Jean Marie (Theis) Brown recalls the day when she and her classmates represented about half the student population at Potter High School.
“We were the largest class,” Brown said of the 1954 graduated class members. “After we graduated together, it was half the school.”
It was Brown and her 1954 classmates, Cheril (Adams) Hefner and Francis Kilgore seemingly represented the class with the most in attendance at the Potter High School Alumni banquet Saturday, June 8, in the Potter Community Church basement.
A gathering of the Potter High School Bulldogs alumni and guests have been a regular social event and celebration of history throughout the past 36 years. There were 225 in attendance at the inaugural banquet in 1983 in the former school’s gymnasium.
Kilgore, his classmate Mary Ann (Elliott) Martin — since deceased — and Ramona (Lee) Cummings, Class of 1955, organized the banquet. Cummings and Kilgore have continuously been involved in the event’s organization throughout the years. On Saturday, there were less than 20 PHS alumni and guests present for a reception hour and dinner.
Martha (Highfill) Parrot graduated in 1944, the earliest class represented for the night. Other graduates there were Carol (Jones) Kuckelman, Class of 1951, Edmund Theis, Class of 1952, and Austin Potter.
Hefner and Kuckelmans’ parents taught there. Hefner’s mother Mildred Adams also served as the principal for a few years.
Saturday’s event marked another milestone, it was the first get together since the release of “Golden Rule Days, History and Recollections of the 109 Closed Kansas High Schools” by James Kenyon.
Potter Rural High School is one of the featured high schools in the book with four pages complete with brief history of the community and student memories from Theis, Hefner and George Highfill, ‘Class of 42. Highfill has since died. Kenyon wrote Potter Rural High School District was established in 1915, and was the first rural high school in Kansas organized under the Rural High School Statute enacted in the spring of 1915.
The first Potter school was built in 1911 and was in service until the most recent school in Potter, a WPA project was completed in January of 1941.
Potter High School was in existence from 1915 until last PHS Bulldogs’ class graduated in 1957, from that point on Potter High School became history even though its doors remained open as a Potter Grade School for numerous years, but those days have all gone by too.
Cummings said she walked to three miles to attend classes for 12 years of her attendance. She would take a short cut over the hill between the home where she was reared a few miles southwest of the town of Potter bordering Stranger Creek, Cummings said.
Cummings attended all 12 years of school in the same building Grades one to four were in one classroom and fifth-to eighth-grade were held in another classroom located along the east side of the building. The west side of the building housed the high school.
Her schoolmates came from various communities located in the southeast corner of Atchison like Oak Mills and Curlew as well as Round Prairie and St. John’s Lutheran Church across the Leavenworth County line. Students and pupils utilized various modes of transportation like bicycles, cars and horseback.
Rita (Lee) Gwartney, Frank and Harold Lee, Cummings’ siblings also obtained Potter High School diplomas.
A display of yearbooks and vintage photographs offered insight about some earlier days of organized education in Kansas. Cummings’ uncle Gene Lee, a former Atchison County commissioner, graduated from school there and then taught school there throughout parts of the 1920s and ’30s. He served as a coach and later as a school board member, she said.
In addition to Brown and Edmund Theis their brother Kenneth was a 1955 class member and their sister Donna graduated in 1956. Brown indicated after the high school in Potter ceased operation, the youngest of the Theis children, Pat (Theis) Brox attended school at Nortonville in Jefferson County.
Some of the largest families with the most children in attendance were the Highfills with nine youngsters. Cummings said. The Cline and Lohman families each checked in at eight kids that attended PHS.
Even after the high school ceased to exist, composites of the graduated classes adorned the walls for many years. The alumni association members gathered them all soon after their reunions commenced.
The group had them bound in shrink wrap and have since presented the composites to the Atchison County Historical Society, Cummings said. In more recent years, some alum met at the Potter Country Store and shared their memories with Kenyon for his book.
Alum present Saturday came from Atchison, Leavenworth, Lansing, Olathe, Salt Creek Valley and within a few miles from the town of Potter.