HJ - Kate Landhuis Graduation

Kate Landhuis is all smiles during the Clarinda graduate parade Sunday, May 17 along Cardinal Drive in front of the high school. She is the fifth generation of the Lisle family to have graduated from Clarinda High School. The COVID-19 threat has not allowed a traditional commencement ceremony. Clarinda Police Department estimated 1,500 cars drove down the street greeting the students. (photo by Joe Moore)

In the 135 years the Lisle family has been in Clarinda, it has averaged a Clarinda High graduate every 22 years.

As a member of the class of 2020, Kate Landhuis is the fifth generation of the family to receive a diploma.

The family’s history with Clarinda starts with C.A. Lisle. Born in 1846 in Ohio, the family moved to Guthrie County when he was 13. He enlisted in the Civil War at 15 but fighting typhoid fever prevented him from action.

He attended Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant and had taught in Adams and Guthrie counties, Burlington High School and was Red Oak’s superintendent.

A career change had him inspecting public utility plants representing a bonding corporation which brought him to Clarinda. Lisle then purchased the Clarinda Herald newspaper in 1885. He had once owned the Fort Madison Plain Dealer newspaper.

In 1903, C.A. started the Lisle Corporation which started producing horse-powered water well drilling machines.

More than 20 years later, the company started making automotive parts for Ford’s Model T. Today, the Lisle Corp. still produces various auto parts and tools.

C.A. had seven children with his first wife, Frances Spry. They married in 1872. One child drowned in a tributary of the Nodaway River south of Clarinda by saving the life of sibling Edwin (Sr.). The six children all graduated from Clarinda High.

Frances died in 1900. C.A. died in 1920 at the age of 74.

Education has influenced some of the following generations. Edwin had been president of the Clarinda School board. Edwin had five children, all who walked across the Clarinda graduation stage.

“They all thought they were well prepared because of Clarinda schools,” said John Lisle one family member who offered some family history and being educated in Clarinda.

John’s father, Edwin Jr., graduated from Clarinda High in 1932 and was awarded the Quill and Scroll, an honor given to students interested in journalism. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 1936. Edwin had two other sons, Bill and Tom.

“During my school years, what I got was very good,” John said, a member of the class of 1960. He was one of 62 students.

“I think Clarinda then is very similar to what it is today. It has a good school and a great community to grow up in,” he said.

John said part of his education involved the sciences as the Russians launched Sputnik in 1957, the name of the first satellite in space. John said Russell Price was a Clarinda teacher who was interested in space science and encouraged other attentive students to study the subject.

“There were lots of model rockets,” John said.

Bill was only two years younger than John and graduated in 1962. He was one of 84 students. That time saw changes in Iowa’s rural education as more of the traditional one-room country schoolhouses were consolidating with the nearby school district in town.

“There was a big fleet of school buses since the population of rural students was much greater,” Bill said. His wife Sherrill was one of those country-school students as she was from Bethesda, northwest of Clarinda.

But it wasn’t like the Clarinda students who lived in town were potentially getting new friends.

“You knew those kids because you were from Clarinda,” Bill said. It was common to already have those relationships established from other social events.

“And those families had to come to town for things,” Bill said. “And we knew College Springs kids too.”

One event Kate has in common with Bill and John was the annual Southwest Iowa Band Jamboree. The all-day school band show, which now draws about 50 schools from the region, got its start in 1955 by Clarinda band instructor Richard Mowery.

“It wasn’t as big of a deal as it is today,” Bill said about the early years of the jamboree. “But it still brought people to town.”

What was a big deal for Bill was being quarterback of the 1961 football team that won the Hawkeye 8 Conference with an undefeated record.

“It was the first time we won the conference since the 1930s or 1940s. It was a long drought anyway,” Bill said.

High school football then was not organized by classes according to school enrollments as it is today. Clarinda traditionally played areas schools like Shenandoah, Atlantic, Corning and Villisca.

“Maryville (Missouri) was as far as we went,” he said.

After high school, both Bill and John took the same route. John started college at Cornell in Mount Vernon, near Cedar Rapids. He then transferred to the University of Iowa and graduated in 1964.

Bill did the same steps and graduated from the University of Iowa in 1966. He then enlisted in the Air Force during the Vietnam War and served for four years.

“Most of any graduating senior who was not married did the same,” he said.

Bill’s service included officer training school and was stationed in Minot, North Dakota; Da Nang, Vietnam; Thailand and the upper peninsula of Michigan.

John returned to Clarinda and started as a traveling sales representative for the family’s company.

“We had a station wagon with some sample tools to demonstrate how they worked,” he said. “There were four of us who did that as we built up our distributors.”

John alternated by traveling for two weeks, then home for two weeks while others went on the road.

After his time in the service, Bill returned to the factory and did the same as John.

Retail auto parts stores were not like it is today. Bill said there were not nearly as many retail stores as Lisle Corp. sold to parts distributors.

“There were a few O’Reily stores then, but they were smaller operations, not like what we have today,” he said.

John and Bill each had two children. Mary Landhuis is one of Bill’s. She is a 1991 Clarinda graduate.

“I have an older brother who I got information from about high school,” she said. Mary was at Clarinda High at a time when middle school grades were seventh through ninth.

School administration approved to have ninth graders in the high school beginning in the fall of 1990.

It didn’t matter who was in high school, Mary was involved.

“I was in band in middle school, but dropped it in high school,” she said. “I was involved in theater, student government and was valedictorian of my class.”

Even going back to her father, some school names didn’t change.

“I had Mowery for band,” she said. “And it’s interesting now to see my kids have some of the same teachers.”

Mary’s son, Nik, is a 2018 Clarinda graduate.

“Balster was there,” she said about longtime Clarinda teacher and theater director Kennon Balster. Kate has been in Balster directed plays.

“And he’s still going strong today,” she said.

Mary also referred to Sharon McAlpin, a former choir director.

“It’s a neat experience to have a couple of generations have the same teachers with education.”

Mary can still be seen at Clarinda High – at least her name. She still holds the school record in the mile for girls track.

“I was the only girl on the cross country team, so I just practiced with the boys,” she said.”

Like Lisle family members witnessed with the closing of country schools, in spring 1987 the New Market district approved to have its students play sports at Clarinda. In 1988, agreements were beginning to be made for whole-grade sharing between New Market and Clarinda schools.

“We already knew each other from 4-H and ball games,” Mary said how New Market and Clarinda kids interacted. “I was excited to have more people in class.”

After high school, Mary graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and returned to Clarinda in 1999. In 2003, she transferred to EZ Way when the medical patient-lift company was purchased by Lisle Corp. She has been in national sales and was named EZ Way president in 2009.

The late Fred Lisle, a 1978 Clarinda High graduate, and son of Edwin and Nancy Lisle, gave back to education. With support from Iowa Western Community College, which Fred was a graduate and board member, the gym at its Clarinda campus was converted into the Center of Excellence for Advanced Manufacturing.

The two-year program, which began in 2017, offers manufacturing skills to students and those working in the industry. Courses were created by Fred and others in manufacturing in the area.

“Lisle is on the cutting edge of manufacturing. And we want to stay that way,” Fred said during a reception debuting the program.

Fred was president of Lisle Corp. at the time of his death in 2018. His 36-year career included sales and marketing was president since 2009. After his death, Iowa Western agreed to name the course after Fred. Mary was then named president of Lisle becoming the first woman in family history to run the company.

Like her mother, Kate Landhuis also had an older brother who was in high school before Kate.

She said Nik, didn’t tell her much about high school before her freshman year.

“I was eager to go,” Kate said. “Nik drove us to school and we went to early band. I didn’t think I was super shy as a freshman. Now, I thought I was more shy then than I am now.”

And Kate broke out of her proverbial shell by participating in student council, FCCLA, Business Professionals of America and National Honor Society.

Student council, which is a common denominator among Lisle family generations in school, put sophomore Kate in a district officer position for the state student council organization. Kate represented southwest Iowa.

“Usually, it’s a two-year appointment, but then we had a senior who graduated and I stepped in sooner. I loved it,” she said.

Kate said being involved keeps her busy and engaged with other people and aspects of school.

“I can’t just do nothing,” she laughed. “I don’t work well when I have nothing to do.”

Kate also competed in high school swimming. Even though the Cardinals do not have a swim team, she swam with Atlantic High and competed in the state swim meet.

Kate’ senior year will long be remembered as the school year that was interrupted by the spread of COVID-19, the contagious respiratory ailment that eventually spread around the world beginning in late 2019. Iowa officials stopped all school activities March 16 to prevent more cases happening in schools, before it canceled the remaining school year on April 17.

“I don’t think of it and let it get to me,” Kate said as band concerts, track meets and prom were all put on hold. “A little bit of a break is all right. But after that, I got to get into it. Calculus is hard, especially when you stop for a while and you have to get back in it.”

Kate’s plan after high school is to attend Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles and major in marketing.

She has also been asked for her plans after college.

“People have asked if I will come back after college to work at the company. It’s a huge question. I love the whole family business vibe and it’s family oriented. It’s been a big part of my life. We’ll see.”

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