Folks at the Spotted Pig bar and restaurant are getting ready for all the “old boys” coming into town.
This is graduation weekend at Wentworth Military Academy. But more than that, this is the final graduation for the school that’s been around for 137 years.
Last month, officials announced that Wentworth was shutting down. So the call went out to those cadets from over the years to come back to this old river town to see that final commencement and dress parade, to watch the flag come down one last time, and then toast their own days of youth — and probably let loose some anger.
Young and old, several hundred, maybe pushing a thousand, are expected to show up from all over the country and a few beyond that. One’s coming from Mexico City. Motel rooms are hard to come by. A few alumni from the Kansas City area are riding bicycles from Blue Springs.
“Wentworth raised them, and they’re all coming home to say goodbye,” said Patt Minter, co-owner of the Spotted Pig, which is located just a few blocks from the Wentworth campus. “And when they come to town, they often end up here.”
Her business partner and husband are both Wentworth alumni. Extra tables and memorabilia, including an old bugle, have been brought into the Pig for this weekend. The place can hold 350 or so. Minter also arranged for shuttle service to the campus for this weekend’s events.
Andy Herman, who works in real estate in Kansas City, will be there. He arrived at Wentworth in the mid-1980s when he was 12.
“It’s sad what happened, and I want to see the old boys coming back,” he said. “Wentworth has probably never had this many alumni in town.”
In phone interviews with former cadets, they spoke fondly about their days at Wentworth and the friendships they forged there. But they didn’t need much prodding to get hot at Wentworth officials.
The announcement to close the school because of declining revenue and rising expenses caught the alumni off guard. Lexington city officials voiced the same frustration. They wonder if maybe something could have been done to save the school, which graduated a few future generals, a member of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff and two Medal of Honor recipients.
Wentworth officials have declined comment since the announcement.
In 2015, the Higher Learning Commission placed Wentworth on probation for concerns relating to the college’s finances. Enrollment, too, trended down. According to an IRS filing, Wentworth posted a $1 million loss for the year ending May 31, 2016.
But city officials and alumni thought the school had once again gotten through hard times.
This year, Wentworth had 220 cadets boarding at the school and 300 commuter students. A month before the closing announcement in an alumni newsletter, Regis McDonald, chairman of the Wentworth board of trustees, said the school’s most recent capital campaign was very successful and that giving had increased 52 percent — both keys to Wentworth moving forward, McDonald said.
“They kept telling us things were great and, personally, I think they knew things weren’t great,” said Jim Bloomberg, of Texas, who left Wentworth in 1987. “I blame the board. They didn’t reach out. Maybe things would have been different if they had.”
He wonders what will happen to the historical artifacts on the grounds, especially the Vietnam memorial he and others made as a community service project.
“Because this sounds like the liquidation of a corporation,” Bloomberg said.
Yacob Sherman, who came to Wentworth from Israel, said the former cadets were given zero chance to do something to save the school.
“That’s why people are so upset,” said Sherman, who is coming this weekend from Mexico City, but he swears he will check his anger at the door.
“I’m not coming to blame, because this is graduation and I want it to be as memorable for this year’s cadets as it was for me.”
Vince DiCarlo of Kansas City said he would never trade his years at Wentworth. Being there, he said, was an honor and a privilege.
“I’m as frustrated as anyone, but now I just want to get it over,” he said.
Herman put it this way: “When you become a Wentworth cadet, you become a family member. And this place is always going to be in our hearts.
“I just hope people remember what was there — what we did there.”
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182