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October 9, 2001

On the evening of May 23, 1918, at 8:15 p.m., Perry high school seniors marched into the Grand Opera House on the east side of the square for the 16th annual PHS commencement exercises. The students faced an uncertain future. The first World War was raging in the trenches and on the battlefields of Europe, and American troops were being tested there for the first time. Many of the young men in that year’s graduating class probably expected to join the Army or Navy after receiving their diploma.

The school had no auditorium large enough to accommodate the usual large audience of students, parents, other relatives and friends, so the Opera House, owned by J.B. Tate, was the designated place for graduation exercises. This story began with a previous column in which I explained that former Perryan David Foster, now of Albuquerque, recently gave me a small package of articles he had rescued from the belongings of his late mother, Kitty Marshall Foster. She had saved these things for years and now they are a treasure trove of information about the early days in this little city. I have chosen to focus on events at the Grand Opera House because it seems that most folks are eager to hear more about that old building, which once graced the east side of the square. Built in 1901, it was razed in 1960 because of serious structural problems. A lot of us still miss it terribly.

After an invocation, the audience joined in singing “America,” followed by a vocal solo provided by Homer Hurt, who chose the “Toreador’s Song” from Bizet’s opera, “Carmen.” Mr. Hurt was one of the graduates that night. Ellen Bowles and Ethel Knox, also graduating seniors, played a piano duet, “American Fantasie,” by Victor Herbert. “Morning Song,” a duet, was sung by another pair of senior girls, Virginia Bagby and Bernice Guthrie. Then the entire senior class joined in singing “Away to the Fields,” signifying the new life awaiting them. The commencement address was given by Dr. L.N. McNash, who is not further identified, and diplomas were presented by Hon. Roy Harvey, who I presume was the school superintendent. A benediction closed the evening program.

The class was typical in size for that period at Perry high school, numbering 26 – 18 girls and eight boys. Some of the names sound familiar to me, although I knew them only when they were much older. How many of these 1918 PHS graduates have you known? Here’s the class roll:

Virginia Bagby, Casmir Balcerkiewiczz, Ellen Bowles, Eugenia Edwards, Hannah Freese, Herman Feucht, Evelyn Geiger, Bernice Guthrie, Homer Hurt, Esther Isham, Leslie Johnson, Alpha Knox, Ethel Knox, Robert McCandless, Edna McCracken, Louisa McCracken, Hazel Scott, Alta Shaeffer, Agnes Shaeffer, Martha Schiltz, Nina Thomason, Merle Waldon, Fred Waltermire, Lucile Warner, Robert Watson and Helen Wright.

Thanks once again to David Foster for rescuing this material from obscurity and passing it on to me. Eventually it will be deposited with the Perry Alumni Association.