As old classmates gather to board floats for the Old Settlers’ Day parade Sept. 26, the sound of friends calling out enthusiastic greetings to each other will fill the air. But one set of greetings is bound to sound stranger than the rest.
Marion High School class of 1945 alumni may just be the only students in school history where all the graduates had Native American nicknames.
While some today would consider doing so to be in poor taste, the social landscape was different 70 years ago, and the nicknames complemented the school’s Warrior mascot.
“It’s just something our class did,” said class president Jim Hett. “I think the names were supposed to go along with our personalities somewhat.”
While nicknames like ‘Big Mouth Wahoo,’ ‘Running Fire,’ ‘Roaring Thunder,’ ‘Silent Beaver,’ ‘Dark Moon,’ and ‘Lofty Willow,’ were mentioned without revealing identities, Hett’s wife, Carol, said her husband’s Native American nickname was “Chief Black Eagle,” because he was a class leader.
Carol said some people also got their names because of physical attributes or things that they were known for at the time.
“Ronald Kieferle was ‘Tallgrass’ because he was so tall, Max Dunn was ‘Red Hawk’ because his hair was red, and Ella Meier was ‘Warbling Songbird,’ because she could sing,” Carol said. “Rosse Case was ‘Lazy Waters’ for some reason, and there was one girl nicknamed ‘Eager Beaver;’ I think she eventually had the most children.”
Jim said 1945 was “quite a year” to be a high school senior.
“President Truman dropped the atom bomb that year, and World War II ended,” he said. “Some of our classmates had just signed up for the war so their parents had to receive their diplomas.”
With 55 class members, the class of 1945 was larger than any previous graduating class, he said.
“I think we were typical teen-agers but it was a different time,” Jim said. “We didn’t get around like kids do today. Only six kids in our class drove cars, those were country kids. They usually picked up their country neighbors on the way to school. Now days, all the teens drive.”
There were no school bus routes or school buses for that matter, he said, and town kids just walked to school.
“Gas and tires were limited and we couldn’t get many things because of the war effort,” Jim said.
Sports were popular, but with no buses, parents caravanned, taking their children to away games that were usually no further than Peabody, Hillsboro, or Florence.
“I remember a couple times our players piled in the back of a farm truck to get to an away game,” he said. “Back then, Peabody was the town to beat.”
At home, Marion’s football field used to rest where St. Luke Hospital now sits, and the basketball gymnasium was situated inside of Marion High’s present band room.
Hett said there were not as many teachers, so the superintendent taught a couple courses and the principal was a coach.
“Our class also made a teen center in the basement of a downtown business,” Hett said. “We’d get together, put coins in a jukebox and listen to music. People danced. There were sponsors. It was like every teenage thing, hard to keep together.”
At 87, Hett said he hasn’t missed any of his class reunions. This year, he said, 12 of his remaining 23 classmates are planning to attend.
“Old Settlers’ Day has always been the same, but it’s important,” Hett said. “People ride in the parade, go eat in the park, play games, and catch up with classmates.”
This year, Old Settlers’ Day patrons should see various parade floats decorated in the theme of “Saluting the Farmers and Ranchers of Marion County.”
Kiwanis president Al Ash said anybody who wants to enter the parade could do so. Those interested can contact Casey Case, he said.
Cash prizes will be awarded for different church and school floats.
The traditional sloppy joe lunch will be served in Central Park, followed by games and races for all ages, and a concert by Marion High School band.
Classes having reunions will be recognized after the concert.