Barnsdall's 1956 grads gather at Price Tower
BARTLESVILLE – They were born at the end of the Great Depression, were kids during World War II and have lived out their adult lives during a sustained period of American power and affluence. Members of the Barnsdall High School Class of 1956 have been witnesses to and participants in the era of prosperity that the sacrifices of their parents’ generation made possible.
They also grew up in an American small town when many more of those communities remained economically vibrant than is the case now.
“We had a great time to grow up. We had parents that really loved us; parents that cared,” Myrna Hayes Clapp, who was president of the Barnsdall Class of 1956, recalled last Thursday, when several of the class members gathered at the Price Tower in Bartlesville for what may be their last reunion. “There’s something still to gain from what we’ve been through.”
Class members remain acutely aware of the world around them, and of their small-town roots, and some of them wonder aloud what the post-pandemic future holds for younger generations.
Class members gathered at the Copper Restaurant on the 15th floor of the Price Tower for a meal provided by the kitchen of Chef Jordan Keen. They enjoyed gift bags and the sharing of memories from their youth before proceeding to the 11th floor for a Barnsdall history program organized by fellow class member Jim Patton.
Class member Beth Bell explained that the game “Jacks”, during which players toss a ball and pick up small pointy objects referred to as “jacks", had been a common form of household entertainment when members of the Class of 1956 were growing up. Game sets were among the items in the gift bags.
The game, though no longer in vogue, is of ancient origin. A form of it reportedly was being played at the time of the Trojan War.
“You had to play ‘Jacks’ with your father to see who did the dishes,” Bell recalled, acknowledging that her father got the best of the contests. “He beat us like a drum every night.”
Clapp also challenged her fellow graduates to recall which of their peers regularly used particular expressions and sayings – things ranging from the short and forceful “Hell’s Bells” and “Hot Damn” to more involved constructions such as, “I’m going to jerk enough hide off your butt to bait a bear trap” and “You can shear a sheep regularly, but you can only skin him once.”
Clapp explained to her peers why she chose to arrange for their 65-year reunion to take place at Price Tower, which is famous because leading American architect Frank Lloyd Wright built it. The tower, constructed out of concrete and copper, was completed in 1956 and the Barnsdall seniors visited it that year, she noted. They were coming full circle.
Price Tower, which is 19 stories and more than 220 feet tall, was originally built as a corporate headquarters for a pipeline construction company. This past Thursday, it offered a sunlit, early evening view of Bartlesville to the Barnsdall Class of 1956, as the grads shared recollections of moments like ringing a school bell, and noticing how a particular classmate kept them out of trouble by smoothing over the meringue on a pie that had been disturbed during a bit of teenage horseplay in a home economics class.
There were originally 37 class members. Jim Patton reported that 17 of those had been lost, some wanted to attend last Thursday but were unable, and others could not be reached. Eight members of the class, along with loved ones, attended the reunion.
During the after-dinner program on the 11th floor, Patton showed Barnsdall images from decades long gone, images gathered by Elmer Schmidt. The graduates watched attentively and could still call the names of persons in the images and tell details about them.
Mindy Russell, who is Clapp’s granddaughter, and her family served as hosts for the reunion. Russell graduated from Barnsdall High School in 2001.
Clapp, who has a lively wit, said that when she thought of having the reunion in the Price Tower, she also thought, “Lord, just keep us from having a storm alert.”
There was no storm alert, though there was some momentary frustration and comedy at the end of the evening involving a Price Tower elevator. Everyone involved, including your correspondent, emerged unscathed.