Classmates will agree, that tragic event is something we will never forget. It is in our mind when we think about our class, especially when the anniversay date comes around. We can all tell each other where we were and what we were doing on March 17, 1968 when we heard the news of the plane crash.
I remember stories....
My most recent memory of The Spirit of Six was created Sunday, September 16, during the dedication of the new memorial plaque that thoughtful donors in the Class of '68 financed to be placed in the Activity Center entrance to Rapid City Central High School. I noted the reactions among the current cheerleaders who served us breakfast and provided us a tour of their school when Paul Jensen gave his brief dedicatory remarks. Many of them (I believe) only then, and for the first time, fully comprehended that Jan, Shirley, Kay, Gail, Diana, and Terry were their age when they died and not old-folks like those of us standing nearby.
I stood transfixed as Paul noted that the impact of the cheerleaders' deaths happened in an era when there was no formal process for grief counseling -- that each of us was compelled to deal with our feelings with the support of classmates, friends, and family and, likely, without professional help. Suddenly, it was as though each of us fell through a tunnel-in-time back to those awful weeks and days. Classmates were hugging one another 50 years later and there was audible sobbing. What a powerful testimony to the Spirit of the Six and sobering conclusion to our 68 hours together 50 years on.
I moved to Rapid City my junior year. I didn't know anybody. As a football player, in addition to Dave Thomas who became my best friend, my first acquaintances were my teammates and our cheerleaders. I remember how all of the cheerleaders welcomed me into their group of friends and made me feel right at home At the end of my junior year, my family moved to South St. Paul, Mn. Fifty years ago this week, upon returning home from a West Point recruiting trip, my parents informed me of the plane crash. I can still recall how devastated I felt. The next day, I flew to Rapid City to attend the funerals in the following days. Now, looking at classmates' old and current photos, I find it interesting how my mind relates to those to whom I was close in my youth. I still see my friends with "1968 eyes" and, of course, that's how I see Shirley, Jan, Kay, Diana, Gail and Terry. And what I will always remember is the kindness and acceptance they showed to a new kid in school. Memories of what we accomplished will often languish but the kindness shown by others is never forgotten.
My recollection is that, after attending the state basketball tournament, when all the RC basketball fans returned home on Sunday, I was taken to some god-forsaken motel in some cornfield “near” the East River town that hosted the state debate tournament.
As I waited for the rest of the team to arrive from Rapid, I watched the only channel on the TV, a bible broadcast on repeat. Finally I’d OD’d and headed to the motel office to buy a Coke for some entertainment. I got the Coke, walked out to the parking lot, and looked at my watch. “How much longer till my friends arrive?!” I remember it was slightly after 1pm Central Time. Then I looked up at the clouds and got the strangest feeling. Something intensely heavy was going on up there. The way the sun was shining through the clouds was indescribable. Hours later, after dark, the team arrived. I was so happy to see my buds and be relieved of the intense boredom. As I greeted the stationwagon(s), in a “let’s party” spirit I was surprised by the subdued demeanor of my fellow debaters. When I asked what was wrong, one of the gang… I think it was Ned Leonard… replied “Haven’t you heard?” Turns out the cheerleaders had gone down in RC at precisely the same time I had my experience in the parking lot staring at the sky. A little after 12, Mountain Time. We decided to go ahead and compete the next day. But the events of the last 24 hours had rocked our perspectives. We placed in a few categories, but didn’t really win anything. I don’t remember if we even made the finals in debate. I do remember speaking in the finals round of Original Oratory. Some of the kids from other towns had situated themselves in the front row. As I performed my speech, they would softly heckle me so that I would lose my focus; the judges in the back of the room didn’t hear a thing. What had happened to our friends the day before had changed the importance of things. I remember thinking to myself, “these are the people I’ll be dealing with as I enter the glorious field of law.” I decided, while making my speech in the finals, to move to California and take an entirely different course in my life. Those are my recollections of the day the cheerleaders had their tragic accident, and the way it impacted me.
Gail Flohr, one of six Rapid City cheerleaders who died at the Municipal Airport on March 18, 1968, was his next-door neighbor, his best friend’s older sister, and much like a sister to Gary Overby, Central High class of ’71. Overby clung to the memory of Gail’s grace in 1972 to stay sane amid a rain of rockets onto Kontum infantry base in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Raindrops which would become part of the deadly Rapid City flood started falling days later. Through that and beyond, memories of Gail, “a good mentor,” shined inside the boy now turned gray-haired man, whose law enforcement career carried him far from Rapid City more than 35 years ago. If Gail’s short life could inspire other youth — the way she and the other five had inspired so many like him — Overby had to make it happen. Someone might pause to read the stone monument newly placed outside of renovated Rapid City High School. Why was it there? What kind of powerful connection had caused someone to memorialize six young women nearly 50 years later? “She was a good role model,” Overby repeated several times of Gail. For him that suffices as explanation. Rapid City and much of South Dakota reeled after the crash, Overby recalled. Gail’s parents were in Missouri when they got word. The plane was returning home from the South Dakota Boys’ State A Basketball Tournament when it hit ground. The state Highway Patrol met Gail’s parents near Sioux City and escorted them across the state. The South Dakota Peace Officers Association later sponsored the “Spirit of Six Award” in memory of the girls. Donations for a physical memorial poured in from South Dakota school districts large and small. Two years ago, a group touring renovated Rapid City High School noticed the engraved stone monument that had been erected was moved inside of Central High, built in 1978. Schools were unlocked in those innocent days. The public could drop by for inspiration. No longer. Overby found himself leading efforts for a duplicate monument to stand outside the school’s original location. A number of key individuals were involved, among them Mark Luken of West River Monument. The new stone — an exact replica of the original monument inside the school — went up quietly in October. A formal dedication is currently being planned as this March brings the 50th anniversary of the crash. An interpretive sign has been placed below the new stone to explain its significance. Overby and his wife have also told their youngest daughter, Christine Gail, about her namesake. “You don’t get it right away,” Overby said. It takes time to understand the meaning of friendship, childhood and growing up. Gail was four days short of her 17th birthday when she died. “She and the others had a bright life ahead of them.” What matters, you realize if you live long enough, Overby said, “are the lives you touch, and the people who touch you.” (Hannah Hunsinger, RC Journal staff October 9, 2017)
I remember most her beautiful smile, sparkling blue eyes and sweet, kind demeanor..
50 years and my heart still breaks, my eyes still tear when I think of her or come upon a sister or her mother, because I see her in their face and just want to hug them...which would probably really freak them out if I did because they surely do not remember me.
Jan and I grew up in the same west-side neighborhood, having Girl Scouts together, attending West Jr High and then High School. On occasion I would catch a ride to school with her and Deb Jibben...self esteem of a rock, I felt unworthy to be in their company and eventually went in my own direction, which was not a positive one! But, when ever our paths did cross, Jan was always warm and welcoming regardless of who she was with...such a kind, loving heart!
When she was crowned Homecoming Queen I was so happy for her, they got it right!! She was royalty, a Queen amongst her peers...and I 'm sure she is in heaven as well.
In all the years I knew her, not once do I ever remember her gossiping, do anything or say anothing mean or downgrading about anyone or to anyone....she had a presents about her that I would call ...... "spiritual "... If there were angels on earth, she was one, touching the lives of so many with her beauty, warmth and kindness!
God be with you Jan, should I be so blessed, may we again meet someday.
The memorial plaque is back where it belongs! It is located in front of the new entrance to the building.
Jan and I were locker mates and friends all through junior and high schools. In the printed program from her funeral on March 20, were the names of Jan's pall bearers. They were also our classmates : Steve McKenney, Jim Holweger, Jim Lintz, Paul Georgas, Jim Stordahl, and Lindy Stevens. We all attended too many funerals in too few days.
The Spirit of Six replica has been approved by the Rapid City Area School Board and will be placed at the old Rapid City High School. It is placed where it belongs. Classmates and close friends of these cheerleaders will see this plaque at our 50th reunion tour of our newly remodeled high school.
The Glazes lived across the street from us in the Canyon Lake neighborhood and my Dad and Mom were best friends with Jerry and Vionne. When we were 5 years old our Moms' dressed us as husband and wife. We got to ride in the lead convertible in that year's kidde parade....Jan was a very special girl.....
As noted in my profile, I moved to the Twin Cities the day we graduated. So backing up to March 17, I was with my parents in the Twin Cities that weekend picking out finishes for our house under construction. We headed back to Rapid that Sunday morning. We were driving my parents car that did not have a radio (not that one would have been much good at that time in central SD). We got home late Sunday night and cleaned up and went to bed. I got up Monday morning to head to school but needed gas so stopped at Jim's Mobil on Jackson Blvd. I worked at Jim's part time then. When I stopped, one of our classmates was working, sorry, I can't recall his name. I asked why he wasn't on his way to school. That's when he told me about the cheerleaders.
For several years Dorothy Blanton and I would clean these up before Memorial Day. In 2012 I dug all around each marker and edged so they looked pretty good, but the stones had sunk below the ground level. The next year they were half covered over with dirt and grass again. In November of 2016 I hired Rausch Monument and we raised the graves using more than 25 bags of sakrete to straighten them back into place.Paul Jensen
Who remembers seeing this article in our Pine Needle school news. It was printed and released Thursday, March 21, 1968. Paul Jensen
My Mom, Lois Shearn, went to the Tournament as a Chaperone to the Cheerleaders, helping Dorothy Lloyd.....She was suppose to fly back to RC with the Landstrom's and the girls but decided at the last minute to drive back with myself, John Treik, and Arlene Bentley.....We had the Cheerleaders Pom Pom's in my trunk along with some personal items.....John Treik was dating Gail Flohr at the time, so when we heard of the accident on the car radio it was even more devestating for him...years later I reminded my Mom how close she'd come to being on that plane....to have so many wonderful people lost at the same time, and in such a tragic manner is something we never truly recover from, nor forget.....