Madelyn Butler was among the proud grandparents who attended the May 8 commencement program, when her grandson, Adam Neidermeier, graduated. Madelyn recalls taking a very circuitous route to get her diploma. In fact, she helped to open two new schools along the way. “I was in the very first class at Trewyn Junior High School, where I spent my freshman year, or ninth grade,” she says. “Then I went to Manual -- that was the old Manual over on Lincoln Avenue -- for my sophomore and junior years. And for my senior year, I went to Limestone, where we had to go half days on Saturday because we got a late start.” The new school opened six weeks late, on October 19, 1953, after an iron-workers’ strike delayed completion of the building. That necessitated the Saturday classes to catch up, and on June 9, 1954, Board President William Helmer presented diplomas to 83 seniors. Sherry White and Frederick Krause were co-valedictorians, and Clara Clasky was the salutatorian. I wonder how many of those 83 “kids” were in attendance May 8, along with Madelyn Butler to watch a grandchild follow in their footsteps?

As we pointed out last week, the Limestone Youth Baseball program is celebrating its Golden Anniversary this season, which gets underway next Tuesday evening at the Limestone High School athletic complex. The forerunner of the program, which now includes leagues in five age categories, was an inauspicious four-team Little League, originated by Bartonville Grade School Coach Keith Holloway and a handful of dads, as a summer recreation program in 1954.

We mentioned some of the start-up experiences last week, and we’ll add to them this week, along with a look at the first expansion that took the activities out to the high school, where they had room to grow and grow. Holloway, of course, was just thinking Bartonville Grade School when it all started, and that turned out to be a problem before the season ended, because vacations and illnesses and other unexpected situations gave the managers roster headaches. That is why Todd Hattermann an 8-year old at the time, was on the Stone’s Mortuary roster, even though the regulation age category was 10 through 12. It is also the reason that the following season the officers decided to invite kids of Oak Grove, Pleasant Hill and Monroe Grade Schools to participate.

Team managers who stepped up that first year were Howard “Bow-Wow” Lane, “Red” Knox, Bill Kneer and Don Myers. “I had heard some talk that a league for kids might start up,” Meyers says, “and I thought that was something I’d like to get involved in.” Meyers, a Navy veteran, who had played in the Detroit Tigers organization at Dallas in the Texas League and Little Rock in the American Association, was assigned to the Bartonville Bank team. “Bow-Wow” Lane, a former semi-pro pitcher, was another good baseball man, although unpredictable at times. I can picture this incident as plainly as if it were yesterday.

I was umpiring the bases and “Bow-Wow” was in the third base coaching box, when the fire siren went off. Dedicated volunteer fireman that he was, “Bow-Wow” took off across the diamond, behind the pitchers mound, over the little wire fence at the side of the field, into his car and away he went, leaving a bewildered base runner stranded on third without a coach.

The umpiring situation was haphazard the first year, at least for a while. Usually, it was “hey, you, how about calling balls and strikes?” Later in the season, someone asked my brother-in-law, Chic Farrow, to come down and umpire. Chic generously offered to bring me along as his helper, and the “helper” was told to take the plate. The only equipment we had was my old ball and strike indicator. Chic assured me we didn’t need anything else because these were just little kids. Sure. So the first pitch came in high and tight, and the batter foul tipped it just past my ear. I gulped, called time, and borrowed the offensive team’s catcher’s mask. Despite that shaky start, Chic and I got the umpiring situation pretty well under control through the rest of the season, and Winnie Farrow joined our “staff” the following year, along with other occasional volunteers.

The first league champion was Stone’s Mortuary, whose coach was Bill Kneer, widely recognized as “Bartonville’s Milk Man,” because he has a good part of the village on his early-morning delivery route. I mentioned last week how Wayne Stone became the league’s first sponsor. He was also the most visible. “Digger” delighted in rounding up some of the players in his ambulance and transporting them to the field with lights flashing and siren blowing.

The third season was one of many changes. Holloway resigned from the grade school faculty to enter private business, and the Limestone head baseball coach, Fritz Millard, took over as the Little League field director. Winnie Farrow was named president, and a board of directors included a member from each grade school district. Hattermann represented Bartonville, Herb Tenney was from Monroe, Tod Warrington from Pleasant Hill, and Al Guppy from Oak Grove. Their first job was to petition the Limestone High School Board for permission to erect a diamond on the school property. Winnie recalls trying to convince Les Murray and Frank Leach that a baseball field wouldn’t conflict with high school activities, and getting permission to put it “way out there beyond deep center field of the school’s diamond.” “Way out there” was the end of the school property at the time, and it was bounded on the north by acres of corn, where many foul balls were lost forever, despite the efforts of dozens of kids threshing among the rows of cornstalks. That cornfield later became the site of the present-day girls softball diamonds, which are now “way out there.”

Winnie recalls the many hours put in by the officers, directors, managers and volunteers to carve a diamond out of the raw turf, to skin and roll the infield, erect a backstop, build a concession stand, and get everything ready for the start of the 1956 season. Dugouts, a second diamond, and other improvements came along in subsequent seasons, as other groups of parents and volunteers carried on the work of those pioneers, who really weren’t looking 50 years down the line when it all started back in 1954.