PAOLA — With two featured classes this year during the annual alumni celebration, there were twice as many hugs and memories to share at Paola High School on Saturday, June 5.

Members of the Paola High School class of 1970 missed out on their 50-year reunion when alumni festivities were canceled last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they joined members of the class of 1971 at this year’s event for an extra special reunion.

And they certainly weren’t alone.

Representatives from the classes of 1940, 1945, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1961, 1962, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1977 and 1980 all attended the luncheon.

Other classes met for reunions at other locations throughout the weekend, and many PHS alumni gathered Saturday afternoon and evening for the first ever Paola Alumni Festival on rural property east of Doherty Steel.

The free festival featured live music from the Chyles Road Band, Brickhorse and Cognitos, as well as other local musicians. There also were games and food trucks available on the rural property, where alumni set up lawn chairs and tents to enjoy the evening.

The event was sponsored by Dennis Doherty, Dr. Barry Williams and Paul Michael Davis.

Rick Banfield of the class of 1972 was one of the performers during the festival. He sang a song called “Roots” about growing up in Paola.

The lyrics talk about cruising the Square, fishing at Bull Creek, eating tenderloins at Frank’s Tavern and remembering being in the fourth grade at North School when JFK got shot.

“This is where I come from,” Banfield sang. “My roots feel strong when I come back.”

During the luncheon Saturday afternoon, special recognition was given to Dr. Barney Graham of the class of 1971. Dr. Graham is deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, and his research made him one of the leading architects of the COVID-19 vaccines. Paola school board president Amanda Martell presented Dr. Graham with a proclamation during the luncheon.

“He is one of our own, and he is influencing and inspiring the world,” Martell said.

Dr. Graham said he only spent his senior year at Paola High School, but he still considers it home because his classmates welcomed him and helped him overcome his shyness. He also said he learned his problem-solving skills working on the family farm.

Guest speakers Bruce Buchman of the class of 1970 and Rick Grabill of the class of 1971 shared memories with their classmates. Buchman made a grand entrance wearing the head of the Panther Mascot and swinging a baton to the sound of the school fight song.

Chad Wilson continued his role of roving reporter as he told jokes and interviewed different class members about school pranks and memories. It was a special year for Wilson, who is a member of the 50-year class of 1971.

It was the first class to graduate from the new high school, which is now the middle school. It was also the class responsible for the classic prank of putting a Volkswagen on the roof of the school building.

Other pranks mentioned were the time a fire extinguisher was set off inside a locker, and the time chickens were released inside the principal’s office over the weekend.

Perhaps the most famous Paola prank of all time is the theft of the original tom-tom trophy that used to be given out to the winner of the annual Paola vs. Osawatomie football game. A member of the class of 1967 is believed to have taken the trophy, but its whereabouts are unknown to this day.

The annual alumni luncheon was closed in spirited fashion as former cheerleaders danced to the school fight song and waved pom-poms.

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