×

The places they’ve been

Class of 1954 celebrates with help of one special classmate

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Corky Banwell, a 1954 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate, shows off a gold necklace that was gifted to her during her 50-year class reunion. Her class celebrated their 65-year reunion Saturday at Zakeer’s.

Corky Banwell, a member of the Fort Dodge Senior High class of 1954, has helped to ensure that her classmates stay in touch.

And with the help of Banwell, the class celebrated again on Saturday with its 65-year reunion held at Zakeer’s.

“It (organizing) started out with just a group of five people and I was the only dummy who brought the yearbook and a notebook,” Banwell, of Fort Dodge, said. “That was for our 10th reunion. And I’ve been sending out letters ever since.”

The class of 1954 graduated 279 Dodgers, Banwell said.

According to 1954 graduate Ron Gibb, the class has had some of the larger turnouts for its reunions in Fort Dodge history.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
The cover of the 1954 Fort Dodge Senior High yearbook is shown here.

At the 50th reunion in 2004, more than 50 percent of the living classmates attended a three-day event, he said.

“This is amazing since only 10 percent of the class live in the local area,” Gibb wrote in a letter to The Messenger.

Gibb was the school photographer.

During his senior year, Gibb took many of the pictures with an old Speed Graphic 4×5 press camera and a new Rolleiflex camera his dad bought him.

Those pictures wound up in the school’s yearbook and school newspaper, The Little Dodger.

Like many in the 1954 class, Gibb went on to accomplish great things. He graduated from Iowa State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering. He worked on the design of the Atlas Mercury missile that launched John Glenn into orbit in 1962.

Gibb also worked on various propulsion component designs on the Apollo launch vehicle and the LEM cockpit oxygen system for landing on the moon in 1969.

“We have had several ministers, one priest and a lot of doctors in our class,” Banwell said.

Bill Greehey, a businessman and philanthropist who was the chairman of Valero Energy Corp., is part of the ’54 class.

“Bill handed me cold hard cash at the 50th reunion,” Banwell said.

But the successful careers of classmates isn’t necessarily what has made the group special, Banwell said.

“We have always had an interest in coming back,” Banwell said. “We care about each other.”

One particular gift Banwell holds dear is a gold necklace that bears the class emblem.

“I cried like a baby when I got it,” she said.

Banwell admits she was an unlikely choice to bring everyone together.

When asked what she did in high school, Banwell said, “nothing.”

“In high school I did nothing,” she said. “I didn’t sing in the choir. I wasn’t a cheerleader.”

But in junior college, she got more involved.

“I did everything in junior college,” she said. “I was a cheerleader and a homecoming attendant.”

Banwell ended up moving out to a farm southwest of Fort Dodge with her husband.

Each reunion she tries to do something different.

“At one time we had everyone living in 30-some states,” she said. “One year I made them tell me everywhere they traveled because they did do a lot of traveling, especially when they retired.”

Banwell said her number one rule for reunions is to include the spouses in the activities.

“You make the spouses feel welcome,” she said. “Don’t leave them out. I insisted on it.”

Banwell’s classmates seem to be content to have her leading the way.

“I’d say, ‘well what do you guys want to do?'”And they’d say, ‘whatever you want, Corky.'”