They were small-town kids and farmers’ children brought together by war, plunked in a hastily made city and made inseparable by the bonds of friendship.
Marilyn Jones remembers sleeping on a roll-away cot in her backyard and looking up at the stars with her best friends.
Margaret Wade remembers the immaculately clean, new houses with indoor plumbing and whose doors were never locked.
Beverly Warner remembers the comradery.
“All of us, we didn’t have much,” Warner said. “We were poor folks.”
Beginning today, more than 40 of the classmates are expected to return to Wichita to celebrate their 60th high school reunion. They’ll be celebrating at the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview – where the class celebrated its junior-senior prom.
During their reunion, they are making a video and recording their memories in the hopes of passing them on to their children and grandchildren.
The Class of 1952 with its 105 students at Planeview High School was bonded by rationing, loyalty and Midwestern values.
“They were brought into this place through no means of their own,” said Donna Clark, who has written her master’s thesis “At Home on the Range: Kansas Childhood During World War II.”
“They came from diverse backgrounds from 32 different states. They came together artificially for the sole purpose that they each had a family member working at the aircraft plants.”
The neighborhood is bounded by Hillside and George Washington Boulevard, Pawnee and 31st Street South.
Growing up in a different time
They lived in Planeview during its heyday.
“Wichita looked like Las Vegas then,” said Warner, 78 and living in Rose Hill. “It was a 24-hour city.”
On Dec. 7, 1941, Beverly (Short) Warner was at her grandparents’ home in Osage, Okla. Her father and brothers were cutting down a Christmas tree in the woods behind their home. She heard President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s voice over the radio and watched as her grandmother started to cry.
She was 7 years old.
The next year, Warner’s father came to Wichita searching for a job. He found one constructing housing for the thousands of people flocking to the city searching for jobs.
It would be another year before the family would join him.
“In the summer of 1943, he came home, packed us and our meager belongings – think the Joad family in ‘Grapes of Wrath’ – and brought us to Planeview,” Warner wrote in her memoirs of how the class came together. “I remember it was night time, Boeing was lit up like no place I had ever seen. We came in on Oliver Street which was right down the center of the Boeing Complex. I was in an entirely different world.”
When they arrived at their new home in Planeview, it was brand new.
And, to a then 9-year-old girl from an Oklahoma farm, it was heaven.
“We had a bathroom inside. No more trips to the outhouse in the backyard by the barn. We had running water – cold and hot. We had three bedrooms, one for mama and daddy, one for the boys and one for the girls.”
Open back doors and sidewalks linked families.
“The first friend I ever had lived in Planeview,” said Wichitan Margaret (Wist) Wade. “And that was Beverly.”
And then, there was Marilyn (VanBurkleo) Jones, now of Pensacola, Fla., who lived next door to Warner growing up.
“I consider them my best friends even though I live in Florida and they live in Wichita,” Jones said. “We have all gone to school, married, raised children and experienced life together. We have so much in common.”
Nearly all the classmates stayed in touch.
Sixty years later
The Planeview School closed in 1957; it was razed by 1959.
The neighborhood 60 years later is not the same. It is now considered one of the most blighted in the city.
Warner tears up and her voice breaks when she talks about the differences.
“It is not the place we knew,” she said.
This weekend may be the last time the classmates all return.
Still, they will celebrate what once was.
“It’s so heartbreaking,” Wade said. “When someone asks, ‘where did you go to school?’ You say, ‘Planeview.’ And there is almost a hesitation and they say, ‘Oh, was there a school out there?’ They know what it is today.
“Most classes when they have a reunion have a place to go back to, to tour or look at. Our history has been erased. That’s another thing that binds us together. I wouldn’t give up my time in Planeview for all the money in the world. That’s where most of us met our lifelong friends.”