MCHS ‘61: An Exceptional Class
September 2016
By Norb Tatro

Members of the Class of ’61 are proud of what they accomplished after graduating from Mason City High School. It may have set a gold-medal standard rarely, if ever, matched at MCHS.

The 55th reunion, Sept. 16-17, is a perfect time to compile a record of those achievements:

Coleman Hicks worked as a personal assistant to Henry Kissinger (1971-1972), when he was assistant to President Nixon for national security affairs. During the Carter Administration he served two years (1979-1981) as general counsel of the Navy.

In private legal practice, he is credited in U.S Supreme Court documents for preparing the winning brief in Hazelwood (Missouri) School District v. United States, a 1977 discrimination case. (According to an August 2004 obituary, Hicks prepared the brief in Hazelwood (same school district) v. Kuhlmeier, a major case involving censorship of high school papers. That is not confirmed by Supreme Court documents.)

Stephanie (Dibble) Starrett worked in the Office of the Secretary when Kissinger was Secretary of State. In a 2011 post on the class’ website, she describes Kissinger as fascinating and great fun to work for. “When he was relaxing his sense of humor was marvelous, when not relaxing he could be terrifying.”

In their separate assignments, Starrett and Hicks both traveled to Portugal for a pre-Moscow summit meeting in 1972. Their duties for the day completed, these two classmates from Mason City had dinner together – in the Azores.

Gary Burhite served 25 years in the Air Force, retiring as a colonel. His piloting experience included a wide range of aircraft, from helicopters to two-engine supersonic T-38 Talons (later flown by the Thunderbirds). Of flying the jet trainers, he writes: “loved the formation flying and aerobatics, but hated spin recoveries.”

Burhite says his most rewarding post was working on SARSAT, new technology that narrowed the search area for a downed aircraft from 600 miles in diameter to five! (It is now closer to one.)  His duties included attending quarterly international conferences all over the world, including in Moscow where, he writes, “I was thankful to be traveling in a civilian suit, but my room was still bugged and my bags were searched every time I left the room.”

Nancy (Pearson) Gunther embraced then-new computer technology at Sperry Univac, and spent a 35-year career working on command and control systems for the Navy, first on surface ships and later submarines. She lists as especially rewarding supervising an application for Tomahawk cruise missile targeting widely used in the Gulf wars.

But Gunther writes her two proudest accomplishments were starting offices in Montreal, Canada, and Camarillo, California, where she had the task of staffing the offices while trying to perform to schedules.

Judy (Kapke) Liston was one of three vice presidents of systems development at MCI WorldCom, supervising 350 employees in several U.S. cities and London.  The work included making systems in the U.S. and Europe “see” circuits around the world.

At a time when opportunities for college-educated women were limited – teaching or nursing – these MCHS classmates embraced new technology, and entered a world dominated by men.  Gunther was the only woman hired into a department of nearly 200 men and for years was the only female in any type of technical management. Each had one female boss during a 35-year career. These two classmates were pioneers.

Robert Peterson likes to say he changed the way the earth is moved. In 1972, working for FMC Link-Belt, he suggested putting joysticks on the ends of armrests to control the bucket and boom arm of backhoes. The joystick would replace six or more floor-mounted levers, difficult to operate.

His concept was introduced on a new excavator at the World Construction Industry Exposition in 1973 and in three years it was the industry standard. Peterson writes: “Every time I drive by an excavator I have a bit of a smile on my face…knowing that I invented the control system that’s used worldwide.”

G. William Hannaman, a nuclear engineer, traveled the world advising the owners of nuclear reactors in foreign countries on ways to keep their aging facilities safe.

Eight classmates became physicians. David MacMillan, who provided the list, and Mike Gregson had family practices. Dick Adams and Jim Puhl became surgeons. The other four and their specialties: Dick Pitman, radiology; Gerald MCoid, ENT (ear, nose and throat); Jim Hall, obstetrics-gynecology; and Ronald Hansen, pediatric dermatology.

Hansen is the co-author of “Pediatric Dermatology” which he calls the “gold standard” textbook in its field. Hall delivered 4307 babies over four decades and is proud he was never named in a malpractice suit.

In related health care fields, William McArthur spent a career in dental education, much of it at the University of Florida where he was an associate dean and director of the school’s Periodontal Disease Research Center.

Dudley (Skip) Farrell earned his doctorate in audiology and worked at Veterans Affairs medical centers, including more than 25 as unit manager in Omaha. He supervised the student intern program and for 10 years was on the University of Nebraska-Omaha graduate faculty.

Only now is hearing loss being more widely appreciated as boomers age and medical research points toward a link between hearing loss and dementia.

Reflecting on the education of the M.D.s, MacMillan counts five members of the Class of ‘61 who started at MCJC (Mason City Junior College, now NIACC) and moved on to the University of Iowa College of Medicine. “We were fortunate to have MCHS and MCJC both in our community with so many outstanding teachers and classmates!”

Several members of Mason City’s exceptional Class of ’61, made their mark in business, others found meaning in pursuits, often through nonprofit organizations, that helped them and a larger audience understand something significant.

Dick Angel was vice president and general manager of the industrial division of Schaeffler Group, N.A., the largest manufacturer in the world of bearings. He managed 1500 employees at five plants in the U.S. operation of the German company, turning out bearings for customers like GE, John Deere and Harley-Davidson.

Roger Heimbuch retired from General Motors as Engineering Director for Global Materials, Fastening and Vehicle Recycling Engineering. He writes he received outstanding engineering achievement awards from Iowa State University and the University of Michigan.

Bill Swift served as vice president-finance at Ford Motor Company. He started as Ford introduced the Mustang and left as the last model of the Thunderbird rolled off the assembly line. In 2000 the automaker made record profits.

Marvin Goldstein had a long successful career in the retail business – before stumbling. In 1989 he was named president of Dayton-Hudson (now Target) and a year later elevated to chairman and CEO. He left Target in 1994.

In 2003 he entered a guilty plea to charges of insider trading. A federal judge sentenced him to one month in prison followed by five month’s home detention. Goldstein agreed to pay $1 million in fines and donations.

To turn personal, my 35 years in broadcast news involved covering a wide range of stories. Most emotional were farmers in fear of losing the family farm and older auto workers – too young to qualify for retirement and too old to retrain, wondering how they would put food on the family table.  We followed parents and wives as they agonized over the fate of their loved ones who were held captive at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.

A colleague put it well: It was so rewarding to have the opportunity to make two or three minute movies that helped the 15 million people who saw them on NBC Nightly News understand their world.

Robert Reynolds, as an Army radio/television reporter, helped military personnel stationed overseas, sometime under difficult circumstances, understand their world. He interviewed a wide range of newsmakers, from generals to celebrities, including President Reagan during a trip to Korea.

J.J. Long developed an interest in genealogy in high school, with no idea how close to home his research would end. In 2010 he published a 526-page book, “My Long Family History,” and presented a copy to the Mason City Public Library. The Globe Gazette covered the presentation and featured it on the front page.

The twist to this story is what he and his parents didn’t know while living in Mason City: Long’s great-granduncle, John B. Long, Sr., co-founded the community in the 1850s, laid out the plat of the city and gave it the Mason City name.

Jim Brust, a middle school principal at Linn-Mar, Marion, Iowa, headed two schools honored as First in the Nation, a state of Iowa award the goes to three or four of the state’s 280 school districts.

Nancy (Reed) Wehr, was exceptional for the time by merely earning a Ph.D. in science – botany – and taught high school science for 21 years, a chance to inspire a few of her female students.

Judy (Slade) McCaskey was a first grade educator for more than 40 years. She was nominated for a Golden Apple award, a program to recognize the best teachers in Illinois. She and her husband, Ray, provide scholarships for Chicago inner city youths to attend Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa.

Over the years, Slade served on the boards of 10 not for profit organizations. Beginning in the late 1990s she was a member of the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Woman under two Illinois governors – a Republican and a Democrat.

Becky (Smith) Booth limited herself to one not for profit organization – for very personal reasons. Beginning in 1987 four members of her immediate family were diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Disorder Hyperactivity Disorder).  She started a small support group of other parents, as she wrote, “bewildered” about parenting and school difficulties. Over the years it expanded in size and scope.

The chapter affiliated with CHADD, a national ADHD non-profit. Smith attended nine international conferences to learn the latest research about the disorder, and was named CHADD Coordinator of the Year in 1996. She concludes: “I have received priceless counsel and support for our family’s journey.”

Mary (Paulson) Kramer started in retailing at an expensive, high end department store in New York City. But after a few years, she got tired, as she wrote, of “convincing the public they needed to buy something they may not need, spending too much money, and then telling them two months later it was out of date.”

She returned to school, got a B.S. in Nursing and worked for nearly 40 years as a nurse and manager in coronary care. She taught courses and established programs, including a state certified stroke program. “At the end of the day,” Kramer says, “it feels good to know that along the way I have touched people’s lives in times of crisis…”

What made the MCHS Class of ’61 so exceptional that it can lay claim to a gold-medal standard? At the top of the list, classmates write, was an exceptionally strong, often inspiring faculty.

The class came to learn, took lessons to heart, went out in the world, and did good work.