Independence, MO — In the photograph, tinted black and beige, women dressed in knee-length dresses are entering and leaving the Katz Drug Company, now Ophelia’s restaurant on the Independence Square.
Cars line the block under a cloudy sky; a curly headed girl is distracted by a baby in a stroller as her mom clings tightly to her hand.
Meanwhile, the bow-tied black cat above the Katz sign appears to be smirking at a pair of ornery youth encircling the Square on their bicycles.
It is the cover image of a new book called “Images of America – Independence” due to hit bookstores Monday. It’s the collaborative effort of two people who for a long time called Independence home. Marietta Wilson Boenker, who now lives in Lee’s Summit, gathered the photographs and information while Richard N. Piland, a resident of Fairfield, Ohio, organized the images and wrote the captions and headers for each section.
“I may live in Lee’s Summit,” Boenker said, “but my heart is in Independence; it’s my stomping ground – and it’s Richard’s, too.”
Boenker and Piland both attended Van Horn High School, Boenker graduating in 1960 and Piland in 1962. They knew each other through the school’s music and drama programs.
“I’d sometimes see him while we were cruising around,” Boenker said. “The Independence Square was a huge hangout for us.”
After high school, Boenker and Piland didn’t see a lot of each other. As the two of them drifted from Independence, their link hinged on the Jackson County Historical Society, where both are lifetime members. Years would pass before they reconnected. Boenker devoted her working life to editing for various publications and singing for Sweet Adelines, Inc., an organization of female barbershop singers that allowed her to travel domestically and abroad.
Piland, on the other hand, spent many of his years as a professor at several universities throughout the Midwest and East Coast. In 1983, Piland initiated Personalized Research, a public relations and community survey research firm in Fairfield. But it was his enthusiasm for building model railroads that led him to rekindle his friendship with Boenker. Piland needed historical photographs for a model railroad that would recreate the town of his youth.
“After some time, I had a lot of pictures of the town square, several manufacturing companies, a couple of churches and several related to President Truman,” Piland said. “I was disappointed with the number of comprehensive pictorial history books about Independence available to people. I thought that there should be a book about Independence.”
So Piland reached out to Boenker at a class reunion, knowing of her fervid interest in genealogy (she’s was always proud to share that she’s the great, great granddaughter of John Wilson, one of the original trustees to the first bank of Independence).
“He could see I had a lot of enthusiasm,” Boenker said.
So the two set forth to make a book of Independence in images divided into sections that would layout the city’s storied history, from its origins as Queen City of the Trails to the rise and restoration of the Independence Square to prominent businesses in the area to a chapter devoted to the man himself, Harry S. Truman. Arcadia agreed to be the publisher. It’s an outfit specializing in local and regional history books.
Photographs and caption information came from a variety of sources including the Harry S. Truman Presidential Museum & Library, the Independence Chamber of Commerce, the Independence 76 Fire Company Historical Society, the Independence School District and a slew of longtime area residents including Lenore Weeks, whose family name is behind the construction of many of Independence’s 20th century landmarks including the Community of Christ Auditorium.
Some of the photographs in the book are of personal value to Boenker and Piland.
Piland is pictured as a teenager performing in a 1961 production of “The Hither and Thither of Danny Dither” and Boenker appears as a finalist in the 1961 Miss Cool Crest beauty contest.
“I couldn’t find anything on Cool Crest,” Boenker said. “So I showed the image of myself to Richard, and he loved it.”
In one of the photographs, Joe Klein, who grew up in the Englewood area but now lives in Westminster, Colo., is shown at bat in a baseball game at Crysler Stadium.
“That was before the outfield fence,” Klein said. “You just hoped to hit the ball hard enough into the tall grass that the outfielder couldn’t find it.”
But it’s another photograph that Klein holds close. It was discovered hanging inside Ophelia’s by Boenker. Piland and Boenker decided it would be a fitting image for the book’s cover.
Klein and his childhood buddy Clifford Hopkins used to ride their bikes everywhere, the Square typically their destination. They frequented Gateway Sporting Goods, where they would buy such things as ball gloves, baseballs and tennis rackets. He and Hopkins would decorate their handlebars with streamers. Klein had brown hair. Hopkins was a blonde.
“Those memories are 58 years old,” said Klein, whose sister was a classmate of Boenker’s. “But I’m certain that’s me and my best friend.”
Meet the authors:
Piland and Boenker will be signing their new book 1 to 3 p.m. Oct. 31 at Scandinavia Place, 209 N. Main St. in Independence, and 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 1 at the Barnes & Noble on 39th Street in Independence.