Jim Sears


Sully Sullenberger





            Before the age of electronics, computers, pagination, digital cameras and even before the age of electric typewriters and what was called “paste up pages”, the hot type for printed material was worked on upside down and backwards. The type could be read by holding a mirror next to it.

            Occasionally pictures got “flipped” or “flopped”, whichever you want to call them. One eagle-eyed 1969 Denison High School graduate, Jim Sears, now living in Bloomington, IL, recently thought his picture in the Yellow Jacket Yearbook looked a little funny. It looked like he was looking into a mirror. His hair was even parted on the wrong side.

            With a little thought he determined that his picture had been “flopped”. Jim said after he made the discovery he started looking closely at the photos of classmates and saw several that also had been flopped. Incidentally, Jim was on the yearbook staff that year, but said his job on the annual staff was to sell the advertisements and to write some of the captions in the sports section. “Most days I was driving around town contacting merchants and other advertisers,” he said.

            The class of 1969 is the one that held its 40th class reunion last summer and although Jim was unable to attend, he said he joined his classmates in basking in the reflected glory of one of the class’ own, United Air Line Pilot Burnett “Sully” Sullenberger, who returned to give the commencement address for the class of 2009. Sully was honored on his trip to town as a Denison Hero. He is remembered for piloting the plane that landed in January 2009 in the Hudson River and saving the lives of all the passengers and crew.

            During that occasion, Jim said classmates had reasons to pull out their old annuals and to thumb through them. That’s when he noticed that his picture had been printed from a flopped negative. He said he didn’t know why he hadn’t noticed it before and said, “perhaps because, as my mirror image, it was actually more familiar to me than my real image. It’s what I see every morning when I’m shaving”.

            The year 2009 was the year that Facebook was gaining popularity and jim joined to be able to see family photos that had been uploaded. Pointing to the silliness on Facebook, he decided to do something that he calls “completely pointless.” So he used his backwards yearbook photo as a starting point and named the group, “My yearbook photo is backwards!” He uploaded his senior photo as it appears in the book and as it should have been, then sat back and waited for others to do the same.

 Nothing happened until a classmate, Mancel Allen, wrote that he had misplaced his senior annual and asked Jim to check his photo against the one in his 1968 annual to see if his image might have been reversed too. Jim did, and it was, so he uploaded both of Mancel’s pictures too. During the first week that Jim’s page was on Facebook he learned that 15 photos out of 326 in the 1969 class were flopped. One classmate wrote that he would look equally dorky in his picture either way.

            Then he began taking a closer look at other classmates and found a fairly large number of them had been flopped. Most were determined – at least for the guys – by which side of their head they part their hair. If it’s parted on the left in 1968, chances are pretty good that it will not be parted on the right in 1969.

            Included in this group is none other than Sully Sullenberger. Jim said “If you look at his senior photo, you will recognize it as one that appeared in print often last year. It was even on the front page of the New York Daily News. His hair is parted on the right.” Jim paired it with his junior photo as well as other photos of Sully and found his hair parted on the left. Sully’s photo has traveled around the world and it seems that Jim is the first one to notice that it was actually a mirror image.

            Susan Richardson Khammash was editor-in-chief of the yearbook in 1969. She is on Facebook and one of the group members. Susan told Jim that the errors were made by the publisher.

 Kay Casey, journalism teacher and faculty adviser for the 1969 yearbook who now is retired, said that it could have been one of several things. The photographer could have accidentally printed the picture from a reversed negative before it got to the school or the printer could have flopped the pictures in preparing to print the pages. Since the pictures were sent in grids, however, names generally would have been wrong too. Casey admitted that the errors also could have been right there in the annual staff room.

Jim delivered the last valedictory address of the 1960s and went on to graduate summa cum laude from Texas A&M with a BA in economics. In the fall of 1974 he enrolled in law school at the University of Chicago and graduated almost three years later. He was admitted to the Texas bar a few months after that, but has never practiced law.

Jim has spent most of his adult life working for the U.S. Postal Service. He was a clerk in Austin in 1979 for six years before moving to Fayetteville, AR to become a rural mail carrier. In 1998 he transferred to Bloomington, IL, where he now lives with his wife, Patty, who also is a rural carrier. She has three children who now are grown and they have three grandchildren.

As 1969 valedictorian, Jim probably was the only one to try to decline the honor. He said that after the first semester grades came out in January 1969, he told the school counselor, Grace Sullivan, that he suspected he might be valedictorian and would prefer to pass the honor to the next person in line. She took him to the office of the assistant principal where the three discussed his unusual request.

Jim could come up with no satisfactory explanation of motive for his request so he was told that further protests on his part would result in the loss of his President’s Scholarship to A&M. So Jim reconsidered and gave the commencement speech during graduations and accepted the $250 award from the Munson Foundation.


Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at d.hunt_903@yahoo.com.




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