagblaw.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org