Exhaust notes and musical notes were the soundtrack to the inaugural Manhattan High School Alumni All-Class Reunion in Aggieville on Saturday.
The event began Friday evening with a car cruise-in; vehicles wound their way from MHS to Kite’s Bar and Grill in Aggieville. The following day, more than a dozen collectible automobiles lined the 1100 block of Moro Street through midday, including a smattering of Chevrolet Corvettes spanning multiple decades. The Heartland Corvette Club of Manhattan was one of the event’s sponsors.
Bill Burnett, the namesake behind Burnett Automotive in Manhattan, brought his bright yellow 1932 Ford roadster to the show. He said he does not drive it as much as some other cars he owns, and that his Ford has a small-block Chevy engine — a common modification among hot-rod enthusiasts.
“It’s known as a ‘Ford replacement motor,’” Burnett said in jest. “Once you get in the hobby, you just don’t ever quit.”
Burnett, who graduated from Manhattan High in 1965, said he ran into a former classmate he had not seen for about 45 years.
“The sunglasses came up, and we both said, ‘Hey, that’s you,’” Burnett said. “It was wonderful.”
Burnett said events like the all-class reunion are important “because we’ve lost so much.”
“With the (Country) Stampede being removed, and the lack of participation in reunions, I think the moldable class reunion not only lets you see some of your friends from the other classes, but it’s just a larger group now,” Burnett said.
Moro Street was blocked at both ends in Aggieville, and two stages — one next to Kite’s and one situated in front of Rally House — featured musical performances from country music artists and cover bands.
Aggieville Business Association Director Dennis Cook said most of the people who roamed the event graduated from MHS in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. He said roughly 2,000 people participated during the weekend.
“The 1940s and ’50s saw some representation, but the crowd from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s really came out to support (the event),” Cook said.
The idea for the all-class reunion came from Russ Briggs of Briggs Auto group, one of the event’s sponsors. The goal was to incorporate multiple events over one weekend and attract people to Manhattan whose class reunions were canceled or postponed because of the pandemic. This event doesn’t necessarily replace individual class reunions, which are typically organized by class officers.
The reunion was free and open to the public. Cook said officials gave out wristbands to help people distinguish between the decades they graduated in.
“A lot of smaller towns do something like this every year,” Cook said. “It’s a family reunion, it’s a high school reunion, and it gives people a reason to come back.”
Cook said he and his team were looking at ways to attract visitors to Manhattan who would stay in the city’s hotels, eat at local restaurants and generally boost the area economy. He said a few other groups floated the idea for the reunion before it was presented to him.
“Nobody had really bitten on the idea, and when it was brought to me, I just said, ‘We can easily do something like this,’” Cook said. “So, we jumped right in the middle of it.”
Cook said this first-year event, to use beer terminology, was “the lite version,” and a more “full-bodied” reunion incorporating all MHS classes is being planned for next year.
“The feedback we’ve gotten from everybody is, you know, they love this, and the groups who’ve come out and really supported it — they said they’ll be reaching out and talking to the people who didn’t come this year,” Cook said.
Cook said another aspect of the all-class reunion involved building a database of MHS alumni. He said his group made a QR code for people, especially graduates from the 1960s and ‘70s, to voluntarily offer their name and graduating class information.
“What we found out was the high school really didn’t have a database for this,” Cook said. “Now we’re going to have 1,000 to 2,000 people in a database that we can get their feedback (on the event), promote it, and instead of us starting at zero with virally trying to spread the word, we can start at 2,000 people and spread it out.”
Cook said most of the organizations that sponsored the reunion are run by Manhattan High graduates “who wanted to support the town and support the businesses.”
“It’s perfect for us,” Cook said.
The event continued Sunday with brunch in Aggieville’s eateries. The Mercury was one of the event’s sponsors, alongside Visit Manhattan, Burnett Automotive, KS State Bank, BHS Construction, and Flint Hills Beverage, among others.