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Troupes, troupes, troops and troops of 1969
Out of the Morgue
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Here, Scouts of Troop 155 prepare for a May 1969 Ozark canoe trip. Pictured left to right are Jerry Frees, Dave McKown, David Rondeau, and Bill McKown. - photo by Tribune file photo

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.

Monty Python, the British comedy troupe, was formed this week in 1969. Less than two weeks later, the BBC ordered 13 episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The rest is history. 

According to the Wikipedia entry, “Monty Python (also collectively known as the Pythons) were a British surreal comedy group who created their sketch comedy show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which first aired on the BBC in 1969. Forty-five episodes were made over four series. The Python phenomenon developed from the television series into something larger in scope and impact, including touring stage shows, films, numerous albums, several books, and musicals. The Pythons’ influence on comedy has been compared to the Beatles’ influence on music.” 

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Group shot of the Monty Python crew in 1969, Back row: Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam; Front row: Terry Jones, John Cleese, Michael Palin. - photo by Courtesy
Talented playwrights 

Here in Great Bend, local talent was recognized this week when senior girls at Immaculate Conception high school (which was located at the Dominican Sisters of Peace convent grounds) were awarded a trophy for presenting the best one-act play during the Great Bend High School Dionysian Festival. Three one-act plays were presented in competition at the festival and the audience, in the Greek dramatic tradition, voted to determine the winner. A photo of the winning cast members (acting troupe) appeared in the May 9, 1969 edition of the Great Bend Daily Tribune. 

This was an important year for Immaculate Conception, which would graduate its first senior class since it opened in 1946 as a two-year preparatory school for Catholic girls planning to become nuns. According to the report in the Tribune, “Prior to the 1967-68 academic year, many girls attended the high school for two years and then entered the convent for completion of both their high school education and religious training. 

“Now, a girl planning to enter religious life must graduate from the high school and return home for a year before entering the convent.” 

The principal, Sister Margaret Ann, explained that the school had become a “closed society,” and the girls were not meeting as many people as they should during their developmental years. The change provided more emphasis on leadership. The report stressed that the school was an accredited high school with similar requirements of other accredited high schools, with 58 students enrolled that year, as well as 17 instructors. The students came from many different states, and two applicants from Old Mexico expected the coming year. Tuition was $100 per semester, with room and board an additional $225 a semester. There were a number of day students who resided in Great Bend. 

Another photo was of the swimming pool in the new physical education building at Immaculate Conception High school. Measuring 98 by 68 feet, the report stated it was “large enough for boating instruction.” The building also housed a gymnasium, and cost around 4175,000 to construct. Today, that is the home of Club 1 Fitness, located just west of the convent for the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The high school was closed many years ago. 

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Pictured here, senior girls of the 1969 class of Immaculate Conception High School who placed first in the Great Bend High School Dionysian one-act play contest. Left to right: Linda Konrade, Regina Calendar, Bobbie Breitenbach (holding trophy), Peggy Tasset, Shirley Lacy and Geneva Suppes. - photo by Tribune file photo
Japanese exchange

Also this week in 1969, a delegation (another sort of troop) of seven Japanese businessmen from Tokyo arrived in Great Bend for a three-day visit. They were part of a Rotary International exchange program, and would be staying with Great Bend Rotarians. They were treated to a luncheon at the Petroleum Club with then Mayor Robert Parish, and many area business, school and government leaders, followed by golf at the Great Bend Country Club. They toured several Great Bend businesses and industries. They also visted Rotary clubs in Ellinwood, Wichita and Phillipsburg before returning to Japan. 

Since then, many of the industries these foreigners toured have faded away. They included Marlette Homes, Thies Packing Co., WesCraft Industries and Central Kansas Medical Center. What was referred to then as the “new junior college,” remains, now called Barton Community College. 

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EAST MEETS WEST -- The original caption for this May 1969 photo in the Tribune stated “Bob Rumble, right, president of the Great Bend Rotary club, greets two of the seven Japanese businessmen who arrived here Saturday for a three-day visit. One of the visitors must have heard Matt Dillon country was nearby. He wore a Stetson.” - photo by Tribune file photo
Scouts prepare for trip 

On the front page of the May 12, 1969 Tribune, a handful of local boys are pictured canoeing at the Stone sandpit. According to the caption, they were Boy Scouts with Troop 155, preparing for a canoe trip down the Niangua River in the Ozark Mountains of south-central Missouri at the end of the month. The troop would be financing their trip by selling lightbulbs, starting that week. The Scoutmaster was George McKown, and up front in the lead canoe was his son, Bill McKown, followed by Scouts Jerry Frees, Dave McKown, and David Rondeau. 

Many in Great Bend have fond memories of Bill McKown, who died in 2014. A new pavilion by the duck pond at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo will be built later this year in his memory. An recent Tribune report about the Zoo Society’s announcement provided background about McKown. He was an inspiration to many because, despite his injuries, he led a full and active life, leaving a legacy to his community. 

“ McKown died March 19, 2014, after living a more-than-full life as a quadriplegic. He suffered spine and neck injuries in a traffic accident on Aug. 11, 1975, near Fresno, Ca. He was only 19.

His accomplishments were many. He was Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 155; held many positions at the prestigious National Boy Scout Philmont Ranch in New Mexico; and received numerous scouting awards.

McKown served as the Kansas delegate to the President’s Commission for the Handicapped. He also devoted his time and talents to the Kiwanis Club, Great Bend Jaycees, Barton County Arts Council, Brit Spaugh Zoological Society, Chamber of Commerce, United Way, Cheyenne Bottoms, Relay for Life, Panther Booster Club and Cougar Booster Club.

He created endowments to benefit many of the organizations he was involved with, such as the Brit Spaugh Zoological Society, Barton County Arts Council, Great Bend Kiwanis Club, Barton Community College Foundation, Camp Kanza and Camp Aldrich.

He was active in business and in the oil industry.”

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The caption that accompanied this picture 50 years ago today could easily describe our current conditions. “The heavy rainfall in Barton /county has caused surface wter to gather on many fields hampering any farming or oil drilling operations until there is enough sunshine and wind to dry things up. Sitting desolate in a flooded field is a tractor whose owner found things too wet to work. The secene was south of Great bend on US-281.” - photo by Tribune file photo