by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Hayden High School here has plenty to be grateful about during this year’s Catholic Schools Week.
In December 2021, the school finished a yearlong celebration in honor of its 110th anniversary. Founded by Father Francis Hayden, the school opened in 1911 with 30 students. Today, the school has more than 350 with a student to teacher ratio of 14:1.
Principal James Sandstrom said he really enjoyed this past fall’s homecoming celebration held the weekend of Sept. 24-26.
“Getting to see alumni from years ago prior to me being here and seeing alumni whom I had the pleasure of teaching was fun and exciting,” he said.
In addition to traditional homecoming activities, the weekend included a grotto blessing, the announcement of the inaugural Hayden Hall of Fame class and the official launch of “Honoring Our Tradition. Investing in Our Future,” the school’s $2.5 million stewardship campaign.
Then, last Dec. 4, the yearlong anniversary celebration closed out with a banquet at which the Hayden community gathered to honor the first five members of the Hayden Hall of Fame.
Last summer, the entire Hayden community had been invited to nominate individuals of distinction that fell into one of four categories: alumni achievement, student athletic/activity achievement, staff achievement and contributor achievement. A questionnaire detailing each nominee’s accomplishments had to be completed and submitted by Aug. 15.
In the area of staff achievement, the inaugural class of Hall of Famers included two honorees: Ken Bueltel and Ben Meseke.
Bueltel, who served as the boys basketball coach from 1953 to 1972, compiled a record of 309-152. Additionally, he taught history, served as the school’s athletic director and helped raise money for the activities complex which now bears his name.
Meseke also coached the boys basketball team. During his coaching stint, Hayden High School made 13 state tournament appearances, earning six championship titles, including one at the end of a perfect season in 1983. He also coached 19 of 20 cross-country teams to qualify for state meets. Those teams claimed another six state titles. Additionally, during the two decades he spent at Hayden from 1973 to 1997, he taught advanced mathematics courses. Toward the end of his time at the high school, Meseke served as assistant principal.
According to Shelly Buhler, Hayden president, approximately 150 people attended the inaugural banquet which was “a great evening of celebrating and reminiscing, just acknowledging these contributions these individuals had with Hayden as well as thanking them for their contributions.”
Accepting on behalf of his father, Mark Bueltel said his dad was a humble man and would “probably act like he was not thrilled, but in his heart, he’d be very appreciative for the feelings people gave back to him.”
Rick Strecker, a member of the class of ’76, received the honor for alumni achievement.
During his senior year, Strecker served as student council president and was athlete of the year. After college, he returned to Hayden where he remained for 33 years, serving as a science teacher and head coach for girls basketball and track, leading the teams to five state championship titles. Additionally, he served as the school’s president for more than two decades.
“I was fortunate to go to high school here and then worked here for 33 years, and they were great years,” Strecker said. “So, receiving this kind of an honor with the incredible people that are also being honored is really special to me.”
Ken McGarity, who was honored for contributor achievement, volunteered at the school from 1977 to 2017, accumulating more than 16,000 hours of volunteer work in a variety of areas, including concessions, spirit wear and PACE (Parents and Alumni for Catholic Education).
Finally, Mark Turgeon was honored for his accomplishments as a student athlete at Hayden. A member of Hayden’s class of ’83, Turgeon played on the boys basketball team that won consecutive class 4A championships in 1982 and 1983, then went on to play for University of Kansas coach Larry Brown in the 1986 NCAA Final Four.
Building upon the success of the inaugural Hall of Fame banquet, Buhler said, is important.
“It’s important to celebrate Catholic education, celebrate our 110 years and the importance of our alumni and the Hayden community and to celebrate and acknowledge the accomplishments of our Hall of Fame class members and what they gave back to Hayden.”
To that end, Buhler and Sandstrom both said it’s important to not only “honor our traditions but also to invest in our future.”
The current campus is more than 50 years old, and is in need of some infrastructure updates, as well as educational enhancements in areas such as computer lab modernization and science lab updates. Most important though, both Buhler and Sandstrom said it’s vital for Hayden to continue to exist, especially as the capital city’s only Catholic high school.
As part of the stewardship campaign, at least $500,000 will be earmarked for the Hayden Catholic High School Foundation, which serves as the school’s endowment. Nearly one in three students receive some form of tuition assistance through the endowment and its numerous established scholarships. And that, according to both Buhler and Sandstrom, will definitely invest in Hayden’s future.
“If the impact of Hayden stops when our students graduate,” said Sandstrom, “then we haven’t done a very good job. There’s a sense of pride from teachers, from alumni and from current students when there are Hayden graduates out there doing great things in a multitude of ways — including serving others and, in turn, serving God.”