Busted

Time capsule opening reveals 50-year-old prank

by Jill Ragar Esfeld
jill.esfeld@theleaven.org

ROELAND PARK — Patty Adams Armin was a jumble of nerves as she sat amid hundreds of students and alumni at Bishop Miege High School’s 50th anniversary celebration here last month.

She was remembering all too well a little prank she and her classmates had pulled here many years earlier — a prank involving a time capsule.

“We honestly thought the time capsule wasn’t going to be opened for 100 years,” Armin explained later. “We thought we’d be dead.”

But Miege president Dr. Joe Passantino had decided to open the capsule after only 50 years in honor of the school’s anniversary.

And now here he was before the entire Miege community at the anniversary event, displaying slide after slide of the various items found in the time capsule in question: school plans, a yearbook, holy cards . . .

And then he paused in his presentation, stared out over the crowd, and met the eyes of Armin, who’d been watching with tortured fascination.

“There was one other picture in the capsule,” Passantino announced.

“And it wasn’t a holy card.”

An all-too-familiar image flashed up on the screen, and Passantino looked sternly out into the crowd.

“Would the people who did this happen to be in the audience?” he asked.

When co-conspirators Marilyn Hess Barbur, Pat Driscoll Thomas and Patty Koos Pestinger stood up and pointed straight at Armin, she could stand it no longer.

“I am the culprit,” Armin confessed to the crowd.

And the room exploded in laughter.

The culprits

It was a fateful day in 1958 when four of the most upstanding students of Bishop Miege had an opportunity to do something bad.

And jumped on it.

“None of us were anything but nice girls,” insisted Pestinger. “I was on Student Council, Pat Driscoll was a Student Council and Pep Club officer, Marilyn was a cheerleader, Patty Adams was brilliant.”

In fact, the girls were so well-known for their helpfulness and reliability that the nuns had asked for those four specifically to help with last-minute preparations for opening day of the brand-new Bishop Miege High School.

The girls were dusting library shelves when a construction worker approached Msgr. Herman J. Koch, then pastor of St. Agnes, with the news that they were about to lay the school’s cornerstone.

It was traditional even then for a small time capsule to be included in the cornerstone of new buildings, and the new high school was to be no exception.

But when Msgr. Koch decided at the last minute that the capsule and stone should be blessed, he called on the students helping out that day to assist him. Two boys, Bill DeCoursey and Vince Bower, were tapped to be the servers, and the four girls — Armin, Barbour, Thomson and Janice Fromholtz Balsinger — would do for witnesses, he decided.

The small group assembled for the last-minute ceremony, but when the blessing was about to begin, Msgr. Koch suddenly remembered something he needed in the school.

He went to get it, leaving the students alone with the time capsule.

The crime

“And so Pat Adams just said, ‘You know what, let’s put something in it,’” recalled Barbur. “And she reached in her wallet and pulled out a picture of Elvis [Presley], and she said, ‘Let’s put Elvis in there.’”

“We seized the moment,” said Armin. “And then wrote down the names of those of us who were there, and the date, and stuck it down at the bottom.

“Msgr. Koch didn’t go through it when he came back. He just closed it up and that was it.”

By the next day, the secret of the time capsule prank was the talk of the school, but carefully guarded from the nuns. Pestinger, who didn’t take part in the actual deed, served as the class historian, recording the event in her diary — which she still has today.

Diary Entry: September 6, 1958

“Tomorrow Bishop Miege high school will be dedicated. There will probably be a procession and all “dat jazz.” Patty Adams was up at school when they were putting in the corner stone and they said she could write down her name and put it in. She did along with ELVIS PRESLEY’S picture. No one knows except the kids!”

A history lesson

To understand the severity of this crime, one must revisit the attitude of the Catholic Church toward Elvis Presley in 1958. That year the weekly Jesuit magazine, America, ran an article entitled, “Beware Elvis Presley!”

“The nuns and the priests were not fond of Elvis,” explained Barbour. “He wiggled too much, and he was just not a good influence on teenagers with his rock-and-roll music.

“He was the persona non grata as far as Msgr. Koch was concerned,” confirmed Armin. “We were forbidden to watch him when he was on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’”

To illustrate the point, Pestinger told a story about a party at St. Agnes.

“We all brought our 45s to play, and one of the boys slipped an Elvis record in amongst the stack,” she said. “So on comes ‘All Shook Up,’ and one of the nuns dashed over to the record player and lifted up the entire stack, removed it and looked around the room with an accusatory scowl.

“We all thought later, ‘How did she know that was Elvis Presley? Did she, indeed, watch Ed Sullivan?’”

Despite the dire warnings of Presley’s evil influence, at least these Catholic teenagers couldn’t resist him.

“We were all madly in love with him,” said Barbour. “We were forbidden to go see his movies, so of course we all snuck out and saw ‘Love Me Tender.’”

“When he came on the screen at the Fairway Theater, the whole theater just screamed, because he was so wonderful” remembered Pestinger. “He was a very handsome man back then.”

Busted

When organizing the 50th anniversary of the school, Passantino said administrators weren’t at first even sure there was a time capsule in the cornerstone. But they went to the trouble of having the stone removed, and were delighted with what they found inside. Recalling the reaction of the Catholic Church to Presley when he first emerged on the music scene, Passantino admits to being mildly shocked when the Elvis picture dropped out of the time capsule.

“We were pulling out different things and along with them was a little sheet of paper that listed four girls and two boys,” he said. “Then we pulled out the original plans of the school, and out falls this picture of Elvis Presley.

“Of course, we just started laughing, thinking, ‘There has got to be a story to this.’”

Passantino proceeded to prepare a PowerPoint presentation featuring the contents of the time capsule, being sure to include the list of names and the picture of Elvis.

He then went to work making certain as many of the culprits as possible would be attending the 50th anniversary event.

“Joe Passantino called me and asked if I was going to be there and I said yes, I was planning to,” recalled Barbour. “He said, ‘Would you mind making sure that Patty Adams [Armin] and Pat Driscoll [Thomson] are coming, too?’

When Barbour asked why, Passantino answered her question with one of his own.

“Do you remember putting anything in the time capsule?” he asked.

When Barbour responded, “Well, not really,” Passantino just requested that she be sure to attend.

By now, of course, Barbour was very suspicious, and called Armin, who remembered very clearly putting something in the capsule.

That memory was confirmed when Pestinger showed up at the anniversary with her diary.

A celebration of past and present

In the end, the time capsule prank made the Bishop Miege 50th anniversary celebration a little more special. And the fact that three of the four original conspirators were all still active members of the Miege community 50 years after graduation was a true testimony to the alumni support the school prides itself on.

“It was a great chance for the community to come together and celebrate both past and present,” said Passantino. “It’s important that we continue to appreciate and value our past. The time capsule and this whole 50th anniversary has been an opportunity to do that.”

Bishop Miege plans to return the original items to the time capsule —including the Elvis picture— and add a few new items before replacing it in the cornerstone.

The perpetrators of the crime had no regrets about what they did 50 years ago, and no regrets about getting caught at last.

But they were grateful to their former classmates for keeping their secret so well. “If dear Msgr. Koch had discovered it, we probably would still be in detention to this day,” said Pestinger.

Leave a Reply