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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Van Horn Gay Days

Van Horn Gay Days


You cannot so it seems have a get together of Van Horn alumni of any size without eventually talking about the swimming pool at Van Horn.  There is always the talk of the boys swimming nude and girls having to ware swim suits that had holes.  The girls also suffered from the humiliation of what I have heard one female alumnus refer to as the “nude parade” after they showered.


I don’t remember feeling humiliated standing in the buff lined up in the shower hall way leading to the swimming pool, in fact no one really gave it much thought or so it seemed at the time.  The one thing that is why in this day and age of openness and acceptance such a thing would never happen and be fodder for lawsuits towards school districts and accusations of teacher perversion.  I mean wasn’t it more conservative back then?  Wasn’t modesty more prevalent?  Apparently not for we all got naked and paraded around as instructed without any thought of impropriety.


Many years later a teacher at Northeast told me that since our skinny dipping days that studies have shown that at least 5% of all teenagers are Gay or at least lean in that direction and the practice was stopped.  If that is true I suppose the percentage has not changed much and that means that in the 1965 graduating class of more than 500  there were at least 25 of our class mates when standing around naked with the same sex were very uncomfortable and considered by officials as psychologically damaging. 


I can honestly say that to this day I have no inkling of who the 25 might have been.  We had some frail looking kids, some shy kids, and some kids that were just strange but to consider them Gay or in those days we said queer or homo never even occurred to me.  The part that bothers me the most is that those who were (and I suspect they were not the shy, frail, or strange ones) must have suffered and done so in silence.  What stress they must have gone through each swim day or while taking the mandatory shower after PE.


Kids are more open and accepting today but I bet many kids still suffer and think they are some kind of deviant and are picked on or bullied.  School officials have recognized this problem and have implemented programs and procedures to eradicate the tyranny of the majority.  I suspect the problem is becoming less and less even though it would not seem like it if you were the target of such harassment.


I don’t know what the swimming attire is now or how many of the schools even have pools nor do I have any clue if showering after PE is mandatory.  If I were to ask the school system I would probably be put on a watch list of some sort and when I ran for president some day my asking the question would be made public and the only support I would receive would be from the Rainbow Coalition.



Friday, September 21, 2012

Crisp Lake - A short and hearsay history

Col Crisp

There was a spring just a little northeast of what is now Fairmount that was used  by the locals as were many such springs that permeated the area west of Independence.  It did not take on its present configuration until the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Rail Road built a  spur to connect with the Union Pacific.  An earthen dam was built that backed up water and Crisp Lake took on its present form.  No one is really sure if Crisp Lake was its official name or if it even had one.  Someone stared calling the new body of water after Col. Crisp of the Confederate States of America and state legislator.  Why they named it after him is lost to history or at least this short narrative.

Regardless after the rail road finished laying track the lake was there and some of the more prosperous in the area thought it would be a neat thing to have a summer cottage by a lake.  Several small little changing stations were erected which lead to bath houses, that lead to attached pavilions, and eventually cottages were erected and sprinkled the area around the lake.  To keep out undesirables an association was established called The Hutchinson Park Association.   Mr. Hutchinson was the first to build a cottage and was sort of the area’s unofficial patriarch. 

The house I grew up in was one of the original cottages.  It was owned by my Great Grandmother Stone, who in actuality was my foster grandmother whom was always referred to as Mother Stone.  Her very large house was over by Mount Washington Cemetery and 639 Lake Drive on Crisp Lake was her summer retreat.

More people started buying lots and from whom I don’t know - may be the rail road, Hutchinson, or Col Crisp.  The Association remained in tack but it did not have the legal power to establish any type of building code because no one really knew to which political jurisdiction it  belong.  Many different types of houses were built that were lived in year round.  Some were very nice houses and the people were of the upper middle class.  But things change 

The prosperous people eventually left the area or bequeathed their property to their relatives (Mother Stone gave my grandmother our house) and upper blue collar workers, for the most part, started moving in.  Sheffield Steel and Standard Oil were very big employers in the area and Crisp Lake got its share of those families.

I lived at Crisp Lake from 1947 to 1966 mostly with my grandparents.  My grandmother lived there till the early 80’s.  When I lived there the lake had rock walls that surrounded it, two sail boats, thee row boats, one of which was mine, and one canoe.  The deepest part of the lake had a dock, diving board and chained off swimming area.  There were plenty of fish, turtles, crawdads, muskrats, frogs, and snakes.  In the winter it was the main attraction for ice skaters from all over the city.

Many birds of water type variety were represented but no ducks or geese.  Then one day two mallard ducks arrived just short of winter and of course the entire human lake population fed them; fed them so much that they returned the next year and brought some of their friends and then more friends each year there after.  Some one must have told a goose because they started showing up and have dominated the place every since. 

There was no EPA at the time to keep chemical pollution from being dumped there by an intermittent stream that some of the minor industries in Maywood used to get rid of their chemical waste.  Along with the chemical pollution from the plants, the natural run off of pesticides from the surrounding terra firma and bacteria brought by the geese eventually destroyed the picturesque setting. 

The social structure of the area changed about the same time.  Sheffield Steel and Standard Oil out sourced and eventually shut down altogether, almost 5000 jobs left the area, the KC School District started bussing, the houses were getting old and run down as were the residents, the rock walls, dock and swimming area went into decay, owners moved out and renters moved in, and then someone, perhaps the City, decided it was no longer fit to swim in.

The Hutchinson Park Association is still in existence if not real viable and there are only three families that still live around the lake that were there when I called the place home and two of them moved in when I was a teenager.  Very few remember what it was like. The Association did look into what it would cost to bring the lake back to its glory days but the cost was in the 6 figure range not counting the logistics of hauling, storing and cleaning up the mud that would have to be drudged up from the lake due to contamination. 

The place has some potential given some vision and money but there seems to be no serious interest in doing so by the people who make those types of decisions. I don’t know what it would take to make the place an attractive area once again.  Perhaps a ground swell of local populace marching on then occupying city hall might work.  If a member of the city council was elected that lived in the area or one who grew up there might do the trick.  Or perhaps some local boy who remembers what it was like back in the day will win the power ball.   The power ball scenario is the one that shows the most promise I suspect.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Van Horn - Otto Kaifes

Van Horn – Otto Kaifes


One time on face book I asked people who their favorite teacher was or which teacher influenced them the most.  It seems that Mr. Kaifes, math teacher and coach, won hands down.  So many voted for him that I began to think I was the only student that never had him for a teacher.  In fact I can never remember even talking to him or either one of us acknowledging the others existence even with a casual nodding of the head while we passed each other in the hall way.  I knew him by sight of course and he always sort of scared me a little.  He always seemed to have a scowl or a ‘don’t mess with me’ look.  I stayed clear of him but from what all I can gather this side of graduation it was my loss.

My ability to solve for an unknown might have been enhanced if I had him for algebra and perhaps geometry would not have mystified me so, for I understand he was a very good teacher and well liked, which in high school is tantamount to the same thing usually. 


Otto Kaifes appears to have had that intangible that many otherwise very good teachers don’t ever quite grasp.  More than one of his former students have told me he was a mentor, a confident, and a man who gave sound advice even if not always taken.  I will just have to take their word for it because I will never know - all is hearsay.  Hearsay however sometimes is as good as truth and even makes a better story. 


Like I stated above, I never knew or even talked to Mr. Kaifes, but I do have a short story about him.  It was told to me by Walt Zuber, whom some of you may know.  Walt became a teacher at Van Horn in 1966 the year after I graduated.  I met Zuber when he was a counselor at Northeast and I taught ESL there after returning from Alaska.  Walt was very entertaining in the teacher’s lounge and told me many stories about my old teachers at Van Horn.  He was surprised I never had Mr. Kaifes and told me a short story about him.  Walt is not above letting fact interfere with a good story especially when it is about some one else so what I relate next I have no way of determining if it is true or not – it is just hearsay you see. 


Kaifes, according to Walt, always drove cars that were old and dilapidated.  He never owned a new car and always bought a junked one for cash.  I don’t think that is too outlandish given what teachers must have made back then.  Zuber said Kaifes, would only perform minor maintenance on the car, drive the thing into the ground,  and when it finally did break down he would just take the title to the car that was already signed and notarized, pull the car along the side of the road, leave the signed title on the front seat, abandoned the car where it sat, and get home the best he could.  He would pick up a new almost junked car as soon as he could and start the process all over again.


Walt said Kaifes did get in trouble once or at least admonished by the principal at Van Horn, who might have been Mr. Curtis (thinking of Mr. Curtis still brings chills up and down my spine) for leaving his abandoned car in the parking lot for two weeks.  I guess it was in so bad a shape that no one wanted it.  The story goes that one of his students’ father owned a tow truck and hauled if off for Otto in exchange for some extra tutoring the boy needed.  Of course he did not know that Mr. Kaifes would have provided the tutoring anyway. 

Since Mr. Kaifes and Walt Zuber are still alive I must restate that the only part of this bland and lame story that I can swear to is that which Walt told me.  I don’t mind repeating what Walt told me even if it isn’t true because there is nothing detrimental stated about anyone and if fact paints Mr. Kaifes in a good light I think.  However, if one of you ever run across Kaifes or Zuber you might ask them about the validity of this tale and if you pass an abandoned car you might just stop and check the front seat, one never knows

Monday, September 17, 2012

Friday Night Lights

I had not been to a Van Horn Football game in over 30 years.  Seems like Tom Koely and I went to one when the Falcons were finally playing for the Interscholastic League Championship but don’t know exactly when that was.  It was a first in school history.   Funny thing is I don’t remember if they won or lots.

When I was in High School I never saw a football game from beginning to end.  The last two years I was playing and my sophomore year I was too interested in trying to talk, with some success I might add, my girl friend, who shall remain nameless, to forgo the second half and head out towards the school busses that were parked un locked and with no attendants. 

But the other night Bev and I had nothing planned and I suggested that we see if Van Horn was playing and go to the game.  Those of us who are in our senior years get in free to all the high school sporting events sponsored by the Independence School District.  Being on social security one has to find free entertainment where one can you know.

When I was in high school Van Horn was part of the Kansas City School District and a fine district it was.  But because of miss management, forced bussing, redistricting, family disintegration, lack of continuity of leadership, and a host of other reason real or imagined the district for many years was just a shadow of itself and Van Horn was one of the causalities. So much so that eventually a grass root effort lead by concerned local citizens and spearheaded politically by Victor Callahan, State Senator from the area bought Van Horn under the auspices of the Independence Board of Education.  Van Horn now has a bright future.  An alumni association has been established, scholarships have been given, and a hall of honor established for distinguished graduates.  I have been over looked for the last two years but eventually they will find me and be proclaimed as one of the honorees.  Well perhaps.

The Van Horn Falcons played the Butler Bears the night we went and unfortunately lost.  However the score on the field may have spelled defeat but those in the stands, kids, band, parents and all were winners.  The enthusiasm and diversity represented by the crowd, let alone those on the field, stood out and made me think that this is how it is supposed to be.  There were people of different races and ethnicities sitting side by side hand in hand, a far different picture than when I went to school there, but those were secondary identification marks.  First they were Falcons.  Nothing else had really changed since I was a young man playing or watching, at least the first half of the games.  Kids were laughing, yelling support, acting stupid, being courteous to the elders (which to my chagrins was me) and conducted themselves in such a manner as to make me proud that I had gone to school there. 

 Home coming is next week.  I think I will go.  Bev wants me to drag out my old letter jacket and let her ware it and if I can find my class ring she wants to put it on a chain around her neck. 

None of us can or should go back to Van Horn and expect it to be ours again, we passed that torch a long time ago.  But just perhaps for a few fleeting moments we will return to those days of yesteryear and remember what it is like to have the rest of your life ahead of you and not even realize it.  And if I am real lucky I might be able to talk Bev into slipping off to the buss at half time.