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.
Thank you to Susan Willis who called in last week to inform us that the Marty Reynolds mentioned in last week’s column was misidentified, and was not a man. The Marty Reynolds from 1962 was a friend of Miss Edwards and Miss Mermis, and also graduated with the class of 1964. Willis said she was not certain, and we could not verify a married name or where she moved to.
This week’s edition of Out of the Morgue takes us back to Aug.1952 in a Great Bend. Down in the basement of The Great Bend Tribune, in bound volume labeled 1952, we find the paper is called the Great Bend Daily Tribune. World War II is fresh in everyone’s memory, and the Korean War is on. The weather has been favorable, and there is a sense of prosperity. The paper is filled with club news, for both women and men. The people of Great Bend have lots of opportunities for shopping, and style is on their minds. Church is popular, new schools are being opened and there are record numbers of new students enrolling.
On Tuesday August 12, 1952, the front page story “Spaugh speaks to Rotarians”, Britt Spaugh said attendance at the park had increased threefold over the past couple of years. Attendance at the swimming pool alone had been in excess of 38,000 persons. However, mechanical problems earlier in the month had led to the decision to close the pool for the remainder of the summer, he said. City officials also stated, unofficially, that in view of recent court decisions concerning swimming pools, when the Great Bend Pool is again open to the public, there will be no racial or color restrictions on the sale of admission tickets.
Here is what the report was alluding to. According to the ebook, Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle over Segregated Recreation in America by Victoria W. Wolcott, “...The proliferation of legal challenges to pool segregation in the early 1950s reflected a grassroots effort to push for integrated recreation...For example, in Kansas City, when three African Americans sued the city to gain entrance to the Swope Park swimming pool in 1952, city officials claimed the existence of a separate ‘Negro pool’ made the segregation policy constitutional. Both the U.S. Federal District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed, ruling that the city could not deny blacks equal access to Swope Park. In response, Kansas City officials closed the pool, a relatively new and lavish facility , for two long hot summers while they waited for a ruling from the Supreme Court. When the Supreme Court term opened in the fall of 1953, they refused to review the case, upholding the ban on swimming segregation imposed by the lower courts.”
After the Great Bend City Pool was reopened the following summer, the people of Great Bend continued to flock to it as the temperatures neared and exceeded the 100 degree mark (yes, even then, the days would reach the upper limits of the thermostat). in 1952, the number of kids taking swimming lessons exceeded 700, and in 1953, the city had to limit students at first only to those who could not swim already, and then opened lessons up to children who had attended at least one year of school in Great Bend. Built in the 1930s, the pool remained unchanged for 70 years. City Administrator Howard Partington and the city council planned to update the pool, and were diligent in putting aside money over the years, according to Terry Hoff, Great Bend Human Resources Director. In 2005, a major remodel was completed, with several water park features added. Today, Great Bend is home to the Great Bend Wetlands Waterpark.
On Friday, August 15, 1952, notice went out in the Great Bend Tribune about the need for additional volunteers for the Civil Defense Auxiliary Police school that began meeting with its organizational meeting the following evening. “A total of 25 were registered at last night’s meeting, at which a film was shown and plans were laid for the next meeting when candidates will begin a study of Red Cross life-saving procedures,” said Great Bend Police Chief James T. Corn. Meetings were held at 7:30 at the city police office.
In an excerpt of the booklet Significant Events in United States Civil Defense History, which can be found at the Civil Defense Museum website, www.civildefensemuseum.com, 1952 came right on the heels of the national “Duck and Cover campaign”. Americans were concerned about how to protect themselves in the event of a nuclear or other bomb attack from their enemies. Battle reports from the Korean War were in the headlines.
The 1952 class was to last between 12 and 14 weeks, and would include training in first aid, police routine, traffic control, use of firearms, police law, city ordinances, and other phases of police work. After this notice, the program dropped off the radar of the media.
On August 15, Britt Spaugh and his workers seined the fish from a drying Cheyenne Bottoms and dumped 15 large barrels of them into the pond at City Park. Plans were being formed for a fishing derby for youngsters in the next two or three weeks. This isn’t as outrageous as we might think today. Curtis Wolf, site manager at the Kansas Wetlands Education Center at the Cheyenne Bottoms said he’s heard several stories over the years from visitors who can remember times when the water was low at the Cheyenne Bottoms and the State of Kansas removed all restrictions on fishing. “It was like a salvage operation,” Wolf said. People would haul away as much fish as they could carry to can and eat. Some probably even stocked ponds with them. Today, however, he said most of the fish would be carp, though some channel catfish can be found.
On Tuesday, Aug. 12, 1952, Voters from Ellinwood and Lakin and Comanche townships said yes to a ballot measure to consolidate all three high schools into a separate district in order to increase vocational offerings to students. The proposal was fueled by oil and ag money, and a desire to create a modern vocational-agriculture program including a modern shop. An overwhelming majority in all three districts were in favor: Ellinwood voted 341-6 in favor, Comanche voted 73-7 and Lakin voted 106-16 in favor. The combined valuation bumped Ellinwood High School up from $3,758,422 to $23,301,816.
Later, in November, voters gave the nod once again, approving a bond issue for $247,000. Voter turnout was very low due to a bad storm; 179 voted for and 64 against. The funds would be used to purchase a site for a vo-ag building and remodeling of existing facilities and would be retired in ten years. Work would begin in time for the district to carry out the expansion program by the next school year. The plan was for the vo-ag building to be located on the former site of a Lutheran church across the street from the high school, and remodeling plans included work on the gymnasium, science and home economics rooms and the lighting system.