A Celebration to Remember

Spiro Athanas graduated from McKinley in 1960, one of six children, all of whom went to McKinley. He lettered in football, basketball, and baseball. Spiro attended Washington University in St. Louis where he also lettered in football.

He was in the restaurant business for twenty-five years in Bloomington, Indiana. After selling his restaurants in 1994, he retired to play golf, travel, write and paint. After returning home from the Centennial celebration, he wrote his thoughts on how the celebration impacted him.

Saturday, October 16, 2004, the day of the great McKinley Centennial Celebration, I was in my car on the road to St. Louis from my home in Bloomington, Indiana by 8:30 AM. On the way I called my brother Pete (Class of ’53) on my cell phone and we agreed to meet at the Union Electric parking lot at 12:30 PM. As you may recall, it was a brisk fall day, perfect weather for a road trip and, as it turned out, for a Centennial Celebration. The leaves on the trees along highway 46 in Southern Indiana were aglow in the fullness of their fall splendor. Even the flat lands along I-70 in Illinois seemed to shimmer in the morning sun.

When I pulled into the almost full UE parking lot, right on time, my brother Pete was talking to one of his high school classmates and our mutual friend, McKinley legend Harold Alcorn. Harold reminded me of the time ten or so years ago he and a passel of our golfing buddies came to visit me in Bloomington. And so the memories began.

We boarded a school bus that had seen better days and made the short trip through the old neighborhood I had known so well, and past the familiar landmarks such as the St. Louis House and the Barr Branch Library. What struck me most was not the urban renewal or other changes, but rather how short the blocks were, blocks that seemed much longer, wider and grander when I was a boy.

The Brothers Athanas – Pete '53 and Spiro '60

Even the school itself as it came into view as we traveled south down Missouri Avenue seemed to have shrunk. It looked splendid bathed in the early afternoon sun, to be sure, but it no longer loomed as that great bastion of learning and palace of fun I remembered as a teenager.

As soon as I walked in the door I was corralled by a number of former schoolmates, several of whom were part of the Centennial Committee, and made to stand before the bust of McKinley for a number of group photos. I dutifully rubbed Bill McKinley’s nose and began to roam the halls of the school I loved so much. The refinished wooden floors gleamed with many coats of wax as they never had during my school days and the walls were smooth, clean and white. The windows – those grand huge windows – looked much the same. I will be forever grateful for the cool breezes those windows afforded, and for the wonderful vistas of the outside world they gave us, the grass and trees – our neighborhood. I regretted the intrusion of dropped ceilings, even though I could understand the practicality of that change. I’m not certain why they enclosed the stairwells, and I had to chuckle at the addition of an elevator. I remember some wags selling “elevator” passes to freshmen for 25 cents on the first day of school.

I cruised through the cafeteria in which I hardly set foot during my school days. I lived a block away at 2641 Russell and I went home everyday for a hot meal prepared by my mother. We listened to the radio while we ate — “Rex Davis with the News” from Noon to 12:15, “Ma Perkins” from 12:15 to 12:30, “Young Doctor Malone” from 12:30 to 12:45, and “Perry Mason” from 12:45 till 1:00. It occurs to me now that I never heard the first five minutes of the “News” or the last five minutes of a “Perry Mason” episode.

I checked out the old gym and the coaches’ offices. I could almost hear the echoes of the good-humored banter from Coach Blanke and his cohorts through those old walls. Though Coach might not have agreed, I think the present use of that space as a dance studio is far more appropriate than it was as a basketball venue. Back then, you couldn’t put an arch on a shot more than twelve feet high from the corner without hitting the heating ducts.

I had a hard time remembering where the “Shop” room was on the lower level, on which floor the Library resided and exactly where the Art room and Chemistry lab were located in my day. The old “Drafting” room, which sat alone on the fourth floor, is now closed off to access for fire safety. And the teachers – blustering Major Mapes, the gentle Mr. Holt, the formidable Miss Klages, the wise Miss Becker, the gregarious Miss Stites, the kind Miss Lee, the redoubtable Miss Bush – who can forget these dedicated teachers?

I saw classmates and schoolmates by the score. One of my best buddies in high school, we even walked together to school on many days, reminded me of what a rebel I was – refusing to move the tassel from one side to the other on my mortar board after graduation. We talked about how four of us would chip in a quarter and ride around the streets of South St. Louis all night. How we would “drive through Steak” cruising the Steak ‘n Shake parking lot several times during the night. World class time wasters.

My class had a reunion last year, but I was one of only three seniors on our 1959 championship football team. So it was a joy to see some of my teammates who had graduated after my class. Then, too, I saw other teammates and schoolmates who had graduated before me, some of whom I hadn’t seen in almost 50 years.

Someone had seen my brother go into the “Aud” to see the film Lou Lewis had produced as a labor of love for the occasion. It had just begun and the doors were closed. But ever the rebel, I talked the door monitor into letting me in. Pete and I sat on wooden chairs (in much better shape than the ones we sat in as schoolboys) and paid closer attention than we ever had when we were in school to that day’s Aud program. I loved the film, not only the content but also the minor technical difficulties – it was informative and charming. It helped bring home to me what it meant and still means to be part of the McKinley family – to be a Goldbug, with colors black and gold. Our hearts will ne’er grow cold.

And of course we all remember that line in our school song that goes, “McKinley, we’re sons and daughters all/McKinley, we’ll come when ere you call.” Well, McKinley called (in the voice of Lou Lewis and the Centennial Committee) and by God we came. Literally thousands of us came. We came, “For all that (she) has meant to us /done for us/and (has been) to us.” We happy, lucky Goldbugs.

Spiro Athanas