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May 10, 2002

I may have mentioned this before, so I apologize if it sounds familiar. The commencement speaker for our Perry High School graduating class in 1941 was Mr. H. Roe Bartle. Not to brag, but he was a high-powered speaker and much in demand for various large audiences throughout the United States. I do not remember one thing he said, but I know we were all impressed with his dignity and the aura of majesty that he projected. Mr. Bartle was a former mayor of Kansas City, Mo., and he was a major figure as an adult leader in the U.S. Boy Scout movement. You may have heard of the Bartle Hall in Kansas City. It is named in his honor.

What brings all this to mind, of course, is the impending commencement program for the class of 2002 at our alma mater. Perhaps this yearís seniors are much more serious-minded than we were in 1941, but then in the spring of that year we did not know the Japanese were soon going to bomb Pearl Harbor and drag the U.S. into World War II. Most of the young men of the class of 1941 saw duty in that conflict. Many were wounded, others died on the battlefields. As the decade unfolded, we realized that it was not exactly a happy time, but thatís not the point of this column.

I know I have also mentioned that at that time we were just beginning to emerge from the Great Depression but there was not much money in the family cookie jars for such frivolities as a new dress or a new suit for the high school graduates of that spring. Most of my friends could not have cared less. We grew up in hard times and from years of deprivation we knew our parents were not able to fork over spare dollars for new attire. Scraping enough together for college, or whatever, was a major difficulty.

At the time my Mother was a member of the Perry Progress Club. It was composed of several ladies who had children about my age. The clubís tradition was to honor graduating seniors with a gift of practical value, and that was almost always clothing. In 1941, two Progress Club members had graduating senior boys (I was one of them and Charlie Lamb was the other) and that posed a problem. Normally the club bought a new dress for girl graduates or a suit for boy graduates. Most of our predecessors as PHS graduates who were children of Progress Club members had been girls. Those young ladies had received gifts of clothing. For boys, there was not much choice as a gift except a new suit. The average cost of a new two-piece wool suit was about $35. The ladies were not sure they could afford to buy two suits. It was a dilemma of monumental, if not prohibitive, proportions. Members of the club worried about it for a while but finally concluded that to do less would have been unacceptable to them.

I was gainfully employed at the time as a soda jerk at the Brownie Drug Co., earning about 35 cents an hour. Some of that stipend I was actually able to lay aside. Before the Progress Club ladies faced their quandary, I had saved enough to make a down payment on a dark brown single-breasted gabardine suit at the Famous Department Store. My intention was to wear it beneath my academic gown for the procession across the stage in the PHS auditorium when my diploma would be awarded. Then the Progress Club offered their gift, and suddenly I was the surprised possessor of TWO suits.

That was the first time I had a brown suit and a gray suit hanging side by side in the closet. Then came my personal decision Ė which one to wear at graduation? More pressing problems must have been on my mind because I do not remember the final selection. Family snapshots of that period do not clear up the question because in all of them I was wearing the traditional graduation robe, which reached to the floor. But, like the appearance of Mr. H. Roe Bartle as our commencement speaker, I probably will always remember when I owned two new suits at the same time, thanks to the Progress Club. I still remember their generosity, and I thank them once again for it. Charlie Lamb would second the motion, Iím sure.