-by Greg Hoots-
It’s Photo Friday! I have a really good photo for you today. It’s a view from late 1907 of the Alma, Kansas high school football team, posed next to “the old Alma school,” which was new at the time. It’s a great view taken by C. U. Williams, photographer; the quality of Williams’ camera work was second to none.
I’d like to direct your attention to the only African-American student on the team, Shirley Richard Gardenhire. Gardenhire, the son of John and LuElla Gardenhire of Hendricks Creek, was an outstanding student and athlete at Alma High School. Gardenhire was very successful competing at track for AHS, and he was equally exceptional as a football player, becoming a star defensive player as a sophomore before maturing as a standout offensive end in his junior and senior years.
Shirley Gardenhire was also an honor student throughout his high school years, and he was the top achiever in the Alma High School Latin class. Upon his graduation from high school in 1911, Shirley Gardenhire enrolled in college at the Kansas State College in Manhattan on a Latin scholarship. After graduation, Gardenhire experienced great difficulties in finding a job. In his home town of Alma, there were no jobs for a Black man with a college degree. Shirley went to Topeka to find gainful employment, and found the same doors closed to Black men there. There were no professional jobs for Black men.
Gardenhire finally abandoned his hopes of finding a job commensurate with his education, and like many Black men, he took a job as a mechanic for the Atchison-Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, working at the shops in Topeka’s “bottoms.” Shirley married Carrie Bell Fouts, and the couple raised three children in East Topeka’s “Mud Town”.
Carrie Gardenhire died in 1949, and Shirley Gardenhire passed away in 1970. Shirley and Carrie are buried next to each other in the Alma City Cemetery.