Better Than Necessary:
A Celebrational History of
Shawnee Mission North High School



I - The Decades
The 20's
The 30's
The 40's
The 50's
The 60's
The 70's
1980 and Beyond

II - Selective Pictures
and Facts

III - School Spirit

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SMHS 50th Reunion

    << Back to The 40's

     Forward to The 60's >>

THE 50's

The decade of the 50's began to the beat of martial music. It was a too familiar tune for Americans. Korea was added to the national vocabulary, and again soldiers crossed the Pacific Ocean.

On June 25, 1951, North Korean Communist forces invaded South Korea. Two days later President Truman ordered U.S. naval and air forces into Korea. On the 30th ground forces were authorized to fight above the 38th parallel. And on July 7 the draft was re-activated. The United States was at war and six months later President Truman would say the words which would describe this decade and those to come:

   "No one nation can find protection in a selfish search for a safe haven from the storm."

From this day forward we would live in an increasingly interdependent world, and despite what we might wish, there would be few places safe from the storms of mankind.

The fifties began symbolically with the conviction, on 29 March, 1951, of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Spies, both real and imagined, stalked the land. The war was cold and the United States was haunted from without and within. Symbolism would conquer reality, time after time.

If '51 was an important year, '54 was a social and athletic watershed. On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister ran what would be called a "Miracle Mile." His time was 3.59.4. No more would there be physical limits for the upright biped called man.

In the same year the third graders of Ft. Meyer, Virginia, were involved in a quiet historical moment. The students, black and white, went to school together. This was the first time blacks and whites had attended the same school in the South.

The issue of integration would soon link Topeka, Kansas and Washington D.C. In 1954 the Supreme Court handed down its now famous Brown v. Topeka decision. Separate would no longer be equal said the court, and now all cities, towns and states would be forced to provide school facilities for all children regardless of race. The deliberate speed of which the Court spoke includes the present moment.  However, a step had been taken which would affect all Americans.

Although there were important and serious moments, the decade of the 50's, in hindsight, was neither important nor so serious. Jonas Salk's polio vaccine would emerge from the laboratories in 1955 and the nuclear age would begin in similar laboratories in Berkeley, California. Surrounding these moments, however, Americans were consumed with finding fun, satisfaction and personal security. This was the "button down" time when relief from reality was sought on various levels.

Radio went to full time music and Harry Belafonte calypsoed into our living-rooms; the sack dress and the bikini bathing suit grabbed imaginations; the football team of the University of Oklahoma won 47 straight games and Bill Nieder was setting records for Kansas University in the shot-put; Mickey Mantle, center-fielder for the New York Yankees, took hold of New York, baseball and the minds of little boys. Chevrolet produced the Corvette, and Ford countered with the Thunderbird. Wilt "The Stilt" played basketball in Kansas, and a large majority fell in love with "I Love Lucy."

Americans were faced with an unusual problem. They were paying $15 million to store surplus wheat. They were one of the few people on earth to have too much to eat.

Diversity also provided lives of entertainment:

Dinah Shore saw the USA in her Chevrolet; Gillette urged people to "Look Sharp and Be Sharp"; the Marlboro man was introduced in advertising; and Jack Parr was King of late night television land. In 1955 "Peter Pan", starring Mary Martin, played to an audience of 65 million viewers. Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca made us laugh and "Gunsmoke" showed us how we hoped the west was.

The late 50's saw James Dean emerge as a quick-rising movie star. Too soon his light would fade. In 1957 Bridget Bardot appeared in "And God Created Woman" and David Niven starred in "Around the World in 80 Days". The next year three movies were made which are now recognized as classics. In 1958 people went to see Gary Cooper in "High Noon", Humphrey Bogart in "The African Queen", and David Niven and William Holden in  "The Bridge on the River Kwai". It was a very good year for movies.

The 50's also saw a booming theater. Julie Andrews starred in "My Fair Lady". "South Pacific" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" were added to the literature. These were rich times for live theater.

Although the Eisenhower years, 1952-60, were years of peace and personal prosperity, temporary
headlines were give to the new B-58 bomber, atomic submarines, civil defense tests, lengthy oaths, Vice-President Richard Nixon's "Checkers" speech, "Babe" Zaharias' loss to cancer, Salvador Dali's new painting entitled "The Face of War" and the emergence of Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine. To paraphrase President Truman and to reflect his thought, Americans continued to seek safe havens of the mind while knowing he had been right.

Still, there was one last race to be run. The so-called Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States was on-going. The process of racial integration would continue into the next decade. It was left to Vice-Admiral Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear submarine, to put the last competition into perspective:

  "Our great race with the Soviet Union is in education."

Rickover went on to describe a national school system whose low wages attracted only 35,000 teachers per year for the 150,000 open positions. He suggested a "Council for Scholars" which would set national standards for the high school diploma and competence of teachers. Ex-Harvard President James Bryan Conant conducted a $350,000 two year survey of U.S. High Schools. One finding prescribed:  "Academically talented students ought to be studying 5 solid subjects in each of four years. English, history, mathematics, science and foreign language are solid."  The Brain Race was a spin-off of the Space competition.

It is ironic that the 50's would end with an emphasis on the mind, for it was in the mind in which the revolutionary 60's were born.



-    Boys and girls gym classes were taught Square Dancing.

"What's square dancing?"
"It's a dance for squares!"

-    There was a record enrollment in the band (81 members).

-    "B" Team cheerleaders appeared for the first time. Now the "A" team cheerleaders could "reserve their strength."

-    Pep Club had 550 members. They wore red and black beanies and red Pep Club Jackets with dark trousers or skirts. The qualify for the Pep Club a student had to maintain a "C" average and could only miss two games a semester.

-     "Murlie" Welch was in charge of attendance, discipline, handling activity funds, enrolling students and all extra-curricular activities.

-    The yearbook was dedicated to L. Dale Pigg.

-    The basketball team lost the state final to Topeka (31-45).

-    And the arcade was still a prominent part of campus life.

-    Prom theme was "April in Paris".

-    Boy's Glee Club was formed.

-    Bob Johnson became the varsity basketball coach. His first team lost the state title by one point. The team's record was 23 and 2 and the star players were Gene Elstun and Bob Crisler.

-    The first student-teachers appeared. Eugene Gaston and Carolyn Crosier were the first to prepare for their teaching careers at Shawnee Mission High School.

-    To quote the student newspaper, "students eagerly reach for the nutritious lunch in the cafeteria."

-    For the boys "burr" haircuts were in fashion.

-    Lawrence and Wyandotte were the schools to beat.

-    Shawnee Mission's building housed 5.2 acres and was bounded by 35,000 square yards of parking area.

-    Donna Francis was elected Homecoming Queen.

-    Enrollment had grown to 1,518.

-    A controversial subject was the question whether there should be boy and girl cheerleaders or girl cheerleaders and boy yell leaders.

-    Students listened to "Mona Lisa". It was sung by Nat King Cole.

-    "Going steady" was the goal of every student.

-    Boys dreamed of owning a hot rod.

-    "Paup's Place", a young people's nightclub and a center of action for Shawnee Mission students, was sold.

-    Dr. McEachen and the Board had new facilities planned. But the summer of 1950 brought rain, mud and Korea. Building schedules were disputed. McEachen urged each worker to accept the motto: "My part will be done on time."


-    January, Shawnee Mission opened its new $450,000 gymnasium. The Indians lost the first game to Ward High School (24-32).

-    The Student Congress selected a student of the week.

-    New Lockers were added to the building.

-    A new darkroom was built for journalism classes.

-    Homecoming Queen was Betty Lou Watson.

-    The football team's only loss was to Ottawa on Homecoming.

-    "The Mission" carried an article entitled, "Beware All Hooky Players".

-    "Pop" Snodgrass initiated the Shawnee Mission Relays. The purpose was to bring together the top track teams in the Metropolitan area. The meet emphasized relays and no team scores were kept.

-    Also, the first Spring Sports Queen was crowned during the intermission of the Relays.


-    "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen," said Dr. McEachen each day, "here are your announcements for today."

-    Cliff Thompson won a national oratorical contest in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

-    87 girls composed the Girls Glee Club.

-    The Inner Circle Club celebrated its 10th anniversary. Club members read the Bible and prayed before school each day.

-    Students complained that "Murlie Welch" knows all, sees all and hears all.

-    Enrollment reached 1,725.

-    62 teachers were on the faculty.

-    The basketball team lost the state championship game to Newton on a controversial call. The team's record was 23 and 2.

-    In 1922 there were 18 seniors. This year there were 345.


-    Of the original faculty members only M.E. Alleman remained.

-    Palmer "Pop" Snodgrass was appointed the first school guidance counselor. He thus became the first counselor in what would become the Shawnee Mission School District.

-    A student lunch cost 354 in the cafeteria.

-    1,900 students were enrolled.

-    Bob Busch was STUCO president.

-    Gene Elstun was captain of the Basketball Team.

-    Kay Pflumm was Head Cheerleader.

-    Students feared "8th" hours.

-    "I dig you" was a cool phrase used by "hepcats".

-    The 'jitterbug" was danced by boys with crewcuts and girls wearing bobby sox.

-    Bob Johnson's basketball team won the state championship. Shawnee Mission beat Wyandotte 49-40 in the title game. Gene Elston and John Parker were the star players.

-    Bob Karnes became the school's track coach.

-    Mr. Fred Foreman began teaching chemistry.

-    During graduation the girls had to leave their petticoats in the gym. Someone was assigned to guard the room filled with petticoats.

-    Miss Pat Spillman joined the Social Studies Dept.

-    A yearbook cost $3.50.

-    Glitter Mittens were advertised for Pep Club.

-    A female student was injured at a school dance by an exploding pop bottle.

-    Musically, students wondered "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?".


-    Suede loafers and white socks were in fashion.

-    The girls wore rolled-up pedal-pushers.

-    The Future Farmers of America Club received the Gold Emblem Award.

-    Enrollment reached 2,200.

-    Harold George was the Band Director.

-    The Homecoming theme was "Let Me Call You Sweetheart"

-    Students went to see 3-D movies; they talked about the national drought, and they watched "Dragnet" on television.

-    Wyandotte was still the rival to beat.

-    Mr. Wilbur Unruh taught mathematics.

-    Jack McNess won the National American Legion Oratorical contest.

-    The Sunflower League was formed.

-    G. Murlin Welch became Principal. He will hold the job for the next 18 years.


-    In a Student Congress meeting, a student proposed building a swimming pool on the third floor.

-    All school stairs were one-way.

-    Charcoal and pink were favorite colors for many students.

-    The 1954-55 PTA was the largest in Kansas.

-    School, Mr. Welch said, was "to offer all youth an opportunity that will lead to a finer life."

-    Sept. 24, Linda Rope entertained Sally Nichols, Bonnie Ayers, Dallas Johnson, Barbara Kelley and Sandra Helmrich at a slumber party. The girls ate hot dogs and chili and then "hit the hay".

-    The Shawnee Mission Top Hit Songs were:

1.    "Dance With Me Henry"
2.    "Don't Be Angry"
3.    "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White"
4.    "Two Hearts"
5.    "I Miss You So"
6.    "I Belong To You"

-    Tuesday, February 5, the lunch menu was: swiss steak, mashed potatoes, vegetable salad, hot rolls and butter, vanilla pudding and milk.

-    The Debate Team won the State Championship. Top debaters were: Jack McNees, Jerry Miller, Jack Panetierre and Topper Johntz.

-    52 couples appeared on The Katz Teen Club. Joanne Thompson and John Burke won a Glenn Miller album in the dance contest.

-    A ski trip to Colorado was sponsored by the Y.M.C.A. The all-inclusive five day price was $60.00.

-    Coach Reade retired as football coach. He won 110 games in his coaching career at Shawnee Mission. His total record was 110-38-11.

-    Enterprising reporters came up with the following information on the physical facilities of the school:

1.    The roof covers 3.18 acres.
2.    Floor area equals 226,187 square feet.
3.    A complete change of air occurs in the building every 6 minutes.
4.    640 students can eat in the cafeteria at the same time.
5.    The blueprints of the building weigh 950 pounds.
6.    The campus contains 30.4 acres.
7.    It is 2,183 ft., 10 inches around the building.
8.    And the total number of miles in the school halls is one.

-    In the fall of 1955 four Junior Highs opened:
Hocker Grove, Milburn, Old Mission, and Indian Hills. The Board of Education had decided to establish a system of junior highs and reduce the high school to a three year program.


-    The largest male organization on campus was the Hi-Y Club with 250 members.

-    The Kansas City Philharmonic played a concert in assembly.

-    Elvis Presley took hold of student hearts, minds and feet. "Don't Be Cruel", "Heartbreak Hotel", "Hound Dog", "Love Me Tender", and "Blue Suede Shoes" were a few of his hits which captured Shawnee Mission students.

-    On Oct. 12, 1956, a senior, Roger Bell, dressed up as the "Little Indian". This began the Indian mascot tradition.

-    Guy Barnes became the head track coach.

-    2,100 yearbooks were sold.

-    In the fall of 1956 the first Drill Team was formed. Mr. Welch suggested this group because he
wanted to give girls more activities in which to participate. 125 girls tried out for the "Indianettes" and 32 were chosen. Criteria for selection were: neatness, alertness and ability to take commands.

-    Some parents were worrying about the rock and roll riots in the larger cities.

-    Shawnee Mission teachers formed a Faculty Association.

-    The school's first swimming team was organized.


-    Pep Club had 1,800 members. Its motto was "Everyman an Indian".

-    Two boys, Dick Moser and Alan Parker, were elected cheerleaders.

-    "Oklahoma" was the biggest and best production in the school's musical history. 3,750 people attended the show.

-    This year's enrollment was 2,800 students.

-    The vocational agriculture classes tested soils and fertilizers for area property owners.

-    The Band marched in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.

-    A student exchange program was begun.

-    Shawnee Mission's orchestra was rated best in the state.

-    The school hosted a national safety convention. Representatives from 46 states attended.

-    This was the year of the "Big Flu". 500 students were absent at one time. Southwest High School was forced to cancel the first football game of the year because the flu had defeated its football team.

-    The Senior Class of 1958 was the last class to complete 4 years at Shawnee Mission High School.

-    Shawnee Mission East opened.

    Forward to The 60's >>

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