By Max Utsler
They call it the Knoxville & Gilson High Schools Half-A-Hundred Club. Or, as one guy said
when he greeted me after I entered the Galesburg Knights of Columbus Hall, “Welcome to the
That’s certainly a descriptive title, but that more formal title provides more detail as to what this annual reunion is all about. Some of you may not know that Gilson was a high school until 1949 when the Illinois legislature passed school consolidation and Gilson became a grade school and then matriculated to Knoxville. (Full disclosure, I am a graduate of Gilson Grade School.)”
The Blue Bullets and whatever the Gilson teams were called started this function back in 2006.
Some classes had held reunions every five or 10 years, but given our small class sizes, our get-togethers hardly met the definition of a reunion. I remember one year when our Class of 1966 held our gathering on Judy Tapper’s front porch.
So when I first heard of the Half-A-Hundred and became eligible, I hustled back home to attend
my first one. I remember it well because one of the first person I ran into was Jim Tarochione,
AKA “Tac.” He was my 7th grade English teacher and one of my life-long mentors.
So who did I run into first last Saturday night. Yep, Tac. He has attended every Half-A-Hundred
gathering since it began. He graduated from KHS in 1956 and spent his whole career teaching at
KHS and still lives in the Ville. “This is a family and it keeps growing,” he said.
I bet he knew 80 percent of the 280 or so who attended. From 1966 on, if you were a KHS grad,
you had a 50 percent chance he was your 7th grade English teacher.
Two members of the Class of ’57 have been regular attendees to the event. Shirley Hughbanks and her husband Larry Lowe met at KHS, and well, they’ve been together ever since. After college Shirley taught for two years at Knoxville High and three years at Elmwood. “Then we had kids and I turned to substitute teaching.”
Larry had a long and distinguished career in education. He spent 37 years teaching agriculture
and working in administration in the Bloomington, IL school district. Then he retired and spent
14 years as an academic advisor at Illinois State University. “I just loved it.” Both look like they
could return to the classroom tomorrow.
Just down the table from the Lowe’s I found Jeff Woolsey, class of ‘60 and his bride Mickey
Kennelly. I imagine everyone from that era knew Mickey as the Kennelly family of Maquon was
pretty famous. Her older brothers Phil and Kyle grew up on a Maquon farm, just down the road
from the Utsler farm. All three of them went to Valley High School because they lived on the
wrong side of the country road between our farms. Somehow younger brother Kevin managed to
escape to Knoxville High. Mickey was almost “reunioned out” as she attended the Valley
reunion the night before. I think she drug Jeff along.
Jeff was a hero of mine, six years ahead of me in school. When our family moved closer to Knoxville, I would go to the end of our lane and wait for the school bus. A few minutes before the bus came, Jeff would come flying by on his 1950s era black and white Cushman motor scooter. Even though I knew his two younger sisters and rode on the bus with them, he never stopped to offer me a ride. Still, I thought he was really cool. He became even cooler when he convinced Mickey to marry him.
I moved onto my seat with “kids” closer to my age. On my right sat Ronna Williams Mastin,
Class of ’67. “Where’s Rolland,” I asked. The two of them had married soon after graduation.
“I enjoy seeing people. Rolland is a non-people person, she said. “If he comes I don’t have any
Ronna attended the Cottage Hospital School of Nursing and then repaid the Knox County debt by
serving as a nurse at Cottage, the Galesburg Clinic and St. Mary’s hospital for 52 years. She
credits Tac with teaching her the difference between a noun, a verb, and an adjective.
On my right sat my old friend and football and basketball teammate Warren Davies, also Class
of ’67. We have stayed in pretty close touch through the years as he has stayed in the area, and
family connections kept bringing me back.
“I live here and see a lot of them (the KHS grads) all the time,” he said. Note: His wife Judy
Hopping, another KHS ’67 grad also did not attend. Maybe she comes from the same family tree
I heard that refrain repeated often through the night. Joe X, married to Jane X. Still together, but
only one has come to the reunion. I think I smell another story there.
Warren said he feels a responsibility to be at the reunion.’ I know pretty much everybody here. I
had six older siblings and three younger ones, and they all went to KHS.”
He spent 37 years with Burlington Northern as a conductor for both freight and passenger trains
even though, “I never played with trains.”
Mike Landon sat across the table from me. He made the long trek from his house to the K of C Hall, approximately two blocks. I should have offered him a ride home. Mike was one of my classmates at Knox, but he never left. He spent 35 years teaching math at Churchill and Galesburg High before retiring.
The final person at our table was another one of my old teammates, Terry Hunter. He went to
Monmouth College and played football. I knew he was smart, but he did play on the offensive
line. In spite of that he took his chemistry major directly into the Analytical Chemistry PhD
program at the University of Indiana. After earning his degree, he moved to St. Louis and spent
22 years at Monsanto. Then it was on to Houston for a job with Solutia where he spent 17 years
and learned all about nylon.
One table away I found J.D. Putnam and his wife Sally Nelson. He was one of the “young guys”
being honored that night, the Class of ’73. You may have met J. D. if you were ever shopping at
Galesburg Nissan. He retired one and a half years ago, just one month shy of 30 years.
During the evening, the Class of ’72 led the program. It included a welcome and recognition of
all of the classes represented from 1949 to 1973. Pam and Tom lit the candelabra, but I don’t
remember what they said about the significance of that. I got distracted when two of the candles
refused to light. After numerous attempts they did get the candles lit, so whatever their
significance, it came through.
The evening also included a trivia contest with questions such as what two jobs did Marge
Baxter hold? And what were the two top-selling drinks at the Pit Stop? If you are stumped with
those questions, please call someone who was at the reunion. They also announced a prize for the person who had come the farthest for the event. Pam Eckman, Class of ’68 had come all the way from Seattle. But when they announced her name, no sign of Pam. The mystery remains. They did not have a Plan B, so no one received the prize. I think my sister from Austin, TX, Lisa Utsler Carson would have been a contender.
The organizing committee gave the secretary and treasurer reports and then inducted the Class of ’73 into the Knoxville & Gilson Schools Half-A-Hundred Club.
Last year’s inductees, the Class of ’72 organized this year’s event. Pam Henderson Nicholas chaired the committee.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” said Pam. “They asked me to just get some names and addresses.”
Data whiz Deb Jones Davis joined the committee and did her database thing. My sister Lisa Utsler Carson, the retired Austin Texas art teacher, took charge of the decorations. Jan Boyer Hughs, Lueann Booten Barlow, Carol Kaiser Aplin, Carodeane Johnson Armstrong, Tom
Putnam and the inimitable Jeff Jefferson rounded out the committee.
“Knowing how much work goes into this made it more significant than the year we were
inducted,” said Pam.
One of the takeaways from the gathering was meeting or re-meeting friends and hearing about
their successes in life. I know I sometimes make fun of growing up on a farm near a “big town”
called Knoxville. Seems to me this KHS thing treated us well. The fact that so many grads have
stayed in the area suggests this is a pretty nice place to live. For those of us who have moved
away, it’s a great place to return.
(Max Utsler graduated from Knox then grad school at the University of Missouri before
spending 47 years teaching broadcast news at Mizzou and the University of Kansas).