There's one thing to be said about the William Chrisman High School Class of 1951: These spunky octogenarians aren't going to let age prevent them from observing their 85th birthdays. They are eager to celebrate 67 years of love, fun and friendship since graduating.
The two-day celebration begins with a birthday lunch at 1 p.m. Oct. 19 at the Pizza Ranch in Independence. That evening, the class will attend Chrisman's football game and be recognized. On Saturday, the class will participate in the 9 a.m. All-School Parade around the Independence Square.
“Our class numbered 347,” Barbara Maynard Binger recalls in an email, noting the graduation program listed 316 graduates and the yearbook, “The Gleam,” posted 319 seniors. However, she notes there were two errors.
“One of the pictured fellows had graduated with the Class of 1950 and the other person pictured told me he graduated from Kansas City Northeast High School … a dreaded Viking of all things in our yearbook,” she quipped.
The class has held 11 reunions, starting in 1961. They have breakfast once a month at the Big Biscuit.
“This year we are – most of us – 85 or close to it,” Binger notes. “We planned this party/reunion just to celebrate our milestone age and just to get together.”
She launched a newsletter, “The Bear Essentials,” in 1996 in an attempt to locate as many classmates as possible for the 50th reunion.
“Classmates liked the newsletters, so we produced them until 2017. Now we may send out a postcard or two and emails for those who use a computer,” she notes.
What the class gleaned from the newsletters between 1996 and 2001 was classmates resided in 31 states. In addition, 97 called Independence home, 33 lived in the Kansas City area, 49 lived in out-state Missouri and several served in the military overseas.
“A lot of these numbers have changed by now with retirements, moving and deaths,” Barbara notes. “Now, in 2018, we have 137 classmates of whom we know about.”
And, yes, the class was busy raising children. Barbara's research reveals that by the time of the 50th reunion in 2001, “we had produced 536 children, 900 grands and 60 great-grands,” she notes, adding, “We had nine couples marry each other with only one couple divorcing.”
For class member Paula Jones, the fondest memories were the friends, relationships and the fun times she had getting together and telling stories.
As for Shirley Wilson, who married her high school sweetheart, her proudest moment as a Chrismanite occurred at the 60th reunion when attendees brought stuffed bears for the Independence Police Department to give to stressed children. The class also contributed $5,500 to the Don Burkett/WCHS Class of '51 Scholarship Fund earmarked for a “bright but needy Chrisman graduate to further his or her education.” Don Burkett died of cancer.
Because the Class of 1951 fell in the heart of President Truman's presidency, the class answered the call from the Western Historical Manuscript Collection of the University of Missouri asking for memorabilia from 1948 to 1951, including graduation and news items, pictures, sports items, play programs, yearbooks, newsletters and more.
“Our class donated generously beyond measure,” Binger says.
Classmates were also given an opportunity to share their firsthand experiences and encounters with the Truman family in the class newsletters.
Lucille McCormick Coberly writes: “My mother's father, Ray Lloyd, bore an amazing physical resemblance to Harry Truman. I used to work in Kansas City with my grandfather, and numerous times I was with him when he was greeted by passers-by as ‘Mr. President’ or ‘President Truman.’ My grandfather never bothered to correct them. He just returned the greeting and went on about his business.”
What's next for the group? Another reunion and party in 2021 at Ophelia's.
“We aren't going to stop,” Jones says. “We are going to keep on moving until there's only one of us left to hold the champagne. It will be a tea and on the house. Don't you just love that spirit. Shirley says we are getting older but young at heart, and that is what we want to do.”
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.