A Dying Town

The tagline for this story is: “Here in a corner of Missouri and across America, the lack of a college education has become a public-health crisis.”

1. This is a long-ish story. 2. This is not a happy story. Damned depressing, in fact. I share it because it’s about Kennett, Missouri, the small town where I grew up in the 50s and 60s and to which I returned as an adult in the 70s.

Kennett was a swell (yes, we used words like ‘swell’ back then) place to grow up. The good example of small town America in the mid-twentieth century. It was fraying around the edges by the time Barb and I left in the early 80s and these days I hardly recognize it on my infrequent trips back.

This story (from the Chronicle of Higher Education) paints a bleak picture of Kennett and thousands (?) of little towns like it across the country. The focus of the piece seems to be the link between education and health.

“People with less education are twice as likely, for instance, to die of lung cancer or COPD. Heart attacks and strokes are far more common for those without much schooling — one study found that heart-attack rates for middle-aged adults who hadn’t finished high school were double those with a college degree.”

Lots of well-documented factoids like this and while they’re hardly surprising, the author does a nice job of putting human faces on the data.

But for one fateful phone call back in ’84, I might still be living in Kennett, MO. Some of my lifelong friends still do. So this is a “what might have been” story for me in some ways.

Old Halloween pics featured in British tabloid

The Daily Mail is a British daily tabloid newspaper published in London. It is the United Kingdom’s second biggest-selling daily newspaper after The Sun.​ The editor of the travel section was looking for Halloween story ideas and came across our photos on Flickr. He asked if they could use the photos in a story and I said yes. Not sure why UK readers would be interested in 50 year old Halloween photos from the U.S. ​Perhaps they were on deadline and just needed a story.

The Basement Diaries

10 Most White Trash Towns in Missouri

My hometown doesn’t make a lot of Top 10 lists so I was pleased to see it near the top (#3) of this list. What did it take to make the cut? Using publicly available government data, as well as Google Maps, data was collected on the following white trash metrics:

  • Cities where there are lots of white people
  • Cities where residents are poorer than average
  • Cities where a high number of residents are high school dropouts
  • Cities with a high number of single parents
  • High drug use
  • Higher than average Payday Loan Outlets
  • Violent cities (measured in aggravated assaults)
  • Cities with a high number of residents on welfare

Alas, Kennett has fallen on hard times since I left in 1984, not to mention when I grew up there in the 50s and 60s.

Source: RoadSnacks.net

Yearbook Photos

If my family paid more than fifty bucks for my senior picture, I’d be very surprised. That would have included a couple of 8×10’s, maybe some 5×7’s and a stack of wallet size prints to hand out to relatives and friends. Wore a coat and tie that day, walked into the room next to where the band practiced, smiled a smile that would haunt me the rest of my life and I was done.

Today a friend told me about the senior picture experience (for his granddaughter) in 2017. Let’s not bury the lede: $660 for the mid-priced package. $1500 for the top-of-the-line package. I didn’t ask what the cheapest package.

And you don’t stand in line outside the band room anymore. You book a “shoot” that can involve multiple “locations.” And costume changes. He said something about professional makeup and hair styling. Sounds like my buddy will drop a grand before it’s over. And this is in a small (< 10K) community in southeast Missouri!

I don’t have kids so I can say what I would or wouldn’t do for my kids but this is pretty fucked up. What message does this send to a high school kid? Again, I don’t have a dog in this hunt but I’ll tell you what… I won’t be taking any shit for pissing away a bunch of money on vintage truck. Not from people who spend a couple of grand on yearbook photos.

Kennett’s Flying Bank Robber

In January of 1976 I was on the air (noon hour?) at KBOA in Kennett, MO, when the police scanner in the studio went nuts. Someone (dispatcher? patrolman?) was yelling that someone had robbed the bank and “took off in an airplane!”

I grabbed a cassette recorder and dashed out of the station, yelling for someone to go up and take over the live studio. I got to the small motor bank before the police and got a few minutes of audio with the teller who had been robbed.

Police showed almost immediately and made me get out. I was pumped because I had some good stuff. When I pulled the cassette from the recorder it was hopelessly wound around the roller and gears and shit. No way to salvage. I nearly wept. Instead, I hung around long enough to get a little more information and then headed back to the station where I did a quick ad lib report live and then started writing up the story.

The satellite image above tells you most of what you need to know. The pilot taxied the small plane out to A where pilots always stopped to let their engines warm up before take off. He slipped out and ran across the highway to the small motor bank (Bank of Kennett). This was a tiny little facility. Room for maybe two tellers and a little lobby (6×10?) separated by glass and a door. The way I remember the story, he asked the teller for a chair and she opened the door to hand him one (he said he was waiting for a friend). He stuck a gun in her face, got the cash ($24K) and boogied back across highway (about 100 yards) and took off into the sunset. He was also charged with “interstate flight.” The FBI arrested 39 year old Dennis R. Holmes a few weeks later in Phoenix.

According to a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (PDF), Joseph Appleyard, chief pilot at Dolphin Aviation in Sarasota, taught Holmes to fly a few months earlier. “He didn’t see like my average bank robber,” Appleyard said. Holmes rented the plane (in Sarasota) on the Thursday before the robbery, flew to Kennett on Saturday.

The plane was tracked on radar by the nearby Air Force base in Blytheville, AR, but lost him when it put it on the deck and disappeared. He had a range of about 700 miles.

Mr. Holmes was also arrested for holding up a bank in Arcata, CA in February (PDF). He fled in a car but quickly transferred to a small plane. He was also a suspect in a $55K stickup the previous October in Michigan. In that one the robber held up the bank just as the high school homecoming parade was about to begin, and he melted into the crowd.

If you’re out there, Dennis… if you’re reading this… how about an interview to make up for the one that got away?

The ravages of time

The photo above was taken last September at the 50 year reunion of the Kennett High School Class of 1966. Richard Peck and Larry Mullen standing; Joe Browning, John Robison and another guy seated. I attended my ten year reunion but skipped all the others. I’m glad I went to this last one. Got to spend a little time with Joe whose energy was released back into the Universe this week.

I took the other photo in 1968 in Richard Peck’s basement. A place to drink beer and be as young as we would ever be. L-R: Richard Peck, Jim Bob Green, John Robison, Jane Marshall and Lynn Strickland. Charlie Peck and Joe Browning down front. This photo became (for me) iconic of that wonderful time. How we came to be the old men in the class reunion photo is a mystery.

Hamra’s Department Store

The photos below were taken by Johnny “Mack” Reeder, probably in the early 50’s but perhaps as early as 1948 or 1949 (maybe a vintage car buff can help me narrow that down). This just off the “courthouse square” in Kennett, MO. The first photo is facing West.


I remember Hamra’s from my youth (born in 1948) but I’m hard-pressed to tell you exactly what they sold. Clothing and fabrics, obviously, and I recall a shoe store next to the main store shown in these photos. There were several stores like this in “downtown” Kennett. Graber’s, James Kahn’s, Penney’s and some I can’t remember.


I don’t think this was a “grand opening” so I’m guessing this was some sort of special sale. The photographer was one of the original employees of KBOA (the local radio station) and might have been recording the big crowd that resulted from advertising.


The third photo speaks to the rural flavor of our small town. Lots of bib overalls. I remember hearing stories about hundreds of people flooding into town on a Saturday to purchase supplies for the farms that made up the local economy in those days.

50th High School Class Reunion

30 or 40 eighteen-year-old ghosts trapped in ravaged, aging bodies shuffling around the room desperately trying to recognize people you knew half a century ago. The time-honored tradition of name tags featuring photos from the high school yearbook was honored. So we smiled and shook hands and looked down at the kids we once were, unable to conceal the “what the fuck happened to you” horror.

We only lost 30 or so classmates (from a class of about 150) which is sort of amazing given that we all grew up eating nothing but fried food and breathing crop dusting chemicals and the toxic plume that was sprayed every summer night to battle the clouds of mosquitos.

I went with some trepidation (I went to the 10 year reunion but none after) but wound up enjoying myself. I can’t speak for others but the person looking out of my eyes was/is that 18 year old who went to school with all of the old people in the room, with their titanium knees and heart stints. I couldn’t see the old me they were seeing. I hope and assume it was the same for everyone.

No, what I thought would be a depressing shuffle down memory lane turned out okay. Maybe a little “survivor high” if there is such a thing. We made it! We’re still here! “Fuckin A!” as we said in 1966.