The lawn chairs are lining the Centerville square, the big tent is up and parade floats are getting their last-minute touches. Ready, set, go — It’s Pancake Day!
Centerville’s big fall celebration serves as a sort of warm up for the Centerville High School homecoming, which takes place on the following weekend. People come back to the world’s biggest town square from far and wide on Sept. 28 to reconnect with family and friends and feast on free pancakes.
Pancake Day got its start in 1949 and is still going strong. (For more of its history, see Lisa Eddy’s column on page 9.) The day starts off with the Mercy Medical Center 5K, 10K and 2.1 fun run/walk beginning at the YMCA. The Miss Pancake Day contestants will practice on the main stage, and registration opens for the cribbage tournament at City Hall. Play begins at 8:30 a.m.
An invocation and flag raising will be held at 8:55 a.m., followed by the opening of the pancake tent at 9 a.m. Serving continues until 1 p.m. Craft courts, carnival games, a petting zoo and the food court all open at 9 a.m. Tulip the Clown will make balloon creations all day, and a Civil War Living History demonstration will be set up on the north side of the courthouse lawn.
Laura Ernst, a juggler and aerial fabric performer, will perform in the bandshell at 9:30 a.m. Singers can show off their karaoke talent on the north stage at the same time.
If you want to see some cute kids and creativity, be sure to be on the square for the kiddie parade at 10 a.m. A variety of entertainment follows at 10:30 a.m.: the Keith West magic and illusion show in the bandshell, a Dance Department performance on the main stage and the kids 25-yard dash, sponsored by the Rathbun Area YMCA on the east side of the square. DXP will perform on the main stage at 11:15 a.m., and Laura Ernst will perform again in the bandshell at 11:30 a.m.
Then it’s time to find your spot along the sidewalk or the courthouse square for the big parade at 1 p.m. Area schools, churches, businesses and organizations create floats, fire departments show off their trucks, marching bands strut their stuff and a fleet of convertibles take the Miss Pancake Day contestants along the parade route. And those are just the main parts of the parade.
Entertainment continues after the parade. Registration for the kiddie pedal pull begins at 2:15 p.m. on the west side of the square, with the event beginning at 3 p.m. At 2:30 p.m., the Keith West Magic and Illusion Show will be in the bandshell, the Freedom Rock dedication in the southeast courtyard, the Lapland Plowboys antique tractor and equipment club on the north side of the square, Fine Line Bluegrass on the north courtyard state and registration for the three-on-three basketball tournament on the east side of the square. Play begins at 3 p.m. The Eagles Club is sponsoring bingo in the main pancake tent at 3:30 p.m. and “Ready, Set, Go,” sponsored by the CHS junior class, will appear on the main stage at the same time.
The Miss Pancake Day pageant begins on the main stage at 5:30 p.m. with an intermission at 6:15 p.m. The Joel Pinkerton Duo will perform, and the pageant resumes at 7:30 p.m. Miss Pancake Day 2013 will be crowned at 8 p.m., followed by another performance by the Joel Pinkerton Duo on the main stage.
By the time the day is done, many people will have visited with friends they haven’t seen for a long time. And the next weekend, Centerville will see even bigger reunions.
On Oct. 12, 1932, the Centerville Daily Iowegian and Citizen carried a news item buried at the bottom of Page 4.
“Every Effort is Bent Toward Largest Centerville High School Homecoming,” the headline read. What would make 1932’s homecoming different from previous ones was the active participation of the Alumni Association:
“The Alumni will co-operate with the student council, faculty and the members of the student body, to make this event a red letter day in the annals of the Centerville school. … During the chapel period, on Homecoming day, all of the old grads will be honored guests of the student body.”
This description of CHS Homecoming still rings true today. As at any school, homecoming is a celebration centered on the most special football game of the year. And at CHS, homecoming is also a time to strengthen the ties that bind past and present CHS students into a community that is far-flung but shares a common background.
Student Council does much of the hard work that goes into putting on Homecoming. The council president serves as emcee for Pep Chapel, a role that will be filled this year by Sydney Ocker.
“I don’t even know how to describe what homecoming is — it is crazy and stressful, but in the end, it is this wonderful experience you get to have in high school,” Ocker says.
This year, she says, choir alumni will be invited to sing with the choir at Pep Chapel, which could be the start of a new tradition.
Student Council co-advisers are Catherine Lechtenberg and Jennifer Hand.
Hand, who teaches science at CHS, also celebrates her 20-year reunion this year.
“It definitely brings back memories,” Hand says. “I kind of look at it from an adult perspective now, but I also still get the student perspective at school.”
Returning to the halls of ivy
The ceremony that brings current students and alumni together is Pep Chapel at 1 p.m. the Friday of the game (Oct. 4).
All CHS class reunions are at homecoming time, but three classes get special treatment on that day: the 10-, 25- and 50-year classes. Each one nominates a speaker to address the crowd. Athletic Hall of Fame inductees are honored at Pep Chapel, and the Distinguished Alumni Award is presented.
Elahvonne Wright, who graduated in 1946, says Pep Chapel made a lasting impression on her when she was in high school.
“I was shy in high school, and I think I was awed by those who came back,” Wright says. “Neither one of my parents were able to graduate from high school, so that was a big deal at our house.”
Wright remembers sitting at Pep Chapel in high school and seeing the speaker for the 50-year class. When the woman needed help getting up the steps to the stage, Wright made a resolution to herself.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to do that, and I am going to walk up the steps myself,’ ” Wright recalls.
In 1996, Wright did speak for the 50-year class, and she did walk up the steps without help.
Wright stayed connected with her school. After graduating, she attended junior college, which was in the high school building back then.
Later she and her husband ran a youth center in Centerville from 1956 to 1966. When her own children were in high school, she was involved with their homecomings.
Many of her best friends were in the class behind her, and they remained close. Wright hosted three of them in her home for their 50th reunion.
Recently, the class of 1946 started a new homecoming tradition. After her 60-year class reunion, Wright and her classmates thought it might be nice to combine reunions with surrounding classes. In 2009 a reunion for all classes that graduated more than 60 years ago was held. The first year the event had 87 reservations, and last year, 121.
Donna Beaty, who retired in June as Central Elementary secretary, is celebrating her 50th class reunion.
“It’s a little bit unreal,” she says. “When we used to see the people in the 50-year class, we thought they were really old, and now that we are there, we don’t necessarily think that.”
Beaty did not always go to Pep Chapel after graduating, but when her own children were in high school in the 1980s, she reconnected with the tradition and goes every year with her sisters, Beverly Fike (class of 1952) and Betty Talbot (class of 1957.)
“We go early and stand in line for the doors to open and try to get a seat,” she says.
Her husband, Jimmy Beaty, graduated in 1961. So, she points out, they get to go to twice the CHS reunions.
Beaty enjoyed seeing former elementary students as football players, cheerleaders, band members, singers or senior skit performers at Pep Chapel over the years, and she says chapel continues to pack an emotional punch for her.
“There is something about it — you get in there, and it just really gets you,” she says. “I’ve had teachers and principals, who, if they weren’t from here, they just say, ‘I’ve never been to one like that.’ ”
Beaty says Pep Chapel is almost exactly the way it was when she was in school. The biggest change for her was internal as she came to appreciate the traditions more.
“You don’t think about it when you are in school; you kind of want out,” she says. “But as the years go by, it means more to you to be able to come back and see everybody and listen to the speakers.”
Honoring grads made good
The Distinguished Alumni Award, chosen by the Centerville Community Schools Foundation, has been a major part of homecoming weekend for almost two decades.
The foundation was organized in 1991 to restore the CHS auditorium. At the time, the state was considering condemning the structure, says Rosemary Porter, who has been the foundation’s president since its inception.
When the renovation was completed, the auditorium was renamed for Simon Estes, one of Centerville’s most successful graduates. At a spring ceremony, Estes was presented with the first Distinguished Alumni Award. Each year since, the award has been given at Pep Chapel.
This year’s recipient is Wayne Waggoner of the class of 1948. Waggoner, who has built a nationwide trucking business, started trucking as a high school student transporting feed and eggs for his dad. Today, Waggoners Trucking has more than 800 trucks, 40 locations and more than 1,000 employees.
Porter herself has only missed Pep Chapel a couple of times since graduating in 1955.
Porter says she loves the enthusiasm and seeing all the classmates from different years.
“And it’s also great to see the accomplishments that graduates from Centerville High School have done,” she says.
Lechtenberg says events from Sunday through Thursday tend to focus on students, while events Friday and Saturday tend to focus on alumni.
The events start the Sunday before Homecoming with window decorating on the square. Throughout the week, high school students have class competitions and dress-up days, with Friday as Scarlet and Black day. Howar Junior High and Lakeview Elementary students also have their own dress-up days.
Thursday night is Spirit Night, a community pep rally at Lakeview. Lechtenberg says Spirit Night events help connect younger students to Homecoming before they get to high school. On Wednesday, the Student Council goes to the elementary buildings to teach the children a cheer to perform on Spirit Night.
The Lakeview band performs the school song at Spirit Night, which also includes the introduction of the Top 10 king and queen candidates, Iron Man volleyball in the gym and Powder Puff football on the Paul Johnson Field. Student Council members judge a coloring contest for kindergarten through second grade students, and the third through sixth grade students make posters with the homecoming theme.
Friday starts with a breakfast for the distinguished alumnus at the Continental. Pep Chapel is at 1 p.m., followed by a reception in the high school gym for current students, staff, alumni and friends.
Indian Hills Community College in Centerville has an alumni reception from 4 – 7 p.m. Friday.
At the football game on Friday night, the halftime show includes a second recognition of the Athletic Hall of Fame and Distinguished Alumni inductees. Class reunions are held Friday and Saturday, and Saturday morning there is a breakfast for CHS alumni from 8 – 10:30 a.m. The week wraps up with the semi-formal high school dance on Saturday night. This year’s theme is Country Strong.
“Our goal is to build positive memories that connect the kids to school in a fun way so when they come back they understand their traditions here at Centerville,” Lechtenberg says.