By Lori Gottula
On Saturday, May 27, more than 230 Mustangs stampeded into Stella, and packed the old Southeast Consolidated school, which is now the District 67 Event Center, owned by Steve and Diana Bantz.
The large herd of alumni, faculty, and staff of the former Southeast Consolidated gathered to celebrate the 50 years since Southeast consolidated. The school, at 71829 642 Blvd. in Stella, opened in the fall of 1966 with students from Nemaha, Stella, Shubert, Barada, Bratton Union and Higgins. The first class of 33 graduated in May of 1967. The school then served the students of RN1 until 2009, when its last graduating class of 14 walked across the stage. At the reunion, there were representatives from the first class, the last, and every decade in between.
Throughout its 42-year history (and beyond), SE Consolidated was the center of the regional community. Friends were made and memories created in classrooms, hallways, and at sporting events and other activities.
Those memories were revived last Saturday night, and new ones made. Stories were told and retold, old cheerleading outfits and letter jackets were proudly worn. Alumni walked the halls for tours, and showed off their classrooms to spouses and friends, while fondly recounting their glory days.
A dinner was then served by The Wooden Spoon of Stella (owned and operated by Southeast alum Jana Geyer Anderson, 1975), then awards were presented by emcee, Ted Harshbarger (’74), who co-chaired the event with former activities director and alum Vicki Hall Beilke (’68). Each person who was honored received a wall rug made by Doris Shafer, wife of long-time teacher and coach Wayne Shafer. The rugs were decorated with mustangs, or the letters “S.E.”
Ten members of the class of 1967 were in attendance, and were honored for being among the first people to graduate from the beloved school. They were: Roger Withers, Lanny Williams, Sid Lockard, Jerry Nelson, John Trayer, Dennis Stiers, Cheryl Hoover Hauptman, Sharon Stutheit Porter, Shirley Mathews Drake and Nancy Nixon Rhoades.
While enduring gentle ribbing, Roger Withers of Stella received the award for being the oldest graduate in attendance. Debra Gossman Hinrichsen of Brownville was the youngest. She graduated in 2009, after which the school closed its doors for good.
When Debra was asked what she liked most about attending Southeast, she said, “We students got to participate in everything. Kids at bigger schools don’t get opportunities like that.”
The same question was also posed to longtime faculty member, Wayne Shafer, who served the district for 33 years. He was a history teacher, athletic director, and then assistant principal.
“The kids were number one at Southeast,” Mr. Shafer said, “But the faculty and staff were like family. We spent weekdays together as colleagues, but also got together in the evenings and on the weekends, as friends. We could count on anyone for anything.”
That sentiment was echoed throughout the evening by everyone from students to faculty, and cooks to bus drivers. It was also one of the primary reasons given by several people who had traveled great distances to be there. Jim Morris (1972), received the award for traveling the furthest distance (from South Carolina). But others came from great distances as well. One was from Alabama, another from Arizona, another from St. Louis, and so forth. Stella’s Mary Helen Behrends (1968) had traveled the shortest distance.
“She lives over the hill, and down the block,” her friend, Susan Luther, said with a chuckle.
Four alumni and one spouse were recognized for showing exceptional spirit at the banquet. Rick Ramer (’74), Kent Allen (’94), and Sondra Stanley Westenburg (’79) donned their old letter jackets, complete with medals. Joanna Hays Cielocha (2002) wore her cheerleading uniform, and her husband, Braden, wore an old Southeast sweater.
When the award presentations were over, the alums gathered with classmates, and either snapped selfies or had group pictures taken. Then, several families did the same. When the Yoesels gathered for a picture on stage, 1978 graduate Phil Yoesel had something to say.
“Susan Luther,” he said. “I owe you an apology. I have been a teacher for 28 years, and I know, without a doubt, that I was one of your worst students ever.” The comment drew waves of laughter.
Laughter, stories, music, and tours continued throughout the night. At 2 a.m., the last Mustang trotted out of the building. The 50-year reunion was over. Mustangs had shown up in amazing numbers. They’d had a wonderful time, and then it was time to go, because everyone knows that it’s impossible to corral a herd of mustangs for very long.
Committee members Vicki Hall Beilke, Ted Harshbarger, Paula Huey Hays (’75), Amy Lewis Hector (’77), and Sondra Stanley Westenburg (’79) were pleased.
“It was an amazing crowd,” Ted said. “And everyone had a great time.”
Then the lights were turned off on another successful Southeast Consolidated event.
Until they meet again.