2016 Skylark Club Meet
By Gary DiLillo
“Kansas City, Kansas City here we come.” The 37th Annual Skylark Club Meet was held September 8th – 11th in Independence, MO. just east of Kansas City. I think everyone who attended this year’s meet would agree that Kansas City is a great place to visit! The city has a lot of history being on the Missouri River, but it also has a certain warmth and charm due to the diversity of the people who live there. Our host for the Meet was Bob Blakesley who did a wonderful job planning the many activities for the three day weekend. Bob was assisted by Club member Paul Johnson and his friend Charlee Miller, who did a fabulous job taking care of us in the hospitality suite. As Club co-founder Vin De Peppo said on Saturday night, “This was the best run hospitality room our Club has ever had!”
Bob made a great host hotel selection by choosing the Hilton Garden Inn. The hotel wasn’t far from all the attractions, the rooms were nice, and the morning breakfast was excellent! Chef King made omelets, French toast, or any breakfast items you requested. Our hospitality room was just off the lobby with a close exit to the parking lot, and only a few steps to our Skylarks. The hospitality room was large enough to accommodate all the attendees and was full each night as we enjoyed our new and old friends. Most members arrived on Wednesday afternoon. A light dinner was served by Paul and Charlee Wednesday night consisting of turkey, ham, and chicken croissant sandwiches or wraps with pasta salad, coleslaw, fresh fruit, desserts, and many snacks. The arrangement of baskets and the fresh flowers made the hospitality room feel like a family holiday dinner. The main dessert was a chocolate and a white cake, each with either a ’53 or ’54 Skylarks airbrushed in the icing.
There were fifty-four Club members and friends that attended the meet. It was nice to see so many first time attendees this year; Dan & Debbie Ament from MN, Norm Cavignh from NH, Brian True from ME, Rob McCanon from TX, Tony & Vee Steponovich from MO, and our Club webmaster Ed Tulauska from NC.
Thursday we boarded a coach bus for the day due to the limited parking at the scheduled venues. Vin De Peppo kept us all entertained as he narrated our travels via the driver’s microphone. First stop was the private Armacost Museum. Robert S. Armacost was a Kansas City Studebaker dealer from 1923 to 1956. The museum encompasses two floors covering 44,000 square feet and contains over 28 Studebaker, many from the 20’s and 30’s. There were an equal number of other early and late model antique automobiles, all fully restored in pristine condition. Many members remarked about the exceptional styling and innovations of the early Studebakers. The centerpiece of the museum was a 1931 Studebaker President Speedway. Often referred to as the “Holy Grail” of Studebakers, this Speedway was one of only 100 produced in 1931, and capable of achieving speeds over 90 mph. This particular Speedway had a very unique hood ornament of a devil holding a trident spear.
Our next stop was the historic Union Station downtown where we enjoyed a lunch at Harvey’s Restaurant. Union Station was built after the great flood of 1903 consumed the old Union Depot. Union Station is designed in the beaux-arts architectural style which was popular in Europe in the early 1900’s. At a cost of six million dollars the building construction started in 1911 and was completed October 30, 1914. Members were able to enjoy the architecture of the building, an exhibit which showed the construction timeline, and a large train room with multiple train sets. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit the other floors or the planetarium at Union Station.
We proceeded to the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum which are housed together in an 18th & Vine historical district building. Here we were given a history lesson by our docent, Karen Griffin, who acted and elucidated the growth of Jazz and the impact it had in Kansas City. “The museum highlights the development of jazz music through the lives and music of four seminal jazz masters: Louis Armstrong, Charlie “Bird” Parker, Duke Ellington & Ella Fitzgerald. Through a combination of artifacts, rare photos, album covers, listening kiosks and a plethora of other materials, visitors experience the creativity of these artists and their contributions to music.”
We walked across the building to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum where we learned about the history of the Negro teams, players, and hardships experienced by Negro players who loved the game of baseball. The museum occupies 10,000 square feet with multi-media computer stations, film exhibits, hundreds of photographs, a field of 12 bronze sculptures, and a large collection of baseball artifacts. I was surprised by the number of Negro teams and that attendance at the Negro League games surpassed that of the professional baseball teams of that era. At the end of the day we gathered in the hospitality room to recount the day’s activities. We agreed there wasn’t nearly enough time to see everything we wanted to see at these museums.
Friday was our main driving day. The caravan of cars left the hotel and drove downtown to the WWI Museum & Memorial. Often called the “forgotten or the Great War”, WWI brought radical changes to society, art, and culture in Europe. The Museum is split into two sections, before and after the United States entered the war. The museum was well done containing original objects, documents, video, recreated trenches, and interactive tables that thoroughly explained the history of WWI. It was astonishing how many European soldiers lost their lives in a war that lasted from 1914-1919. Outside, above the museum, was the 217 foot Liberty Memorial Tower which overlooked the plaza and offered a beautiful view of the Kansas City skyline, even if you chose not to ride to the top observation deck. The tower was flanked by two buildings, Memory Hall and Exhibit Hall with more exhibits, which few members had the opportunity to visit. We left the museum and drove a short distance to Blvd BBQ, a small restaurant along the RR tracks downtown. Club members enjoyed a lunch of BBQ pork, brisket, or ribs with plenty of side dishes.
After lunch we headed back east toward the hotel and the Harry S. Truman Library & Museum. The museum exhibits depicting the life and work of President Truman were very well done. Harry Truman spent most of his life in Grandview and Independence, MO. He fought in WWI as Captain of the 129th Field Artillery, Battery D. He was elected to the United States Senate in 1934 where he played a significant role in the Civil Aeronautics Act, the Transportation Act, and on the Senate Special Committee investigating the National Defense Program. In July 1944 he was nominated to be Vice President with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and took the Vice President’s oath of office in January of 1945. Eight-two days later President Roosevelt died, and Truman became the nation’s thirty-third President on April 12, 1945. During his first two months as President, Truman oversaw the ending of WWII in Europe, participated in the conference to govern defeated Germany, and made the decision to drop two atomic bombs on Japan. Truman had a reputation for honesty and efficiency. He helped found the United Nations, and his presidency was the turning point in foreign affairs when he issued the Truman Doctrine to contain Communism, and enacted the Marshall Plan to rebuild Western Europe. One of Truman’s favorite quotes was, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit”. At the end of the day I was war out. Learning so much about both World Wars was depressing. It was only the happy faces in the hospitality room that permitted me to shed my melancholy mood. That night we enjoyed a pizza dinner sponsored by the Club and had our annual auction which was conducted by Club member Bill Stitt. Thanks to Bill’s help, and the generosity of our members, the Club was able to generate $905 for the Club Treasury.
Saturday morning the sun was out and the cars made the drive to the Strawberry Hill Museum & Cultural Center. The Strawberry Hill Museum is a grand Victorian home built in 1887. In 1918 an influenza epidemic raged through America and left many local children without parents. The home was purchased in 1919 by the Sisters of St. Francis of Christ the King who converted the home to an orphanage. The Sisters would manage the orphanage from 1919 until the summer of 1988, housing up to 60 children from infants to 18 years old. In late 1988 the property was acquired by the Strawberry Hill Ethnic Cultural Society and converted into a museum dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Slavic heritage in the Kansas City area. Club members were split into three groups with Bob Blakesley being a docent for one of our groups. I was impressed with the architecture and the history of the house. A Sister’s room (cell) was left intact so we could see how the Sisters lived above the Chapel. The remaining rooms above the Chapel were all converted into cultural displays of the Slavic neighborhoods that were prevalent in and around the orphanage. Each display contained traditional dresses and artifacts from native lands. It was nice to see the ornate and colorful costumes. Families that lived in the area were permitted to bring pictures of their ancestors, which were framed and hung on the hallway walls. The most heartwarming pictures were of the orphaned children who all appeared healthy and had smiles on their faces. After our tour we enjoyed an old-style lunch of green beans, sausage with sauerkraut, and cabbage rolls. Dessert was a traditional patisa nut roll and apple strudel.
We left Strawberry Hill for a short drive downtown to the Arabia Steamboat Museum. In 1856 the Arabia Steamboat left Kansas City with 200 tons of cargo intended for general stores and homes in the western frontier. The Arabia sank just six miles west of Kansas City due to a submerged tree in the Missouri River. It is estimated that over 400 steamboats perished in the same manner along the 2,500 mile Missouri. Although the Arabia sunk within 15 minutes, all 150 passengers and crew were saved. Due to erosion the Missouri River had changed course over time, but a local archaeologist was able to find the steamboat in 1988 a half mile north of the river. The Arabia was buried 45 feet deep in a cornfield. Excavating a 122 foot boat buried below the water table was quite a feat! Huge pumps were used to keep the massive dig site dry enough to remove the cargo which included; fine China, carpentry tools, glassware, children’s toys, clothing, and even jars of pickles. Protected from light and oxygen the cargo was remarkably well preserved. Viewing the many artifacts gave us a glimpse into the lives of the early pioneers.
We left the Arabia Steamboat Museum to view a private car collection. Paul Johnson was kind enough to arrange for the Club to see a collection owned by Bob Ehinger. The collection consisted of some very interesting cars including; 1915 & 1919 Packard open touring cars, 1922 Pierce Arrow, 1930 Marmon touring, 1930 Franklin Phaeton, 2 1930's Cadillac convertibles, 1916 Ohio Electric, 1935 Chrysler Imperial Airflow, and many others as well as automobile memorabilia. Afterwards we returned to the hotel to relax before dinner.
Saturday night we walked next door to the hotel restaurant for dinner. Before dinner Bob Blakesley presented members with the meet commemorative which he designed. Club members chose between chicken parmesan, pork tenderloin, or tilapia for dinner. After dinner we held our annual Skylark Club Meeting (see meeting notes on page six) at the restaurant. Later, we returned to the hotel hospitality room and enjoyed our friendships into the night.
Sunday morning we said goodbye to Kansas City and our host Bob Blakesley along with Paul Johnson & Charlee. Thanks to their hard work and planning everyone had a wonderful time! Club members proclaimed that they were looking forward to Nashville, TN in 2017.