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Wyandotte County, Kansas




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1951 Flood

The 1951 flood was devastating to the Kansas City area.  The following is information about the KCKs Public Schools during this time.

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Links to Information Relative to Various Floods in Kansas and throughout the US

1951 Flood in Argentine

Current Policy on Crisis Management within the Kansas City, Public Schools

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Report to the Board of Education

July 23, 1951 - by Lewis H. Brotherson, Business Manager

The Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools have been very closely involved in the flood and the emergency relief made necessary thereby.  The Board of Education sometime ago, anticipating the need for quick action in an emergency, authorized the Business Manager to open school buildings for emergency shelter when requested by the Red Cross in the time of disaster.  The following report is transmitted as a summary of action taken by the Business Manager under the authorization referred to.

On Thursday, July 12, areas west of Kansas City were flooding, and it was predicted there might be some flooding in Armourdale and Argentine.  We moved our new furniture from the Phillips School to the second floor of J. J. Ingalls and we moved the furniture from the first floor to the second floor at J. J. Ingalls, John Fiske, Morse and Emerson.  This work was not begun till afternoon and continued through the evening.  While we were moving the furniture there was very little activity among occupants of neighboring residences. 

We were alerted by the Red Cross during the afternoon indicating probable need for shelter.  Two days prior, I had made arrangements with both day and night shifts at Wyandotte High School to be ready on call to accept evacuees.  It developed later that Wyandotte was not the most suitable place for housing.  We had pictured large open rooms like the gymnasia being used for bunk areas.  It later became evident that better housing could be provided by dividing evacuees into separate rooms.  The large proportion of fixed furniture at Wyandotte made it less advantageous than elementary schools having movable furniture.

Our men did not reach the Emerson School until after flood waters had entered the district and they were forced to enter and leave the school by boat.  The furniture, however, was placed on the second floor prior to any damage by water.  Supervisory personnel and many of the shop employees and custodians worked almost continuously from Thursday morning, July 12, to Friday evening, July 13.  Trucks were set into the Armourdale district to evacuate personnel under the direction of Red Cross and Civil Defense.

The Memorial Building was opened to accommodate evacuees.  About midnight on July 12, some 25 or 30 evacuees gathered near the Riverview School where they had been brought by trucks evacuating the Armourdale area.  On learning this, I reached the custodian by telephone and directed him to open the building.  Civil Defense later indicated they preferred to have the evacuees all at the Memorial Building, so the next morning we transferred the group and closed the school.  Additional evacuees appeared on Friday, however, and the school was reopened.  We also made the Douglass School available on Friday to accommodate the growing number of colored refugees.  The immediate opening of all schools was accomplished by the assignment of custodial employees living near the schools.

Argentine High School was opened to accommodate refugees from the Argentine area at 2:00 a.m. July 13.  Stanley School was opened to accommodate those in the western part of Argentine.

An advisory committee was quickly organized by Mayor Tucker to counsel with the Civil Defense Director.  I was appointed to that committee representing the schools and shelter committee of the Red Cross.

Saturday, July 14, it was evident that the shelter centers must operate for a considerable period of time and that more centers would be required.  It was apparent also that needs of the evacuees could not be met by the custodians whom we had assigned to the shelters on a twenty-four hour basis.  Mrs. Flanigan and Miss Schweder prepared a list of men teachers still in Kansas City and called the list asking volunteers to report to the Library Building at 2:00 p.m., Sunday, July 15, to be briefed for duty on the basis of eight hours daily as shelter managers.  Twenty-nine teachers reported.  They were addressed by Mr. Chas. O. Burkett, Assistant Director, Food, Clothing and Shelter, American Red Cross, St. Louis, Missouri.  A shelter committee was organized with myself as chairman and Chas. W. Clahoon as vice-chairman, and with Francis Gregory, Neal Evans and C. W. Harvey serving the three eight hour shifts at the Red Cross headquarters.  The committee also included Jos. H. Praetz, and John Blake serving as a member of the committee stationed in Argentine.  Immediately following that meeting, shelter managers reported to the various shelters and we have had continuous supervision from that time.

At 3:30 a.m., Sunday, July 15, extreme fire hazards in the Southwest Blvd area required new evacuation of residents and the Major Hudson School was opened.  At 4:10 a.m. the Rosedale High School was opened to accommodate those on the south side of the area.  Rosedale High School was closed after about two days of operation.  No feeding was done in the school and the cafeteria was not opened.  Major Hudson later dropped to a census of twenty-two and these people were moved to Prescott and Douglass.

Although the Memorial Building was ideal for immediate shelter, conditions later became very crowded and it was determined that additional school shelters should be opened and some of the people transferred out of the Memorial Building.  We opened the L. M. Alcott and Prescott Schools and assigned shelter managers.  The Red Cross, in all cases, assigned nurses aides and doctors to the shelters.  John Blake assumed complete charge of the Argentine High School and Stanley School centers, since it was difficult for the Red Cross or school officials from this side of the river to have personal contact.  It was necessary to open the cafeteria and Mr. Harmon was able to secure the services of Miss Plumb, Mr. Harmon, by the way, has given a tremendous amount of time in assisting in the direction of the Argentine shelters.

As the shelters were opened, meals were first provided by the Red Cross Canteen.  Later it was found advisable to prepare food at the shelters.  PTA kitchen equipment was used at Riverview, Prescott and L. M. Alcott, being supplemented by refrigerators and additional hot plates supplied by the Red Cross.  Meals for Douglass evacuees are furnished by a church, and a church group is also serving Stanley.

A typical census of the centers is given from Tuesday night, July 17.  Douglass - 100, L. M. Alcott - 131, Prescott - 132, Riverview - 105, Stanley - 124, Major Hudson - 22, Argentine High - 438.  Total - 1052.

In addition to providing shelter for evacuees we began to get calls for accommodating industrial groups.  Since the resolution adopted by the Board did not specify that type of service, I asked Mr. Fulton to poll board members and advise me how to proceed.  He did so and instructed me to offer our facilities so far as possible to the stricken industries of Kansas City. Monday, July 16, we opened the Northwest Junior High School to the General Motors, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac Plant.  They installed their temporary offices, an engineering unit, a personnel unit, and an inoculation unit.  Permission had previously been granted to use the grounds at Northwest Junior for parking motor cars salvages from the plant.  Mr. Ed Richter arranged for the use of Northwest Junior, and the building is under the supervision of K. H. Middleton, Assistant Personnel Director.

Mr. M. L. Hedgecock of Phillips Petroleum Company was granted permission on July 17, to use both playgrounds of the Hawthorne School as parking area for employees who would then be shuttled back and forth to the plant in busses. 

Sinclair Refining Company was permitted the use of the L. M. Alcott School to issue permits to their employees, and Proctor and Gamble, Mr. Frederic Robinson, was authorized July 19 to set up a first aid station at the L. M. Alcott School for employees.

Mr. Karl A. Reuter of the telephone company was granted permission to use the parking area north of the stadium at Wyandotte High School for telephone service trucks brought in from outside this area.  Perry Motor Company, on July 19, was granted permission to park cars in the area west of the stadium and any place not used by the telephone company in the north lot.

Saturday, July 21, the Board of Public Utilities was granted permission to use the space under the stadium for storing electrical supplies.

The Wyandotte County Commissioners were granted use of the parking area east of Central Junior High School for storing wheelbarrows, boots, shovels, and other tools to be used in the flooded area.

Southwest Freight Lines are using the playground west of Bancroft School for parking empty trailers.

The Sealright Company is setting up an art room for the production of new designs for milk bottle caps at the Junior College today.

On July 18, permission was granted the U. S. Corps Engineers, under Major Lochman, to establish a field office at the Franklin School.  Mr. H. F. McKeniff is in charge. Space has also been made available at the school for the office of Reno Construction Company and the L. G. Barcus & Sons for field offices.  The playground is to be used for storing equipment and we have been assured any damage will be repaired.

It is too early to estimate the damage to our buildings and equipment.  We removed the furniture from the Clara Barton School before the flood and we have not seen the building since that time.  We have been informed that it has been moved from its foundation and broken in two.  We have also been advised that virtually the entire area served by the Clara Barton School is a total loss.  These reports have not been verified.  At the Lincoln School our two portable buildings were moved by the waters to a position at the west gate of the Kansas City Structural Steel Company.  We expect pretty heavy damage at the Lincoln School.   We have reentered the Emerson School and have started cleaning operations.  The water did not reach the ceiling of the first floor and our furniture which had been moved upstairs is apparently in good condition.  As a minimum we will have replacement of plastering, flooring, and electrical circuits below the second floor and it is possible that moisture in the building will cause warping of the flooring on the second floor.  We have been in the John Fiske School and find conditions quite similar to those at Emerson.  We have not been able to enter the Morse, J. J. Ingalls, or Phillips Schools.  We have not reentered the Argentine Branch Library, but the depth of water at that point indicates that our equipment and books will doubtless be a total loss.

We plan to proceed with the cleaning of these buildings as soon as they are available to us and as rapidly as our supply of labor permits. We should perhaps postpone major reconstruction until some determination is made as to the probable population changes occurring in Armourdale as result of the flood.  Chapter 406, Sessions Laws 1951, may require reconstruction on a better fire resisting basis than existed prior to the flood.  Almost half the residents of the area lived in rental quarters.  It is impossible to estimate whether new rental quarters will be made available by investors at their previous location.  The school population of our Armourdale schools might shift considerably.

It is impossible to open buildings in an emergency as we did without accepting the possibility that they will suffer considerably from the unusual occupancy.  Shelter managers of the refugee centers are using every precaution to minimize damage to buildings, but it is inevitable that we will suffer some losses. We have commandeered P.T.A. cooking equipment without having time to contact P.T.A. officers.  We have been required to open school areas without our usual precaution of consulting supervisors, principals, and teachers involved.  The emergency was too great to lose time and we feel sure all will agree that immediate action was necessary.  We will hope the Red Cross may be able to replace lost or damaged P.T.A. kitchen equipment, and if they do not, I hope some other means may be found for doing that.

We are greatly concerned about our shelter problem.  Under average flood conditions, residents are evacuated as the water rises and returned to their homes as the waters recede, following a relatively short cleaning period.  In our situation we had not a rise and fall of waters backing into areas, but we had what amounted to the diversion of a swift river current through areas.  This has resulted in widespread destruction of housing and many of the evacuees, now living in our temporary shelters, have no homes to which they may return.  There are probably many persons not now in our shelters who have found temporary quarters with friends and who will soon be seeking entrance to our shelters when it becomes apparent that they are unable to return to their homes.  This could cause a need for more school shelters at a time when we should be preparing our buildings for the next school term.

I have, on three occasions, advised the Civil Defense Committee that steps should be taken immediately to provide temporary housing.  At a meeting on Saturday, with Mr. Ray Foley of United State Public Housing Administration and the governors of Kansas and Missouri, city and county officials stressed the housing needs and the necessity of clearing school buildings of evacuees so they may be properly cleaned before opening school.  Mr. Foley referred to the three phases of disaster shelter.  One, the emergency problem of getting people under roof.  Two, provision of temporary housing.  Three, reconstruction of damaged housing and construction of replacement housing.  We are in the first phase now housing and construction of replacement housing.  This will require government aid.  It is quite possible that construction of temporary shelters may involve some new school construction, since the children must be provided with school facilities convenient to the temporary housing units.

One of our school clerks has been on duty daily at the Civil Defense headquarters, and our regular office personnel have participated in night time duties.  We also provided three school clerks for additional duties at the health department.

I have not mentioned individuals to whom much credit is due in the work that has been done.  We have had such prompt and generous response from everyone that it would be difficult to single out names of a few individuals.  Our Board of Education employees have demonstrated again their willingness and ability to work together for the good of their community.  There can be no finality to this report, since the work is just starting.

Note:  Crisis management within the school district is guided by distinct procedures; but at the time of the 1993 flood, we again saw custodians from the district placing sand bags at the river and moving furniture from schools such as John Fiske.  Times change, procedures change, but the dedication of district employees for the safety and well being of our community remains unchanged.

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History Site created on December 02, 2002
Page last updated: 23-Apr-2014

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