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February 21, 1997

One of the truly unique virtues about Perry high school is the fact that it has its own fight song as well as an official school song, and both of them were written especially for PHS. I don't know of another high school anywhere that can make such a boast. This fact has been mentioned here before but it's still worth bragging about.

Warenne Kennedy Harris, a 1930 graduate of PHS who now lives in Canoga Park, California, wrote "Dear Old Perry High," the official school song, in 1932 when she was a student at Oklahoma State University. The Maroon fight song, "Fight On For Perry," was written by Jim Hayes while he was PHS band director in 1967-68.

Warenne, now 82, was the oldest child of Ivan and Hazel Kennedy, who eventually had four more daughters and a son. They comprised an interesting family of gentle, talented, musically inclined people, and they provided this area of north-central Oklahoma with a great deal of entertainment for several decades. "Dear Old Perry High," for one thing, promises to live on for years to come as ensuing generations of PHS students memorize its stirring musical notes and the lyrics that render veneration to a noble institution, our local high school.

The story of how the school song came into existence has been told in various morsels through the years, but a recent authentic contribution to the lore has been made by Warenne herself. It fills the gaps existing previously in other accounts. Just how this narrative arrived at the Northwest Corner's address is rather involved, but I'll try to keep it brief.

Last September, Elizabeth Willems was directing arrangements for a 60th anniversary reunion of her 1936 Perry high school graduating class. Along about the same time, Leon Nelson, an active participant in the PHS Alumni Association who now lives in Oklahoma City, had written to Warenne in California with an inquiry into the genesis of our distinctive school song. He wanted to have the real story for the benefit of Alumni Association members, so he went directly to the source. What he received in reply from Warenne tells the tale from a first-person perspective that deserves to be heard and preserved.

Warenne's letter to Leon includes an amusing anecdote concerning Ashley Alexander, another Perry musical virtuoso who happens to be Leon's cousin. Because of that, Leon passed a copy of the letter on to Ashley and his wife, Beverly, and they in turn shared it with Elizabeth because they knew she was working on the reunion for the class of '36. Elizabeth showed it to me, and that is how we came to this point. Warenne's details are woven into the story that follows:

In 1932, the newly formed Perry Poor Boys Club decided PHS should have a more suitable school song than the parody of "Sweet Adeline," renamed "Dear Perry-O," which they then were using. The Poor Boys had voluntarily taken over the responsibility of sponsoring a homecoming football queen contest and a parade around the square on the afternoon of that special game. It was one of their efforts to relieve the depression-era tedium.

Glenn Yahn, a member of the fledgling civic club, took it upon himself to contact Warenne at Oklahoma A.&M. College (now OSU), where she was a student. Glenn says he made a trip to Stillwater to present the request on a Tuesday night, and asked that the job be completed by the following Friday in time for the annual homecoming football game. It was a daunting challenge. "I was sort of taken aback by Glenn's suggestion," Warenne writes, "but I said to myself: 'I can do this.' So I went up to my room and sat at my desk and wrote it that night."

Professor Leopold Radgowsky, the Russian immigrant who was then director of the Perry high school band, took Warenne's handwritten manuscript and wrote an arrangement for the entire band. "Dear Old Perry High" was performed in public for the first time at a pep rally that Friday, right on schedule. Its bombastic tune and majestic lyrics were an instant hit with the student body, and the public in general also embraced the song from the time of its first introduction. Warenne, too, was pleased with her effort. "I was very proud to hear the band play it," she remembers. "I am always thrilled when the band plays it in the parade at the Cherokee Strip celebration." She still makes it back to Perry periodically on such occasions.

That pretty well sums up the story of when and how "Dear Old Perry High," was written. The song still brings chills of pride to the home crowd when it's played by the Maroon band during a football game at Daniels Field or by a pep band in Divine Hall when the PHS wrestlers or basketball team are playing at home: But this account tells only one aspect of the Kennedy family story. Thanks to Warenne's letter and a few personal reflections, there's more to come on the subject. Watch for it in the next Northwest Corner.