The 2017 Wall of Honor inductees for Ottawa High School will be recognized with a banquet and induction today and tomorrow. The three honorees this year include the current director of finance for Ottawa, a Purple Heart honoree and a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander.
Ottawa is just the right size community, Scott Bird, who has lived here almost all of his life, said. Bird is a 1975 OHS graduate and one of this year’s inductees to the Wall of Honor.
“I love this town, I have always enjoyed being here,” Bird said. “My wife and I have looked at some different possibilities over the years, and we keep coming back to ‘Why would we move?’ This is a great location. I think it’s a great community, I’ve thought that for a long time.”
He is the current director of finance for the City of Ottawa, a role that has been rewarding over the years, since he started in 1993, he said.
“This is a great job,” Bird said. “I have been so blessed to serve in both roles, both the city clerk position and the director of finance position, because I’ve been right at the hub of things going on in the community.”
Bird served as city clerk, in addition to director of finance, from 1993-2008.
“Scott has an infectious positive attitude,” a nomination letter for the Wall of Honor reads. “His optimism has been helpful to staff and management. He is an expert whistler, and his snappy tunes carry through the corridors of City Hall, lifting the spirits of coworkers.”
In high school, Bird said he was “not very studious,” focusing most of his time on supporting and competing in athletics (he was on the cross country and track teams).
“I fell in love when I was a junior, and especially my senior year, I was involved with my first love and my only true love because she’s my wife and has been for 40 years,” Bird said.
He met his wife, Beverly, when he used to sell concessions for the student council, and she “would come up to buy things periodically.” They got to know each other the next summer, their first date being grabbing a Coke at the Dairy Queen.
Out of high school, he attended Pittsburg State University for a year, chasing a degree in business management, but then moved back to Ottawa and began to work for Loyd Builders in construction. Bird said he was fortunate enough to have some experience working construction from classes at OHS. At Loyd Builders, he worked for Allen Loyd, Sonny Burch, and Jerry Thompson, who were just a few of the “giants” that helped him get where he is today, he said.
He was laid off from Loyd Builders and began working as a power plant operator from 1981-1991 for the City of Ottawa. During that time, Bird went back to school, pursuing a degree in accounting and graduating in 1991 from Ottawa University. Then he said he was “fortunate enough” to begin work as a city accountant from 1991-93.
“The most rewarding thing is serving this community that I grew up in,” Bird said.” Having been here all these years, I know a lot of people, going clear back to when I was here in school.”
When Bird found out he would be a 2017 inductee of the Wall of Honor at OHS, he said he was “shocked.”
“Tremendously honored, especially at the same time that Mr. [Bernice] Humphrey and Mr. [Vernon] Hay are being inducted,” Bird said. “I have tremendous respect for what they’ve given. I am completely honored to be a part of this.”
Bird is an active member of multiple professional organizations, including the City Clerk/Municipal Finance Officers Association of Kansas, International Institute of Municipal Clerks, Kansas Government Finance Officers Association and the Government Finance Officers Association.
Lt. Bernice Humphrey was a gregarious individual, his nephew, Bob Gage, said.
Humphrey is a 1928 graduate of OHS who survived being a Prisoner of War, but died in 1944 while he and other allied prisoners of war were being transported to Japan aboard the Arisan Maru, a Japanese ship that was not marked as carrying POWs. The ship was attacked and sunk by a U.S. submarine.
“Men wrote me that his voice would boom around the parade ground, and it was always accompanied by a hearty laugh that they said was just a part of his being,” Gage, who has been researching his maternal uncle that he didn’t know personally since 1985, said. “He also sported a lot of tattoos, which was very uncommon for an Army officer of those days. He took great pride in showing them off. One of the men he served with, an enlisted man who was also from Kansas, he called my uncle ‘the big Jayhawker,’ and my uncle called him ‘the little Jayhawker.’”
Gage, along with his brothers, nominated Humphrey. Humphrey served in the U.S. Navy following high school graduation, which he served in for six years. He was honorably discharged in 1934, and he enrolled at KU. In 1941, he was assigned to the 60th Coast Artillery Corps on the Philippine Islands.
He was awarded the Silver Star medal for his service in the U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps in 1946 “for gallantry in action at Fort Mills, Philippine Islands,” in April 1942, according to a 1946 letter addressed to Humphrey’s father from the adjutant general.
Gage said he uncovered a diary kept by Humphrey when he was a POW. The diary was being held in the National Archives, but didn’t have an identification page on it, so no one ever knew who it belonged to until recently. A woman whose father was Humphrey’s commanding officer, found the diary in the National Archives while checking on old records. She wrote Gage a letter, asking if it could he his uncle.
The clues, Gage said, were that in the diary Humphrey wrote he planned on returning to KU to work toward a master’s degree. He also referenced “Sis” in Ottawa, which would have been his sister (Gage’s mother), and then mentioned a girl called “Curdy,” who was Maragret Curd, his girlfriend.
“The diary, while I wouldn’t call it compelling, was pretty moving,” Gage said. “To read about the conditions these men were under when they were shipped to Japan, just unbelievable. They were packed in so tightly, of the 1,800 prisoners — the records are kind of hazy on this — six or eight survived this torpedo attack. But they were also packed in so tightly that men died standing up, there was no place to fall.”
Humphrey also received one Oak Leaf Cluster to the Silver Star “for gallantry in action at Fort Mills, Corregidor, Philippine Islands,” also in April 1942.
“He was quite the war hero,” Gage said. “We’re very excited about it.”
Lt. Commander Vernon Hay is a 1955 OHS graduate who has a bachelor’s degree in industrial management from the University of Kansas. He also has a graduate-level education with management science.
Now retired, Hay lives in Council Grove. He spent much of his career in the U.S. Navy, as well as in hospital administration.
Hay completed 20 years of service in the U.S. Navy Supply Corps in 1979. He went on to serve as the director of materials management at Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey, Illinois. In 1982, he became materials manager of Augustana Hospital and Health Care Center in Chicago.
In addition, Hay has served eight years as a Morris County (Kansas) commissioner and two terms as president of the Flint Hills Regional Council. He has also been involved with Council Grove/Morris County Chamber of Commerce, Morris County Hospital board, Council Grove Rotary Club and the Fort Riley Retiree Council.
Hay could not be reached for comment.
The induction ceremony will take place during halftime of the OHS football game. Kickoff is 7 p.m. Friday at Steve Grogan Stadium, 1120 S. Ash St., Ottawa.