New KC middle school named after 1957 graduate of HHS

Known simply as Mr. Bruce to many, Carl Bruce, a 1957 graduate of Holton High School, made a lasting impact as principal of Northwest Junior High School in Kansas City for nearly 20 years.

“He’s was always on some committee to promote schools. He was always in the thick of things when they were making decisions on anything that affected kids,” said Bruce’s widow, Ruby. “Educating kids was his legacy.” 

Bruce, who died suddenly on Feb. 24, 2018, is being honored this fall as the district opens the Carl B. Bruce Middle School, a new middle school building named in his honor.

Located at 2100 N. 18th St. in Kansas City, Kan., Carl B. Bruce Middle School is a new $30 million facility that is expected to educate 900 students as the school year begins this week. 

For more than 30 years, Bruce worked in various roles at several schools for USD 500 Kansas City Kansas Public Schools. The bulk of which was spent as principal at Northwest from 1968 to 1987. 

“He was always very fair and in touch with parents. He tried to go to every activity the kids had whether it was football, basketball, volleyball or track,” Ruby said. “He would get up early to go to track meets. He didn’t want to neglect anybody.”

Born in Kansas City, Bruce and his older brother, John, moved to Holton when Bruce was in sixth grade to be raised by their grandmother. The boys’ mother died when they were both very young.

“Our family goes back over 100 years in Holton,” John said.  “My grandparents went to school in Holton, and my father, John, graduated from Holton in 1924. A lot of teachers in Holton took a great interest in us because some of them had gone to school with our grandparents.”

Although the Bruce brothers moved to Sumner for a short time, Carl returned to Holton High School where he graduated.

“Holton was wonderful,” said John, who graduated from Sumner High School. “I’m still friends with people from there. I still come back to Holton for class reunions.”

L.D. Fletcher of Holton was in the same class as Bruce at Holton, and the two lived a half a block from each other.

“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. We were real close in our younger years. He was the only black person in school other than his brother, and he never had any real problems at all. He got along very well with everyone. All the other students admired him. Everybody kind of looked up to Carl.”

Fletcher said he remembers Bruce as a “good student and athlete.”

“He was a very good singer, too,” he said. 

Bruce received the perfect attendance award and the speech award at graduation. He was also a member of the student council and sang a solo at graduation.

Fletcher said he and Bruce “lost track” of each other in the years following high school but that they reconnected in Kansas City when Fletcher went to dental school there.

“It’s really quite an honor,” Fletcher said of Carl B. Bruce Middle School. “Especially coming from a small school like Holton.”

After high school, Bruce took a year off to work at Montgomery Ward in order to save money for his first semester at Pittsburg State College where he earned a degree in psychology in 1962.

“He was a self-man man,” Ruby said. “He worked jobs while going to college to pay for the following semester. He did that until he graduated. He always looked toward what he had to do.”

Bruce joined the Army Reserves after graduation and married Ruby in 1964. She worked as a school nurse for 26 years.

Bruce took his first job teaching sixth-grade at Stowe Elementary School in Kansas City. 

“He did that for two and a half years and then became a school counselor for another two and a half years,” she said, earning a master’s degree from The University of Kansas.

In 1967, he served as the vice principal at Northwest before serving as head principal the following year. 

“Other people saw that he had leadership skills and encouraged him,” Ruby said. “He was a reasonable person and goal-directed. He held supervisory positions throughout his life, including while being in the Army.”

When he first started at Northwest, the student body included 1,200 students in grades seventh through ninth. During his tenure, the school became a middle school, serving students in grades sixth through eighth. 

“We would travel to Dallas, Texas, and other places and there was always someone who had been one of his students,” Ruby said. “It was all the time because when you have been in one school for 20 years, you know everybody, their kids and their parents. 

Ruby said that Bruce liked being available to the students.

“At lunch time, there would be some food left over. But there were always kids who forgot their lunch money or didn’t have any money to eat. He wouldn’t let them throw any food away before those kids had a chance to eat,” Ruby said. 

John said he remembers walking down the street with his brother and people regularly coming up to him with a warm “Hey, Mr. Bruce.”

“He’s been gone for years from that school, but I’ve talked to some teachers, and he’s still there. The things he put in place are still going to this day,” John said. “He saved kids from going to prison. At his funeral, a guy stood up and said we need more Mr. Bruces because he straightened them out and encouraged them to go to college. He was a big influence for a lot of kids.”

Bruce then served as principal at F. L. Schlagle High School from 1987 to 1990 and then served as assistant superintendent for pupil and parent services for USD 500 from 1990 to 1995.

“In that position, if the student and parent had a problem at the school, and if they were not satisfied which what happened at the school building, they would come and see him. He would investigate the situation and make a decision,” Ruby said. “He seemed to always handle situations fairly.”

In 1990, Bruce, an avid golfer, created and organized an annual golf tournament in Kansas City to raise money for scholarships for USD 500 students.

Bruce died in 2018 at the age of 78 from sudden death syndrome after Ruby found him unresponsive at their home. 

During his funeral, Dr. Cynthia Lane, who served as the KCKPS superintendent at the time, revealed the district was going to name the new Northwest Middle School after Bruce. 

“I was in shock. That’s something I never expected. And he didn’t expect anything like that either. It’s very humbling, and our family is very grateful,” Ruby said.

The Kansas City Public Schools Board of Education officially voted to name the new building Carl B. Bruce Middle School at a meeting in the spring of 2018.

Ruby said she drove by the building several times during its construction. 

“It looks very nice, and I’m still trying to grasp it,” she said. “Carl served on the bond act committee. It’s ironic that the bond act that he helped pass provided the funds to build the school that now bears his name.”

John said he is humbled that the school honors the legacy of his brother. 

“My head is so big I don’t think I’ve got room here on earth for it,” he said. “I’ve very proud.”

Due to COVID-19, the students at Carl B. Bruce Middle School will begin the first nine weeks of school online. A dedication ceremony for the new facility has also been delayed due to the virus, it was reported, but that hasn’t stalled the family’s excitement over the school.  

“Carl really enjoyed being principal and liked being available to the kids,” Ruby said. “He was very personable. They knew he was also very fair, and if a situation came up, he would handle it fairly and carefully.”

The Holton Recorder

109 W. Fourth St.
Holton, KS 66436
Phone: 785-364-3141

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