Loss of ninth-graders who died in 1971 still felt - Omaha.com
Published Monday, June 24, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 7:10 am
Brian Ripley / Jack Selvera / Dale Uhlig
Loss of ninth-graders who died in 1971 still felt

The news of three ninth-graders being hit by a car and killed in 1971 shook the city of Omaha.

It caused an uproar so loud that the Nebraska Legislature forced the city to put in sidewalks on main streets like the one where the boys had been walking.

But there were about 300 Nathan Hale Junior High School students, the boys' classmates, who felt the loss more personally.

They grieved, as children do, with poems, a memorial assembly and a time capsule filled with notes and newspaper clippings about the accident.

“It all happened so fast,” said Tavi Baker.

Then those children went off to high school — half to Northwest, half to Benson. They became adults, got jobs and got married. Some had children of their own.

Dale Uhlig

Over time, they lost others from their class, but none resonated quite like the early deaths of Brian Ripley, Jack Selvera and Dale Uhlig.

This past weekend, members of that Nathan Hale class got their first chance to reunite after more than four decades, as they unearthed the time capsule that had been buried at the school and then almost forgotten.

The memorial gathering, organized by Baker and a few others, was the class's first chance to reflect on the deaths as a group of adults.

Jack Selvera

They met Saturday night at Keystone Tavern, which is owned by a classmate, and then got together Sunday at Immanuel Medical Center.

“It was happy. It was sad,” said Joy Winkler, who helped set up the memorial event. “We were laughing. We were crying.”

Many of the then-children had never been to a funeral before the April 16, 1971, tragedy, and that week they attended three.

Brian Ripley

The boys were hit from behind as they were walking to get hamburgers about 9 p.m. that Friday night. The driver of the car was only 17, although he seemed much older to the boys' junior high classmates. The driver pleaded no contest to misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide and was sentenced to 60 days in jail and two years of probation.

At the time, many Nathan Hale students took part in a campaign to ask City Hall to put in sidewalks on North 60th Street, where the boys were killed.

They were joined in their campaign by Lee Terry Sr., a local TV anchorman and the father of the current 2nd District congressman. Lee Terry Sr. attended Sunday's memorial.

When the city didn't appear to be taking action fast enough, the Legislature passed a law forcing Omaha to install sidewalks on main thoroughfares.

The City Council also passed an ordinance giving developers the responsibility for putting sidewalks in new subdivisions.

Classmate Don Schleiger has searched for meaning in the deaths, and he thinks that other lives may have been saved because of them.

The children at the school learned to be more cautious. Maybe they didn't walk on streets without sidewalks, or they told their siblings not to walk in the street. Maybe they drove a little slower as adults or were more mindful of pedestrians.

“It's hard to quantify what kind of impact it had on your life,” Schleiger said.

Contact the writer: Roseann Moring

roseann.moring@owh.com    |   402-444-1084    |  

Roseann covers Bellevue and Sarpy County crime.

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