Election Memories and the Student Council
Wed, 10/21/2020 - 12:13pm admin
With politics in the air, I recall that casting my first vote in a U.S. presidential election in 1960 created a dilemma for me. Who should get my vote?” Two-term Vice President Richard M. Nixon or the dashing challenger, John F. Kennedy.
Wait a second . . . he’s not that old, you might be thinking, and you would be right. But when I was in the eighty grade, the WSHS Student Council sponsored a mock election that included junior high students.
Deanna (Collins) Corn, a freshman that year, says, “I do remember the mock election. It was very exciting . . . before we had 24/7 cable news.” But we had TV, with The Huntley-Brinkley Report (“Good Night, Chet.” “Good night, David”), and the election had generated considerable excitement, even with students.
The Nixon/Kennedy contest wasn’t the first mock presidential election held at the high school. I can’t address earlier years, but on November 4, 1952, Myrtle Dunivin, after training her American government students in the election process, conducted a mock election. Her government students explained balloting procedures to students and then served as election officials.
In 1952, students chose Republican Dwight Eisenhower, who won the national election, over Democrat Adlai Stevenson, but followed the state trend and chose Democrat Phil Donnelly over Republican Howard Elliott for governor. Howell County voters went Republican for both president and governor. Shannon County went Democratic for both.
Political trivia: Donnelly and Christopher Bond are the only Missouri governors to serve two non-consecutive terms.
I can’t say for sure who sponsored a mock election for the 1956 replay between President Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson, but according to the 1960 Willamizzou, the Student Council was only in its third year in the 1959-1960 school year. Regardless, the 1956 election is interesting to me for several reasons, and is the backdrop to a sidebar story.
Although Ike won in a landslide, Missouri was one of only seven states that went Democratic that year. But it was a close call in Missouri—Stevenson edged Ike by less than 4,000 votes statewide, because of a 72,000-vote advantage in the City of St. Louis. Howell County went Republican with 64% of the votes, but Shannon County went Democratic, with 60% of the votes.
Living in Shannon County in 1956 resulted in an unfortunate situation for my grandfather. In today’s political climate, folks are often hesitant to reveal the candidate of their choice out of fear of being shunned and avoided or held up to contempt and ridicule. Maybe it is worse today, but it’s not a new dynamic.
My grandparents generally stuck with the philosophy of not talking about religion or politics. Both would say they voted for the man and not the party, however, a color portrait of Ike and Mamie Eisenhower, which my grandmother had cut from the cover of a magazine, hung in a frame over their bed. Mamie in a vibrant blue gown, and Ike in a handsome suit and tie.
Grandpa worked the night shift at the Pagett-Smith Flooring Mill in Mountain View. He carpooled with three other men from the Montier community, and parked his car at the Montier Grocery on old Highway 60.
One evening on the way to the mill, the subject of the presidential election came up. Grandpa, a plainspoken, generally quiet man, joined the conversation, and said, “I think Ike is a good man.” The comment must have weighed heavily on the Shannon County Democrat who drove, to the extent it rendered Grandpa’s companionship unbearable. The next night he informed Grandpa that he was no longer welcome to ride.
I recall that it hurt Grandpa’s feelings because the man was his friend. It worried my grandmother that Grandpa would have to drive on the hilly curves of old Highway 60 at night, after working the late shift.
I’m still not altogether sure about Grandma’s politics, but after she moved to Willow Springs in the Seventies, she voted for Wendell Bailey for the Missouri House, and defended his honor when an old lady across the street referred to him as a hippie. No doubt, the old lady had seen Grandma’s Bailey sign in her front yard. But Wendell a hippie? Yeah, I laughed when I heard it, too.
The 1965 Willamizzou indicates the student council sponsored another mock election, which would have been the 1964 race between incumbent Lyndon Johnson and Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona. However, the yearbook copy had no details, and unlike the 1960 mock election, I barely remember it—and I wrote the yearbook copy. Nationally, the race didn’t generate much excitement either. LBJ carried 44 of 50 states, including Missouri.
What did generate excitement at WSHS, were the student council elections. Sandy Merrill and I were sophomore representatives in the 1962-63 school year when senior Brenda Burns and Mike Sears were president and vice president. The year before, Brenda had been vice president with senior president Bill Haas. In those races, some electioneering took place, with a few posters in the hallways, but mainly, the candidates made stump speeches at a school assembly.
The following year, however, campaigning skyrocketed when Deanna Collins and Pat Stringer ran against Bill Tandy and Mike Warning. Campaign signs covered the hallways, lockers, and bathrooms. Inside the cover of the 1963 Willamizzou, a two-page spread photo shows Tandy and Warning standing on the auditorium stage surrounded by ten posters.
And there were “personal” attacks. At the time, Dial soap was the leading deodorant soap in the country, with an advertising slogan: “Aren’t you glad you use Dial: (Don’t you wish everybody did?)” The Collins/Stringer duo used this popular catchphrase to suggest the Tandy/Warning team could benefit from using Dial soap.
Principal Fred Thomas and home economics teacher Ruth Mathieu expressed concern that the campaigns had become unseemly, although neither intervened. Undaunted, Tandy and Warning posted a large sign in response: “If Elected We Promise to Use Dial!!!! –Tandy and Warning.” They won the election.
Notoriously competitive, the Class of ’65 fielded three sets of candidates in the student council race our senior year: Annette Tetrick and Donna Spence, running with a “For Better Student Body Representation” slogan; Glenda Turner and Jim Thomas, with a T N T logo (Thomas and Turner); and Lonnie Whitaker and junior Bill Shanks, a popular student and outstanding basketball player. My classmates had better signage, but the result was determined by demographic strategy. The senior class split its votes, but Shanks and I got most of the junior class votes and won.
That year basketball coach Bob Martin was the student council advisor. He and I counted the votes for Hoop Queen, and sophomore Alice West won. The question arose who would kiss the queen at the halftime coronation. Traditionally, the honor went to the team captain, but Coach Martin, apparently wanting to keep the captain’s mind focused on the game, suggested the student council president should do it. I don’t recall that I had any hesitation breaking tradition, and as one former U.S. president said, “Elections have consequences.”