Once upon a day in May
I saw some children in their play
I listened as they sang their songs
I saw them as they marched along
Some other children came to see
They joined them in their revelry
On tin can drums and sticks they played
Great marching tunes for their parade
Then moms and dads folks en masse
Came out to watch them as they passed
Bright flags and banners lined the way
To welcome children on that day
Now many years have come and gone
The happy music echoes on
Those kids are grown who then had played
“They” sang and marched in “their” parade
In 1958, the second-to-the last year I taught in the rural schools of McPherson County, I experienced what I believe is the essence of the All Schools Day celebration.
In my eighth-grade class, there were six personable and intelligent students who ranked very high in the county’s achievement tests. These young people represented a number of widely diverse family backgrounds. Despite their diversity, they had one thing in common. All were competitive in the classroom. Their determination to excel in school work was a real challenge to me to create elements in their curriculum which would help them to expand their experiences beyond the minimum requirements of the accepted course of study.
Soon they would join that large group of McPherson County graduates in the much-anticipated graduation ceremony, which was celebrated on the morning of the May Day festival to be held at the McPherson Community Building.
So it was, that we prepared for the graduation and parade. The preparation included the construction of the float on which some of the graduates would ride in the All Schools Day parade.
We chose to construct a float with many large beautiful flowers positioned at the rear of the float. The butterfly was a black and yellow swallow-tail, which towered above the graduates and the flowers. The parents, graduates and their teachers enjoyed putting in many hours constructing the float. The end result was a beautiful creation all ready to compete with the other county schools for that coveted first-place cash award.
The much-anticipated day arrived for the All Schools Day celebration. The float was towed from the machine shed where it had been built. The two eighth-grade boys who were planning to ride in the parade boarded the float to support the giant butterfly, which might mysteriously take flight if the conditions were right. One of the school board members was driving the pickup truck which was pulling the float. The two young fellows dressed in their new jeans and crisply starched, brightly colored shirts were a striking addition to the float with its beautiful spring-like pastel colors.
The first two miles of the trip to McPherson were uneventful. Then, suddenly, without warning, a strong gust of that unpredictable Kansas wind caught one of the butterfly wings and sent it into the roadside wheat field. The pickup driver stopped the truck quickly. The wind gust was past, but the butterfly wing needed to be rescued from the field.
Because of a good deal of forethought exercised by the people who constructed the float, a large coil of baling wire was sent along for such emergencies.
The butterfly was reassembled and we successfully completed the arduous trip to McPherson to find our place in the parade. The young ladies of the graduating class arrived to join their classmates on the float. Suddenly, it struck me. “What a delightful school year we had just completed.” The beautiful pastel-colored blouses and skirts and shiny new shoes which these beautiful youngsters were wearing really added to the charm of the float.
The police escort at the head of the parade sounded the siren on his patrol car. The bands struck up their marching music and the flags of the color guard fluttered in the brisk Kansas breeze.
The 1958 version of the All Schools Day parade was on its way down Main Street. As a teacher in the company of my students on that float, I felt a sense of pride as the viewers along the parade route greeted us and shouted their approval for the graduates and for our efforts.
In the early afternoon, the results of the float competition were posted on the doors of the McPherson Community Building. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the judge’s decision: First place in the three or more teacher schools category, “Plainview School.”
Our beautiful butterfly had literally taken flight and taken six eighth-grade grads with it!
By Les Groves, Sentinel columnist
Copyright 2011, The McPherson Sentinel. Some rights reserved. Used with permission