Lee Streiff, center, with Dave Haselwood & Michael McClure, 1951.
Thornton Lee Streiff, 72, died Sunday, August 1, 2004 in Wichita, KS. No service was held. Lee Streiff was born July 14, 1932 in Wichita. He graduated from Wichita High School East in 1950, graduated from Wichita University with a Bachelor's in Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1955, did graduate work at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana in 1955-57 with a Master's thesis on semantics and literary criticism, and attended Northwestern University in Evanston, IL as a John Hay Fellow during the 1963-64 teaching year.
For thirty-five years, Lee taught at Wichita High School Southeast, first in English - teaching English and American Literature, composition, Advanced Placement and Honors English - and later in Social Studies - teaching Humanities, psychology, sociology, world history, European history, international relations, current events and the history of religion. He was the Chairman of the Social Studies Department at Southeast for 18 years until he retired in 1992.
Lee also taught a number of courses during this time at Wichita State University including composition, linguistics, literature, and computer science. Lee was particularly active over the course of his professional career in the areas of curriculum development, political action by teachers, teacher negotiations, and advancing teacher rights, including obtaining academic freedom for teachers and defending them against attempted censorship of teaching materials.
In 1968 he became the Chief Negotiator for the local teachers' union, NEA-Wichita, in its negotiations with the Wichita school board and negotiated the first comprehensive teacher group contract in Kansas. At this time he wrote a handbook for teacher negotiators in Kansas which was sold through Kansas-NEA across the state to locals beginning negotiations. In 1969 he wrote and helped get a professional negotiations bill passed in the Kansas legislature.
Throughout his teaching career he served on innumerable committees, panels, and boards and held a variety offices in a number of professional organizations. In 1970, he was elected President of NEA-Wichita, an organization of over 3,000 teachers. While involved in NEA-Wichita, he also developed several programs at the local and state levels designed to assist in the racial integration of the Wichita school system and to advance the role of minority teachers in decision-making within the profession.
In 1972 he discovered a multi-layered archaeological site in east Wichita - the "Hackberry Site" (14SG508) - the lowest layers of which dated back to about 100 CE. The site later received Historical Preservation status both locally and at the state level. In 1976 he received a grant from the Wichita school system to excavate the site with high school students with help from advisors from Wichita State University. In 1974 he was co-founder of the Archaeological Association of South Central Kansas, and in 1975-76 he was President of AASCK. The organization is associated with the Anthropology Department of Wichita State. He was also active in Kansas archeological efforts to educate the public about the need for preservation of archaeological sites. In 1981 Lee was awarded the "Outstanding Achievement Award" for Historical Preservation by the Wichita Preservation Alliance.
Because political action was an important factor in gaining teacher rights, he and another teacher formed a statewide Political Action Committee of Educators (PACE) in the 1960's, which became an important tool in achieving a number of goals. In 1979 he developed a computer model of voter behavior in the precincts in the city of Wichita and - using it - helped to elect a number of school board members friendly to teachers' causes, and two City Commissioners. From 1983 to 1987 (while still teaching) he was a partner in MarketData Research, a company that consulted with banks, savings and loans, a video rental chain, and other businesses, doing market research. Over the years he had numerous articles published in a variety of magazines and journals on topics including political action, negotiations, an innovative Humanities program for high schools, archeology, and desegregation.
Within the last few years, Lee also completed two as yet unpublished books. One is the culmination of his interest and expertise in the areas of linguistics, literature, myth and archeology, entitled The Star Caves. The other is a non-fiction tentatively titled Shadowland. He was also a contributor of information for various articles and websites dealing with the history of the Wichita Beat Era, including in Wichita State University's, The Sunflower, and on the University of Kansas website.
He also created his own website that is a culmination of the articles, photographs and images he has written and collected of the Beat scenes in Wichita in the period from 1947 to 1955, and the period from 1955 to 1966, titled the Wichita Vortex.
Lee's family and friends have lost an intelligent, creative, passionate and caring husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend. They will profoundly miss his presence in their lives. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Phyllis Streiff; his daughter, Alison and husband Mark Scott; his grandchildren, Taylor and Hannah Scott of Wichita; his sister, Celeste Hammond of South Pasadena, CA; and his brothers, William Streiff of Kansas City, MO, James Streiff of Leavenworth, KS and David and wife Carmen Streiff of Antioch, TN; sisters-in-law, Marian Grubb and Pauline Grubb both of Wichita. Memorials have been established with KHCC 815 N. Walnut, Suite 300, Hutchinson, KS 67501 or KMUW, 3317 E. 17th St. N., Wichita, KS 67208. Condolences may be e-mailed to the family via www.cochranmortuary.com Published in the Wichita Eagle on 3 August 2004.
When I matriculated into Southeast High School in 1959, I was put into what was called the honors group, a classroom-sized bunch of students who were to take their core classes together – English, history, social studies, science – for three years. Four teachers we had stand out in my mind over the years as just about the best I ever had at any level. Our English teacher our junior year, 1960-61, was Lee Streiff.
I was never as enchanted with him as many of my peers were – a couple of the other teachers clicked more perfectly with me – but taking his class was surely a memorable experience. He was a sharp critic who wouldn’t let us get away with facile or sloppy writing or thinking. He had opinions on all kinds of subjects and was not shy with them. And, although he taught English, that year was highlighted with some wonderful music. He played recorded blues for us – Lightning Hopkins, I remember – magical stuff we’d never heard at all before. Our parents probably would have been shocked, but we didn’t tell them. And then the crowning moment came when he brought his guitar into class and played and sang for us. Great, wonderful stuff.
The honors group was amazingly cohesive. After taking all of those classes together many of us stayed in touch. A solid contingent of us has showed up at every class reunion since, and we have generally cut out from the larger group and had a little reunion of our own, usually at my parents’ house. We always invited those memorable teachers over, and Lee came to one or two of the gatherings.
Oddly enough, I never knew about Lee’s Beat connections until recently. Once I began to look at his website, it all made sense; he fit perfectly in that slice of the culture. I wish I had known about it earlier; William Burroughs lived here in Lawrence for the last sixteen years of his life, and I could have invited Lee up to have dinner or just hang out with William. But such are the lost opportunities that seem all too frequent in life.