Thursday, October 13, 2011

We Are The Pioneers

I walked into the indoor courtyard at the Wichita Airport Best Western hotel looking for my High School Reunion.  I initially thought I had the wrong room because the courtyard was full of old people. I was sure this group had just left the "Early Bird Special" at the local Country Buffet. I was wrong. This WAS my high school class and they didn't look a day older than me. OUCH!

We were the class of 1966. We graduated from Wichita High School West. We were known as the Pioneers.

"Our team has no fears. We are the Pioneers."

And so we were. We were on the cutting edge of a group of kids known as Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964).

We entered West High in the fall of 1963. Brought together from several Junior High schools we started the process of creating a new group identity.....


We discovered the joy of  Friday night football games and the thrill of victory. The football team lost two games that first year but won every other game during our high school career. We didn't know what it felt like to lose.....


"We're from West High, couldn't be prouder,
And if you can't hear us, we'll YELL A LITTLE LOUDER."

We had only walked the halls of West for about three months when a Friday afternoon was interrupted by the static of the intercom as someone from the school office announced that our president had been shot in Dallas. That weekend before Thanksgiving seemed overcast as we joined our nation in mourning and wondering what this tragedy wold mean for our country, our world, and our own futures.....


Because we were the second generation of teenagers accustomed to Rock and Roll, we were quite comfortable listening to Doo Wop or the Four Seasons or The Beach Boys...even Elvis...on KWBB and KLEO as we drove whatever vehicle we could commandeer. But early in 1964 our musical lives were changed by what came to be known as The British Invasion. We started dancing to a new beat. Music (as well as hair length) would never be the same.....


In our junior year, class rings were purchased and by the end of that school year we anticipated having an "upper classman" (or woman) turn our ring with a kiss.

We went to prom and dated and worked part time jobs. We even attended class most of the time. We would drag Douglas Avenue on a Friday night, turning around at Sandy's on the east. We hung out at Griffs on West Street and discovered the delight of pizza at the Pizza Hut.

Jane and me with David Converse, who I attended school with grades 1 through 12.

In May of 1966 we gathered at the Wichita State Fieldhouse for graduation ceremonies. We were going to go out into "the real world," and so we did.....


And on that night we separated and scattered in 500 different directions. Some went to college, some started jobs that would become careers, others joined the service and found themselves in far away places. A classmate, Arnie Tinkum, died inVietnam. And with his death, the Pioneers discovered the cruelty of that "real world."

Over half of our class left Wichita. We married, graduated again, started new jobs, bought houses, had kids and discovered that somehow we had crossed that dreaded threshold of being 30. But life was good, the war was over and America was a wonderful place to live.....


We, who had grown up during "Gas Wars" paying under 25 cents a gallon for gasoline, were shocked to see it push over 50 cents a gallon. We thought the world would end when it crested a dollar. It didn't. We adjusted....


We witnessed the birth of the Superbowl, Watergate, the resignation of President Nixon, the K car, the microwave oven, the video recorder, the Fonz, Charlie's Angels, the A Team, Oprah, the impeachment of President Clinton over the definition of "is." We were there at the dawn of the computer, the Walkman, the cell phone, the digital revolution, GPS, the iPod, iPhone and iPad. We were even there for Disco....


Sitting in the sill on D Hall.

Ten years after graduation we were crisscrossing the country talking on CB radios. My handle was Streakin Deacon. We wore bell bottom pants, leisure suits and platform shoes....


We were even there when country music (oh lord) made a resurgence. It was a new kind of country. No more Loretta Lynn and George Jones, it was Garth and Clint and Tim and Faith and Shania. Oh dear God, please let me meet Faith and Shania.

Driving around Wichita now, it's hard to find my childhood. The house I grew up in is gone, replaced by a Penney's parking lot in Town West Shopping Center. My elementary school is gone, replaced by a restaurant. Even the place where my father worked (Santa Fe Shops) is gone. Just a deserted, abandoned field.

Old entrance to Santa Fe shops.

These days we communicate as a class with a website (thank you, Cindy). We join Facebook and send texts over our "smart phones." And though we WERE the Pioneers, some of us are asking grandchildren to show us how to program our DVR.

Now....we gather in a hotel for our 45th reunion, but instead of cars and girls, we're thinking about bulges and bumps and bunions and bifocals and Bell Tones and bay windows and bridges and baldness....and Ben Gay. I realize that I've kept my hair but I've lost my waistline.

A thoughtful touch at our reunion was a balloon release. Two large helium filled balloons containing the names of deceased classmates were sent skyward. As I watched them climb into the sky I couldn't help but hope that I can keep my name out of one of those balloons at the 50th reunion.

And so we lived through America's golden age, her greatest days. We started life in a "Leave It To Beaver" atmosphere. Looking back from our vantage point now life then seemed so simple...and safe...and it was.

And now we focus on our adult children....and grandchildren. And we hope they will know the blessings we've enjoyed. 

With retirement looming it's easy to start wondering as we look back. Did we make a difference? Did we accomplish anything? Did we matter?

Well...sure we did. We lived and loved and led productive lives....



  1. Sounds like you have a lot of great memories. Cherish them...

  2. Wonderful! Thanks for the memories, Tim!
    .....from a fellow '66 WHS Pioneer

  3. Thanks for the great story.
    ..a fellow Pioneer and proud of us all.