Photo taken by Norm Johnston, husband of Class of 65 member Annette (Tetrick) Johnson.

WSHS 2024 Alumni Weekend

Alums may be getting older, but Alumni Weekend never gets old. It seems to get better thanks to the hard work of Tom and Phyllis White and the numerous volunteers. 
 
Appreciation is also due hosts John and Valerie Kissee Bailey, along with Wendell and Jane Bailey, for the Bailey Chevrolet open house—the go-to gathering place before the Alumni Picnic. This year, many of John’s classmates gathered there to celebrate their 40-year WSHS graduation anniversary. 
 
Memorial Weekend for me always involves a trip to see my older, smarter brother and my sister-in-law, Sandy. As a tribute to the real reason for the holiday, Jack, as usual, wore one of his USMC commemorative shirts. Semper fi, brother. 
 
By now, Jack’s German shepherd pack is less suspicious of me, and the lead dog, Gibb, after first “frisking” me, even permitted a few head scratches before reassuming his sentry position in front of Jack. After a nice visit, and hearing about Sandy’s Caribbean cruise, I headed to Cattlemen’s Steakhouse.
 
I had accepted an earlier invitation to the Class of 1964’s celebration of its sixtieth anniversary dinner at Cattlemen’s, and joined eleven members from a class that graduated seventy-five. Several class members were unable to attend because of scheduling conflicts, but on a somber note, Barbara Sherrill Pigg, who organized the event, told me over one-third of the class has passed away. 
 
Barbara says, “I did a quick count in my yearbook, and we have lost 33 members that I know about. We have another 6 or 8 who are in care facilities.” Her comment is a reminder that the haunting presence of friends who have passed on often dominate conversations at reunions, and an incentive to attend the next one.
 
I sat between star athlete Richard Beavers and roller-skating king Ronnie Stolba. Richard and I recalled and rated all the basketball coaches we had, from Buddy Bennett to Bob Martin. Although all our coaches had admirable qualities, we agreed that Joe Scott was the toughest and the best. Movie star handsome with sartorial style, he stood tall and walked with confidence, which carried over to his players—win or lose. 
 
Incidentally, Joe Scott, now a Poplar Bluff attorney, still holds the Mizzou individual, single-game scoring record in basketball: 46 points prior to the 3-point shot. In high school, he was an all-state player known as the “Gainesville Gunner.” Wendell Bailey once was assigned the task of guarding Scott when the Bears played the Bulldogs, and laughs when he says he did a good job holding him to 30-some points.
 
Ronnie Stolba and I talked at length about the Flake family roller skating rink on Pine Grove Road. His father had handled much of its construction, and Ronnie was the skating floor manager. 
Friends, Linda (Daly) Stutsman and her husband Ken sat across the table. Ken recently celebrated a birthday and wore a shirt emblazoned with the image of a Chevy Corvette. Not surprisingly, Ken scooted his cellphone across the table to show me a photo of his black 1987 Corvette back home.
 
The Class of 1974 held a golden anniversary picnic at the Booster Field pavilion from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I told class member Mark James they would have back-to-back picnics, and he replied, “Death by hotdogs and potato salad!” 
 
The 1974 graduates also sponsored a raffle of a Henry rifle, with the proceeds going to the Willow Scholarship Fund. I bought four tickets, and my sister-in-law thought it would be swell if I won and gave the rifle to her. I did not win.
 
For the past several Memorial Weekends, I have sojourned 25-miles west on Highway 60 to Montier. Most everything from the Montier of my youth is gone. With no road sign indicating the town, it is easy to miss the first unmarked road to the old town, which I did, and had to continue another mile to Shannon County Road U and double back on Old Highway 60. 
 
The extra mile resulted in an instant flashback. At the southeast corner of the intersection of the county road and Old Highway 60, there is a vacant lot. It is the same site of a brush arbor revival I attended in the summer after the fourth-grade. 
 
Several weeks ago, I spoke at a writers’ group and was surprised that although folks knew what a revival service is, most were unfamiliar with brush arbors. I found a photo online and used it as a visual aid.
 
To put us all on the same hymnal page, a brush arbor service is held under an open-sided shelter (called an arbor) constructed with vertical poles (saplings or narrow logs) driven into the ground, with horizontal poles as rafters to support a roof of cut branches and leaves (brush). 
 
The Montier brush arbor had sawdust from a local sawmill scattered on the ground as a floor, pews borrowed from local churches, and an out-of-town evangelist who led the services. It was fairly ecumenical, with folks from different denominations attending. 
 
Every time I hear Neil Diamond’s song, “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” I think of that revival. Perhaps, not “a hot August night,” but it was a hot summer week. I recall that in quieter moments when the preacher paused for effect, the only sounds were murmured “amens,” cicadas humming in the nearby woods, and insects that buzzed round bare lightbulbs strung from the rafters. 
 
On my way to the cemetery, I passed through the old town site, where a few houses remain and Pete Nicholson’s old grocery store, defunct for years, still stands. All that remains of Welsh’s Montier Grocery is the foundation, overgrown with weeds. The Church of God of Prophecy, however, looks much the same as I remember, but the tan, brick-patterned, asphalt shingles have been replaced with white siding. 
 
The cemetery, which is well maintained by volunteers, looks the same as it did sixty-years ago. A sign requesting donations for maintenance shows this telephone number: 417-247-2775. I send a check every year. 
 
Later that day at the Alumni Picnic, I chatted with dozens of old friends and made some new acquaintances. Not surprisingly, given my last three columns, the subject of UFOs came up. 
 
Classmate Leon Brassfield mentioned the topic, with a smile. Classmate Donna Spence Roman recalled Buck Nelson used to visit her father. Classmate Annette Tetrick Johnson’s husband Norm, a commercial pilot, said he once flew over the Bermuda Triangle, apparently with no ill effects. And while speaking to Dr. Robert Shaw and his wife Janet, Dr. Shaw, clearly a man of science, said he would read the three columns. 
 
My thanks to the folks who offered encouraging words about this column.
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