ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Three generations of the Pete Klassen family of Hillsboro recently accomplished something out of the ordinary.
Pete, Allen and Randy Klassen were active participants in the American Legion Boys’ State of Kansas session in Manhattan the first week in June.
Pete’s son, Allen, shared in the pride of watching Randy, Allen’s nephew, attend the week-long program on the Kansas State University campus.
“I’ve been there 18 years now,” Pete said. “And this is the first time I’ve ever heard about three generations attending at the same time.”
Randy’s dad, Gary, a former Boys’ Stater, stopped by during the week to visit the threesome as they participated in a whirl-wind of activities to educate and stimulate the minds of young and old.
The first Boys’ State was organized by Hayes Kennedy and Harold L. Card in Illinois in 1935.
The program is designed to give young men who have finished their junior year in high school the opportunity to learn first hand about the operations of their government system by actively participating in various political positions in a mock community.
The program is designed to promote leadership, teach youth about the intricacies of state and local government, foster patriotism and challenge young men to make decisions on their own.
Whether the participants were elected or signed up for a position, each boy experienced, in 168 hours, a taste of the governmental process that in real life would take several months.
Randy, who will be a senior at Hillsboro High School in the fall, opted to be a city councilman.
“I was happy with city councilor,” he said. “It was a lot more work than some of the elected officers. We were busy all the time.”
Each day began around 6 a.m., when the young men tried to drag out of bed to jockey for a chance to take a shower in one of the K-State dorms.
And toward the beginning of the week, the schedule kept them active until 11 p.m.
“It was designed that way to keep them out of trouble,” Pete said, with a twinkle in his eye.
Semi-retired at the age of 75, Pete exhibited the energy of a younger man as he worked with a crew that printed the session newsletter.
“There were several nights where I worked until 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.,” he said.
At this convention, Pete and Allen took on the roles of advisers to some of the 610 delegates attending the 66th session of Boys’ State.
Pete did not attend Boys’ State in his youth, but as a member of the local American Legion, he chose 18 years ago to become an adviser at the yearly conventions.
Allen, 44, an electrical engineer from Topeka, was back this year for his 27th session.
“I was basically a counselor through about 1984,” he said, recounting his past association with the group. “Since then, I’ve had different rolls as an adviser.” From 1995-1997, he also served as executive director.
Although proud of their family’s milestone at the convention, the three talked modestly about their accomplishment.
“We didn’t make a big issue of it,” Allen said.
“We kept it in the background. I have a real strong belief that the whole program is not about me or about my involvement-it’s for the participants who are there.”
The three generations did not stay together in the same rooms, and Allen said he tried to let Randy experience the week without any familial interference.
“I didn’t want to push him,” he said.
“I spent a week with him this spring and I said, ‘I’m not sure what to tell you as a 17-year-old what you’re going to get out of this. It’s not a video game, and it’s not hanging out with your friends. You have to experience it, and hopefully you’ll like it.'”
But Randy was reluctant to go in the beginning.
“I’ve never wanted to go to any type of camp,” he said.
“And that’s what I looked at this as. But after being there, I realized it was a very good program and a lot of fun. You get to make new friends from all over the state, and you learn a whole lot about how the government works.”
Randy’s experience, as a third-generation participant, was different than that experienced by Allen’s generation.
At that time, it was considered an honor to be accepted to attend Boys’ State.
“It still is an honor, but the reality is that there were far fewer choices on what one could do in their summer back then,” according to the Web site www.ksbstate.org.
“Today, there are simply too many choices, and our program is now one of hundreds. Mathematically, this makes the selection process less competitive.”
To back up this fact, Randy said he was the only boy from HHS to choose to attend Boys’ State this year.
In addition to Allen’s pep talk, the Klassen family encouraged Randy to give it a try.
“I’d really encourage guys next year that they should go,” Randy said. “When they go talk to the kids (at the high school), I would like to go back next year and talk to them, too. Because I was there, they might listen to someone closer to their age.”
For three generations to attend Boys’ State, there are certain Klassen family values that reflect the philosophies of the organization.
Pete said he credited the military as a strong influence in participating in American Legion activities.
“I spent two years in the Army, and Gary spent five year in the Air Force Reserve,” he said.
Allen talked about his family background and credited his parents for instilling the values he has always admired at Boys’ State.
“I think we’ve been told, ‘Be responsible for yourself,'” he said.
“That doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes. What you do with everything you’re involved with is up to you. And did we learn that as a family? I think so.”
Looking back on the week, Pete said he returned with optimism for the future of today’s youth, including his grandson.
“When I go there and see 610 men doing something pretty decent, I’m proud of them,” he said.
And has the experience of attending Boys’ State together given the three Klassens a stronger bond?
“Oh, we were all good friends to start with,” Pete said with a chuckle. “But it makes a bigger bond, sure it does.”
And they just might break another record next year-two consecutive sessions as a third-generation family.
“I’ll be back if they want me,” Pete said with characteristic humor. “But I intend to, and Allen will be back.”
Randy is already looking at the possibility of returning as a counselor.
“I made friends with most of the people on my floor, and I’d like to go back and see them again,” he said.
And if he has a son some day, he would like to see him experience what the three generations before him did.
“I would try my hardest to get him to go,” Randy said. “If they would get out of it as much as I did, it would definitely be worth it.”