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Mamie, the Iran Crisis and Bluebirds in 1979
Out of the Morgue
On Nov. 1, 1979, the Tribune reported Former first lady Mamie Eisenhower died in her sleep. She was the widow of former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. This photo was taken Oct.14, 1967 at a cornerstone laying ceremony in Washington. It was the former president’s 77th birthday. He died in 1969.

Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.

In 1979, Great Bend and Barton County experienced a “quiet Halloween night” with little soaping and a little egging but nothing actually damaged and no injuries reported. Some items, including a tractor, were pushed out into the street as harmless pranks, the Tribune reported. 

The Thursday, Nov. 1, 1979 Great Bend Tribune headlines announced the passing of Mamie Eisenhower. 

“Former first lady Mamie Eisenhower died peacefully in her sleep early today at Walter Reed Army Medical Center,” the Associated Press reported. “Doctors attributed Mrs. Eisenhower’s death at 1:35 a.m. EST to heart failure.” 

“Since Eisenhower’s death, his widow lavished her attention on her four grandchildren, the children o f son John and his wife Barbara, and her four great-granddaughters. 

Mamie Eisenhower was buried beside the president in a small chapel on the grounds of the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kan. on Saturday, Nov. 3 in a private ceremony. 

Also that week, 500 Iranian students loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini seized the US Embassy in Tehran on Nov. 4, taking 90 hostages prisoner. They were not released for 444 days. A general election was held two days later, after which the campaigning for the 1980 presidential election heated up, and history shows the hostage situation did nothing to help Carter’s chances of winning a second term. 

The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini wanted the United States to send back the recently deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who was convalescing in a New York hospital after receiving cancer treatment. The Ayatollah wanted the Shah to face trial in Iran. The United States refused to hand him over, stating only he could stay while he needed medical treatment, and would have to leave when the treatment ends. 

The students claimed the hostages were spies, and the ayatollah did not discourage their efforts. And executions were threatened if the United States attempted a rescue. West German radio broadcasts reported Iranian were rounding up other Americans and delivering them to the U.S. Embassy grounds.  

Meanwhile, in the United states, frustration with the Carter administration was mounting. 

“The Carter administrations appears all but helpless as it works to protect the lives of an estimated 60 American officials held hostage by a mob if Iranian students in Tehran. Administration officials are talking with the governments and with themselves in an effort to find a way to get the Americans out of the embassy to safety. But as long as the United States’ overriding objective remains the safety of the hostages, the officials have few options.” 

After treatment, the Shah ended up in Egypt, where he died in July, 1980. The hostages were kept until January 20, 1980, the day Carter left office. 

otm_vlc_Blue Birds.jpg
Blue Birds practice: First grade Blue Birds of Camp Fire Girls’ Group 8 watch ats Paige Jones and Norma Jean King from their group practice selling Camp Fire candy to Marissa Norton, a sixth grade Adventure Girl from Group 47. Watching the transaction were Trisha Ferguson, Aimee Heinold, Dawn Thomas, Cara Harding, Alishia Rosenberg and Penni Peters. The sixth graders earned credit for their Try-ad beads by helping the Blue Birds.
Blue Bird entrepreneurs

Great Bend’s Campfire Girls were gearing up for the annual candy sales that happened each November. Purchasers could order Almond Rocha and have it delivered just in time for the Christmas holidays. While almond clusters and other combinations of chocolate, caramel, and nuts were available, Almond Rocha was the star player for candy sales — it practically sold itself in its bright pink foil wrapping. But, like any kind of door-to-door sales, youngsters required guidance to ensure they were successful. 

A photo in the Tribune captured the initiation of a troop of Blue Birds on a Great Bend front porch that week. A group of Blue Birds watched as two members, Paige Jones and Norma Jean King, practiced selling candy to sixth grade Adventure Girl Marissa Norton. The younger girls gained a valuable experience, and Norton earned her Try-ad bead for her effort. 

Blue Birds, in the 1970’s, was the first rung of the Camp Fire Girls of America ladder. Adventure Girls was an intermediate level on the ladder, two steps above the blue birds, but two steps below Horizon Girls, the top of the heap. First through third graders wore the white shirt with the blue vest, and a red bandanna around their neck, and a little blue cap. A choice of red or blue pants skirt completed the uniform. Weekly meetings helped the girls bond with one another, and opportunities like candy sales provided opportunities to gain early entrepreneurial skills while earning prizes. 

If it sounds an awful lot like Girl Scouts, it’s no wonder. Both organizations were launched around the same time as the Boy Scouts of America. For many years, Camp Fire was more popular than Girl Scouts (Girl Guides early on) in many parts of the country, and had a closer affiliation with Boy Scouts. Camp Fire is still active and is based in Kansas City, Mo. (

Great Bend gymnastics

In 1979, Great Bend High School had a girls gymnastics team, and this week, they captured first place in their own invitational tournament. 

“The vault proved to be the strongest event for GBHS in the meet, as the team captured all three medals. Michelle Morrison, a junior, led the way for the home team,” the report stated. “Karen Westfall and Robin Rogers were second and third. 

Rogers was the top performer at the meet, and Westfall also made a great showing on uneven bars . 

We looked for information to provide an update on these gymnasts, but were unable to find anything conclusive. The late 1970s was an exciting time for gymnastics, with enthusiasm from the sport still high after the 1976 Summer Olympics where Soviet Union gymnast Nadia Comăneci took gold as the individual all-around gymnast, fueling dreams of young women for years to come. The 1980 Summer Olympics were to be held in Leningrad, in the Soviet Union. The United States and several other nations boycotted the Olympics to protest the Soviet’s invasion of Afghanistan. 

Gymnastics is no longer offered as an athletic activity at GBHS, but it is recognized by the Kansas State High School Activities Association.

Drivers Ed without cars?  

No. It would never happen. But thanks to increasing inflation, leasing the driver’s ed cars to schools was becoming a losing proposition. Manufactures were no longer inclined to give dealers a rebate on the cars for “advertising” so now the Great Bend school district would need to purchase cars in order to keep the program viable.