A visit with the past
De Soto High School Class of 1951 reunites
Delores Baxter Lycan still remembers the four-line poem she learned as a De Soto High School freshman 54 years ago.
"Oh mighty seniors, we praise you high. For you, dear seniors, we'd gladly die. Ask us of anything, we'll do as you say. For if we don't, we'll have to pay," she recited during the De Soto High School reunion basket dinner Sunday. "For freshman initiation, we had to say it whenever we saw a senior. If we didn't know it, we had to do whatever they asked do a dance, stand on our head or whatever."
Lycan, De Soto, and 16 other members of the class of 1951 were honored during the weekend reunion. She told her classmates that she had extra incentive to memorize the poem.
"I had a brother who was a senior my freshman year," she said. "I had to say it to him before we left the house in the morning, or I had to carry his books to the bus stop."
Such rituals created bonds among classmates, Lycan said. Doney Price Ferrel, Olathe, and class valedictorian Shirley Mize Modesitt, Fort Worth, Texas, said the class' small size further contributed to its camaraderie. With only 29 in the class, its members had plenty of opportunities to bond.
"We were in the school plays together," Modesitt said of her "lifelong friend" Ferrel.
Students also developed lasting friendships as members of the school's football, basketball and track teams, Clarence Plummer, Overland Park, and Roger Sellers, Shawnee, said.
"If you went out for one, you usually went out for all three," Plummer said. "If you were big like I was, you played."
De Soto was a strong regional basketball power in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The 1951 team shared in that tradition, winning the league championship and coming within a game of qualifying for the state tournament. At that time, teams in the state tournament had to win a district and regional tournament.
"The story is we got beat by a team we had defeated twice earlier," Plummer said. "In our first game in the regionals, I was injured when I came down on the opposing center's foot during the opening jump.
"I was our tallest player and I couldn't play (in the regional finals). Our high scorer got in foul trouble and we still only lost by two points."
The members of the class of 1951 are six years too young to be counted among the "greatest generation," but their history shows they, too, shared a devotion to duty.
As the class graduated, the rains that would make 1951 a year to remember had already started. Within six weeks of graduation, one of the worst floods in U.S. history hit the Kansas River Valley.
"We all volunteered to sandbag, mostly in Lawrence," Sellers said. "De Soto was completely isolated. K-10 and K-7 were flooded. The only way to get to Lawrence was through Sunflower. A guard would meet you at the gate, escort you six miles through the plant and turn you loose on the other side."
Roger Plummer, De Soto, said his family lost its home in the West Bottoms the month after he graduated.
"The house wasn't fit to live in after the flood," he said. "We moved up to higher ground. We lost all our crops. It was tough."
In 1953, Clarence Plummer, Roger Plummer and Sellers were among a group of young De Soto men who made a Marine recruiter's day.
"One of our buddies got his draft notice, so seven of us joined the Marine Corps at the same time," he said. "It was a big thing. It was written up in the Kansas City papers."
Through basic training, the men assumed they would serve in Korea, Clarence Plummer said.
"We were out in the middle of the Pacific when the truce was signed," he said. "I served 18 months in Japan. We met up with each other occasionally."
Bill McAninch, Cocoa, Fla., joined the Air Force the same years the Plummers and Sellers joined the Marines. In civilian life, he spent 20 years as chief of electrical assemblers at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
As he surveyed his classmates, McAninch said his story wasn't unique.
"There are a couple of engineers and other professionals. Overall, I think we turned out pretty well," he said.