The U.S. flag had only 48 stars when Linda Bankes first mounted a horse and rode down Buckeye Avenue and Third Street in the Western Downtown Parade.
Last week was Bankes’ 68th parade, and for the past 20 years she’s carried the Stars and Stripes in the Mounted Flag Corps.
“It’s just fun every year,” she said.
Bankes missed riding a horse in the parade when she was a rodeo queen candidate, riding in the parade in a convertible. She didn’t participate in the parade the year she was a foreign exchange student in Costa Rica and then there was the time she got shot in St. Louis.
Bankes was 8 years old when her cousin Laurine’s husband, Dwight Atkinson, rode in the parade alongside her. She rode on a horse that belonged to another cousin.
“We all had horses. They took me riding from time to time. Dwight took me in the parade,” she said.
An executive order by President Dwight Eisenhower provided the current arrangement of stars on the flag Bankes carried Thursday.
Bankes said that through 68 trips, she’s never had a bad ride down Buckeye Avenue and Third Street.
A dream of Bankes for many years had been to carry that American flag at the start of the parade. Her friend Peggy Whitworth reminded her that, back in the 1980s, Bankes said she wanted to carry the flag in the parade.
“I said that when I’m 80, I want to lead the parade and carry the American flag,” she said.
She has a couple more years before she can completely cross that off her bucket list.
However, she started carrying the flag in the flag corps in the late 1990s.
She served on the Central Kansas Free Fair Board from 1996 to 2002.
“We needed someone to carry the flag one year. They said, ‘Who are we going to get to carry the flag?’ I said, ‘Let me do it.’ I’m not sure why I wanted to do it. It is was just one of those things I wanted to do for years,” she said.
Later her kids, Teddi, Scott and Mitzi, and grandkids were frequent parade participants.
“They always rode with me. Sometimes I would be riding one horse with a kid in front of me and another one riding beside me,” she said. “They each rode their own horses and because the horses were together, they behaved well.”
Bankes belonged to two saddle clubs, Sand Springs and Buckeye. Sometimes she would ride with one club and sometimes with another.
She rode with Sand Springs Club in the parade for Dwight Eisenhower when he returned to Abilene to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president of the United States.
She said the parade had attracted a lot more saddle clubs in the past. This year only Buckeye Saddle Club participated.
“They all rode in the parade,” she said.
While riding in the parade this year, Bankes said, she recalled some of the changes that have been made and what has stayed the same. When she first started riding, the entries didn’t throw candy. She didn’t recall when that started or who started it.
Bankes, her husband, Bud, and daughter Teddi were living in St. Louis when she missed riding in the parade the second time.
Bud was in pharmacy school and she was working at Saint Louis University.
Someone had been to the apartment the week before and left a nasty note.
Police were called.
“Police said, ‘Look, you are a girl from a little town. You need to learn the big city ways. Don’t ever open your door to anybody,” Bankes recalled.
Bankes said she started using the door chain. But it didn’t help.
“Somebody came to our apartment one afternoon and asked for help. He said he wanted to leave a message for a guy that lived across the hall from us,” she said.
She went and got a pencil and some paper for him.
“He stuck a gun through the crack of the door,” she said.
He hit her over the head with the gun and she fell to the floor.
“The chain broke out of the door so he came in,” she said. “The police had warned me to never get caught in that apartment with anybody so I crawled out in the hallway.”
Her screams were heard by someone in an upstairs apartment who let their big dog loose.
“It came down the stairs and I guess the guy ran away. He did turn around and shoot at me,” she said.
Her head was bleeding so she thought she had been shot in the head.
“I started to get up and I couldn’t. I looked down and my leg was broken,” she said.
Her femur, the thighbone, was broken.
“Lucky for me, he left,” she said.
They couldn’t put in a steel rod but kept her in traction until she was fitted with a full body cast, from her toes to almost her neck.
The shooting happened in early August before the parade. Bankes didn’t get out of the hospital until November.
She taught in high schools for 41 years. Bankes started teaching high school in Florida when Bud was in the Navy. There she taught every subject.
When they moved to St. Louis, she taught history for four years. When she moved to Abilene, the high school here needed someone to teach Spanish.
As a Spanish teacher, she would take students on trips to Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico and Costa Rica.
“If you are just speaking Spanish out of the book, you have a very limited vocabulary,” she said. “Plus, your accent doesn’t get good. My experience living in Costa Rica was the best thing to ever happen to me as far as my Spanish.”
In 1970 she had a Volkswagen minibus she drove into Mexico.
“That was a stupid thing to do, but at the time, it seemed like the thing to do,” she said.
On the return to the United States from Mexico, they were detained by U.S. Customs.
Bankes said that because of her and her sister Sally Cullor’s waist-length hair and clothing styles, officials thought they were hippies smuggling drugs into the U.S.
Custom officers stripped down the vehicle.
“They went through the bus with a fine-toothed comb, looking for drugs, I’m sure,” she said. “They even took the paper off the kids’ crayons.”
Contact Tim Horan at firstname.lastname@example.org.