In 1965, Lee’s Summit celebrated its 100th birthday with a week-long Centennial Celebration. To kick-off the celebration, the “Parade of the Century” was held in June. Advertisements encouraged residents to attend and be “Livin’, Breathin’, Marchin’ Centennial Citizens.” There were horses, antique cars, majorettes and floats decorated by local businesses. In the week following the parade, the Lee’s Summit Spectacular Outdoor Dramatization titled “Indians to Industry,” was held each night at the Lee’s Summit High School football stadium. It included a reenactment of the Civil War, carnival, games, fireworks, and more, all in celebration of the City’s Centennial. The play included an atomic bomb-like explosion complete with a mushroom cloud that tore up the football field pretty badly. It took almost $20,000 to repair the field afterward.
Dr. Bud Hertzog, one of the honorary co-chairs of the Truly 150 Sesquicentennial Celebration, was the vice-chairman of the 1965 Centennial committee. He says that, unlike 2015’s yearlong celebration, the events of 1965 were condensed into a week’s time. The Junior Chamber Jaycees were the driving force and most businesses participated in some way. The women of the town dressed up as “Centennial Belles,” and the men grew out their beards and were known as the “Brothers of the Brush.” A lot of money was raised from selling gold and silver commemorative coins and other Centennial merchandise. Money was also collected from fines that barefaced men paid to get out of a “jail” that had been set up downtown.
Don Beaman, the then-31-year-old treasurer of the Centennial activities, is just as active in this year’s celebration. He recalls how Missouri Governor Warren E. Hearnes first sent his regrets until reminded of his civic duty by Missouri Senator Stuart Symington. Not only did Hearnes attend as the Grand Marshall of the parade, he even remarked that Lee’s Summit’s Centennial parade was better than the one for his inauguration.
Now it’s 2015, the City’s Sesquicentennial, and the Truly 150 Steering Committee is planning a Celebrate 150! parade and extravaganza for August 1. Reminiscent of the Centennial events, but with a modern twist, the Celebrate 150! parade will begin at 10 a.m. in Downtown Lee’s Summit complete with a 150-person marching band from local high schools; cars from various decades; the “Queen of the Centennial” 1965 parade, Norma Wood, and more. The parade’s theme is the celebration of the 150 years of Lee’s Summit and the committee welcomes entries from any civic, church, business or school organization. Applications are available at Truly150.com and can be submitted through July 20.
“We want this to be a big and special parade because this is a big and special event,” says Jennifer Gamble, owner of The Main Event and organizer of the parade.
Festivities will continue with the Celebration 150! Extravaganza or the “Party of the Century,” according to Phyllis Balagna, owner of Steppin’ Out and chair of the Celebrate 150 event. Balagna wants to recreate the wonder of the Centennial event, which she recalls as a 7-year-old baton twirler. A lifetime resident of Lee’s Summit, Balagna wants Celebrate 150! to be the signature celebration of this sesquicentennial year.
The primary musical entertainment will be Matt Lewis, who performs the music of Elvis Presley in Las Vegas, and Drew Six, a popular county music performer; both are former students of Lee’s Summit High School. A fireworks display will conclude the evening’s festivities.
There was a great spirit of cooperation between the City, the school district, and the business community for the Centennial celebration in 1965.
“Lee’s Summit was a great community then, and is a great community now,” says Hertzog.