Bruce named Alumnus of the Year
The legacy of the late Carl Bruce was education, as evidenced by his years as a teacher and administrator for Kansas City USD 500 and the honor paid him by the district in naming the school where he’d served as a principal for 18 years after him.
But before he became known as an educator, Carl Bruce was a Holton Wildcat who excelled in sports and the arts.
“He always said that Holton was really good for him, and he always had a lot of support from his family and the people there,” said Bruce’s widow, Ruby.
This year, Bruce is being recognized by his alma mater as the Alumnus of the Year, an honor that Ruby said “surprised” her and her family, since they’d been contacted about Carl receiving the same honor back in 2020 — an honor that wasn’t given, since the HHS alumni banquet was canceled due to COVID-19.
“When they told me about it this time, I was thinking, ‘They’re really keeping him in mind!’” she said. “I was very surprised, but I was very pleased, because I feel like he deserved it, too!”
Carl Barton Bruce was born June 22, 1939, in Kansas City, Mo., where he spent the first few years of his life before he and older brother John moved to Holton in 1950 to live with their grandmother, Laura Bruce, who Carl visited during prior summer vacations. One of the friends he made during those summers was his future classmate, L.D. Fletcher, who remembered him fondly.
“He spent a lot of time at my house,” Fletcher said. “We walked to and from school every day, and we played varsity sports together.”
At that time, the Bruce brothers were the only black children in the Holton school district, but as Ruby noted, they never encountered any discrimination and were well-liked by their peers.
“Anything that came up was just something that would come up between kids as they’re doing what they do,” she said. “But they were strong in their convictions, so they weren’t pushed around.”
That, Ruby said, was due to a strong foundation that grandma Laura taught them: “You are a person, and you deserve respect.”
“She showed respect to them, and everybody else seemed to as well,” Ruby added.
Apart from his sophomore year, when he attended Sumner High School in Kansas City, Carl would finish out his school days at Holton, graduating in 1957. During his senior year, he excelled in football, basketball and track, earned high marks in vocal music and speech and served as a Student Council representative for his class.
“I remember that he and L.D. did most things together,” Ruby said. “On the Friday nights before a football game, L.D.’s mom would fix a special steak dinner for them… It was just a good time, and I think he really appreciated it.”
Carl took a year’s break after high school graduation, working at Montgomery Ward to save money to attend Pittsburg State University, where he earned a degree in psychology in 1962 and was a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. After graduating from PSU, he joined the Army Reserves, and he and Ruby were married in 1964.
His first job in education was a two-and-a-half-year stint as a sixth-grade teacher at Kansas City’s Stowe Elementary School while earning a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from The University of Kansas, after which he worked as a counselor at grade schools for another two and a half years.
Carl served as vice principal at Northwest Junior High school during the 1967-68 school year. The next year, he was named the school’s head principal, a position he held until 1987. During that time, Ruby said Carl was keen on exhibiting “a very high standard of quality” about his work, among other things.
“He made himself without actually saying, ‘I’m going to make myself the example,’ or, ‘This is how it should be.’ It’s just what he did,” she said. “He just tried to show a quality of excellence, not only in his style of teaching, dealing with parents and working with kids, but in everything he did.”
During his time at Northwest, the school transitioned from a “junior high” school serving students in seventh through ninth grades to a “middle school” serving students in sixth through eighth grades. He also became known as a leader who made himself available to students.
“He was really good with kids,” Fletcher said.
After leaving Northwest, Carl served as principal at Kansas City’s F.L. Schlagle High School from 1987 to 1990, then served as assistant superintendent for pupil and parent services for USD 500 from 1990 to 1995 before retiring.
Fletcher also recalled that Carl had taken up golf and got really good at it after graduating from PSU.
“He ended up becoming a scratch golfer,” said Fletcher, referring to the kind of golfer who could play at any course and score at or near par every time.
Carl organized an annual golf tournament in Kansas City in the early 1990s to raise money for USD 500 students, Fletcher noted.
“It’s raised more than $1.5 million in the past 20 years for underprivileged children who are going on to an upper education level, whether it’s going to be a junior college or whatever,” he added.
Carl died on Feb. 24, 2018, at the age of 78, leaving behind Ruby, their son Carl and their daughter Cessalie, as well as a legacy in education that spurred USD 500 officials to name the new Northwest Middle School building after him — an announcement made at Carl’s funeral.
For Ruby, it was a fitting tribute, and it remains so.
“You can live with a person and still say, after 50-some years, that what he did was so outstanding,” she said. “To me, that says a lot, because I felt that way all the time.”
Ruby was joined by her two children on Saturday to receive the honor bestowed upon Carl by his alma mater.
“The family is pleased,” she said. “Really pleased.”