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October 16, 2001

In the early years of the last century, public events that drew large crowds in Perry were generally held in the Grand. Opera House on the east side of the square. The old two-story sandstone building stood like a proud, stately sentinel from the time of its construction in 1901 until it was razed in 1960 when the owners feared the walls and foundation were crumbling, That posed a serious threat of liability and made it impossible to attract an audience for any kind of program on the Grand's stage. By that time it had scarcely been used for years. A movie theater, the Annex, on the ground floor had been closed and the upper level, where the Grand's original stage and auditorium were located, had been abandoned long before that.

But when it was new, the Grand was something; to brag about. Touring road shows and other kinds of entertainment were booked there, partly because of Perry's location approximately half-way between Oklahoma City and Wichita. Vaudeville shows, featuring the likes of Will Rogers, paused here en route to one of those metropolises for performances at the Grand. Local folks also used the Grand for such things as graduation ceremonies for seniors at Perry High School and the Catholic school, St. Joseph's Academy. That type of program is what we're dealing with in this series of columns. A lot of relevant information comes from PHS memorabilia that belonged to the late Mr. and Mrs. Joe H, Foster Jr. It was recently found among their papers by a son, David Foster, now-of Albuquerque, NM, and he has passed it along to me.

Some of the earliest material is a batch of invitations sent to relatives and friends of several senior classes; the earliest being 1915. The announcements folded into envelopes about 2 1/2" by 5" and the texts were in traditional style. The oldest one is for the class of 1915 at St. Joseph's. It reads: "The Faculty and Graduating Class of Nineteen-hundred Fifteen of the St. Joseph's Academy request your presence at their Commencement Exercises Tuesday evening, the twenty-fifth of May at eight o'clock, Grand Opera House." The program began with music by Archa Mills, followed by postgraduate remarks by Vesta Clark. The class motto was "Virtus Sola Nobilitat," the class colors were pink and white, and class flowers were pink carnations. Names of graduates were not listed.

The PHS graduating class the following year had commencement exercises on Thursday evening, May 18,1916. Class members were Earl Bechtold, Clark Brock, Edith Dishman, Hope Eby, Florence Kerns, Kenneth Kirchner, Virginia Merrill, Ralph Mcune, Lenora Neal, Lenore Stout, Hugh Schaeffer, Mary Tate, Lola Wheeler and Lester Bartow. Earl Bechtold gave the class oration, entitled "Wanted - A Man." Edith Dishman gave the valedictory address on "Hard Knocks." Diplomas were presented by John Knox, president of the board of education. The collection also includes commencement invitations from members of the class of 1917; Members of that class, according to the invitations David found, included his father, Joseph H. Foster Jr.

We'll wind up this series in the next column.