It's been nearly 40 years since Chuck Pearson – a graduate of the Neosho High School Class of 1963 – has been back to Neosho.
On Friday, he made the trek from his home near Minneapolis, Minn. for his 50th class reunion, which concludes today.
"I came to the 10th reunion and after that, no," he said. "I had not been back in this area a long time. My father died in 1974. I returned to his funeral and that was the last time."
Of the more than 200 NHS class of 1963 graduates, around 88 of them returned for their reunion. Events included a reunion welcome on Friday night at the Best Western Big Spring Lodge. Saturday was breakfast in the high school cafeteria, followed by a bus tour of Neosho and Crowder College area. A banquet and music was set for Saturday night at the Civic (the former Neosho Auditorium) and then today, a breakfast at the Newtonia Community Center and tour of the Ritchey Mansion will be held.
Pearson started second grade at Midway School, located between Newtonia and Stark City.
"I started my freshman year [at Neosho High School]," he said. "My brothers before me had already done that, my father was a retired school superintendent and my mother was teaching in the Neosho school system, so it was easy for me to come in. I thought that there was a broader curriculum over the Rocketdyne days. We had some fabulous, fabulous programs that were underwritten and going on here in Neosho. It was an opportunity to see life on another side of the farm."
Pearson said it was a different change of scenery.
"Now we had kids that came in from California, from all over and with [Rocketdyne]. They brought new stories, new adventures, new perspectives, every day was kind of a novel to be written in front of your eyes," he said. "And the teachers themselves were very, very excellent. We had that chance to dig into that exploring life in a way that we had never known it before."
At Neosho, he also tried something new – he played football for all four years. He also played in the Babe Ruth League for summer baseball. At Midway, he was captain of the school's softball team.
"It was exciting but it was such a change to go from 32, 33, 34 kids to well more than," Pearson said. "It was exciting."
After graduating NHS, he went to University of Missouri-Columbia.
"I got out in 1967, went to work for Emerson Electric in St. Louis, space avionics division. We built a lot of military stuff," said Pearson. "From there was business manufacturing, engineering, plant management and then into mergers and acquisitions eventually into Minnesota and president of a company."
He married his wife, Cordia, just before he graduated MU in 1967.
Page 2 of 2 - During the Saturday breakfast, he mentioned to other classmates that he drove around Neosho and even saw Senior Hill, which graduates painted back in that day.
"It was an undertaking by adventurous kids, yes we did have a few brushes out," Pearson said with a smile. "They actually did paint Senior Hill with brushes. As I came down that hill I think that I could still feel the brushes going back and forth."
Asked if Neosho ahs changed since he was last year in 1974, Pearson said, "my gracious, I actually drove down from Minneapolis and I found it to be kind of a slow way to transcend into the last 50 years and I arrived back into what I thought would be old memories. As I was looking for Shoal Creek to cross, it was no more, a new highway, a new interstate that didn't exist and motels that I had no idea would be here. The changes are still revealing themselves to me, but it is amazing, it truly is."
Overall, he was glad to attend the 50th class reunion.
"To meet and see kids that are now in an elderly life and talk about the things that they have been doing over the last half century is really invigorating," he said. "It is nice to see how well people have adjusted themselves to a long period of time. It has been a great experience."