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Postcards: Back then, city gym was Kirkpatrick Auditorium

By Linda Emley

On Saturday, March 23, I spent the day at the Richmond City Hall gym. Ray County Historical Society had a booth at the Richmond Chamber of Commerce Business Expo and I got to visit with many old friends and make a few new ones.
It was so much fun sharing history with everyone who dropped by. We used this event as the official kick-off for our Battle of Albany re-enactment coming in October 2014.
David Blyth, our president, brought his guitar and played Civil War era songs for us all day. Jenne Sue Layman, from the Ray County Genealogical Association, was on hand to answer questions and hand out flyers.
Robbie Maupin, from Big River Ranch in Lexington, came as Capt. Bill Anderson to help promote our re-enactment. He brought three tables of civil war artifacts that he shared with anyone who was brave enough to approach a man that looked like a civil war bushwhacker. We were also pleased to have James County Mercantile with an array of Civil War re-enactor items. They are working with us to help all the good citizens of Ray get properly dressed for the re-enactment.
Now that you have our cast of characters, I will give you a run down of the day’s events. After taking over an hour to set up 8 tables, we put six chairs in the middle of our booth and formed a imaginary camp fire. This is where people could join David as he sang songs. We were amazed at how many songs we knew, but didn’t know they were from that era.
My favorite was “Skip to My Lou” because my middle name is Lou. I’ve sung that song my whole life, but never listened to the words before. David gave us the history of each song as he sang, so it was a built in history lesson. By mid-afternoon, he even had Robbie joining in on the chorus of one song. We all had a good day as we shared our love of history with anyone who happened to stop by our booth.
Being at the gym brought back many memories for me because it was Kirkpatrick Auditorium during my high school days. I had two people ask me when the building was built. I had to go back and look it up to make sure because I knew it was either one year older or one year younger. When I got back to the museum, I found where it was built in 1955, so it is one year older than I am.
I found this in the Dec. 8, 1955 Richmond News’ Echoette section: “Tournament Here. The Missouri River Valley Conference Tournament will be held in the Richmond newly completed auditorium, Dec. 6, 9-10. These will be the first basketball games in the gym and the first MRVC Tournament ever held in Richmond. Later in the season, the class M regional tournament will be held here also.
“The pairings for the first night follows: Slater-Lexington at 5 p.m.; Marshall-Excelsior Springs at 6:30 p.m.; Liberty-Carrollton at 8 p.m.; Richmond-Higginsville 9:30 p.m.”
I was excited to find the first basketball game held here, but I was sad that Richmond didn’t get to play in the first game. And furthermore, I didn’t like the idea that they had to sit around all Tuesday night and watch everyone else play as they waited for their 9:30 game. My next thought was, who won the tournament? I had to go back to the Richmond News and look for the answer. The Marshall Owls won the Tournament, but the Richmond Spartans did win their first basketball game played here againt Higginsville Dec. 6, 1955. The following Friday night our team lost to Excelsior Springs and was eliminated from the tournament.
There was another article on the front page of the newspaper that mentied our new auditorium. “L.J. Bohannon, chairman of the Ray County Lake Association, and Bill Walker, president of the Richmond Shrine Club, will appear on television at 10 p.m. tonight. They will discuss the lake project on the program of Harold Endsley, ‘The Sportsman’s Friend” on KCMO-TV. Endsley is coming to Richmond to give a free program at the new high school auditorium at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday night, Dec. 21.”
I was hoping to find a picture of our “Sportsman’s Friend” in the Richmond News, but when I went back to the old newspaper, I only found an article. The Dec. 23 newspaper said that 300 people showed up and $137.50 was raised for the new Ray County Lake. We don’t have a visual picuture of this event, but we did get a glimpse of the evening in the article.
“Two mystery guests from Africa turned out to be simulated savages, who used their war clubs to brow beat members of the audience into shelling out for the lake. They were especially persistent with Dr. Kansas Hunt, who tired to appease them with a dollar bill, one at a time.”
Harold Ensley showed motion pictures and gave a talk about hunting and fishing at the future “Ray County Lake.” This was a fun memory for me because I loved to watch the Harold Ensley Show and got to see him several times at Kansas City sports shows.
Looking back on my own personal memories of this auditoriaum, I have many special events that took place here. It is where my class had their 8th grade graduation ceremony. I remember walking up and getting my diploma. They had some of my 7th grade friends helping us up and down the steep steps to the stage. Back in junior high, we had a tradition of making underclassmen be our “7th graders.” I had 4 boys that were my underclassmen and two of them got to be the stage guards. As one of them was helping me up the stage, he made me laugh and I almost didn’t make it across the stage. It is funny the things you remember from your youth.
Many proms and assemblies were held in this building. I’m not sure what year it was, but we got to see the man that did the opening “whistle” song on the Andy Griffith Show. He whistled us a few other happy tunes and then we were on our way to our next class.
We can’t tell the story about a “gym” with out sharing a few gym class stories. I hated Dodge ball becuase it was painfull to be hit, but I loved watching the boys smack each other with the balls. They usually had a big door pulled shut to divide the gym for the boys and girls gym class, but sometimes we would peak through the crack in the door and watch the boys. We did pay dearly if we got caught spying on the boys.
One Tuesday, there were people voting in the lobby of the auditorium. We got the bright idea to try and sway their votes and get them to vote for a new school. As we were doing our warm up jumping jacks,we chanted “VOTE for our school.” It didn’t help because it would take several more tries before the new high school bond was passed.
None of us ever dreamed that our beloved “RHS” would be torn down in 2005. Our school is gone, but we can still visit the Kirkpatrick Auditiorim and walk around on the same wooden floor that has had Richmond shoes “walking the floor over them” for 57 years.
When this building opened in 1916, Miss Ethel Kirkpatrick moved into room 20 at the South West corner of the 3rd floor. It was her math roogem for the next 40 years. Miss Ethel liked math, but she loved sports. It was a known fact that the athletic boys of RHS were know as “ Miss Ethel’s Boys” . When it came time to name the new gym in the 1950s, if had to be “ Kirkpatrick Auditorium” . Since Miss Ethel did not pass on till 1976, I am sure she got to enjoy events in the Auditorium that shared her name. The 1973 Ray County Book has a wonderful story about Miss Ethel . It tells the story about her and the teachers of RHS giving up one month’s salary to help pay for the paving of Summit St. in front of the high school.
Wayne Vanbebber remembers played basketball in the original gym of RHS. The basketball goals were attached directly to the walls. He said it was not a pretty sight when you smacked up against one of the metal heat registers on the wall next to the basketball goals. When Kirkpatrick Auditorium was built, the old gym became a study hall and the school library.
I think most of us know how this story ends, but I still have to tell the whole story. In September 2005, this building was used to train emergency personnel during a simulated terror attack. Some of the building was demolished in advance and cars were set on fire to make the drill seem realistic. Emergency personal arrived to save volunteer “patients” and the rest is history. Some people gathered to watch the excitement, but others were like me and made plans to be out of town that day. Since I was working for an airline on Sep 11, 2001, a terrorist attack at RHS hit a little too close to home for me.
I prefer to think our school went out in a blaze of glory and then went on to the big “ bonfire “in the sky. RIP – RHS. 1916-2005 .

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