George Benham Highfill passed away peacefully on April 2, 2019 in Overland Park, Kansas with his dear lovely wife of 69 years, Clara Mae, at his side. He was born on a farm near Potter, Kansas on April 28, 1925, the son of Ben and Mary Cleavinger Highfill. He tragically lost his younger brother Joe in 1928 and his mother in 1929. Young George was raised and cared for by two older sisters, Hattie and Betty who were only 7 and 9 at the time of their mother’s death. Together, the young children-Betty, Hattie, George, Martha, and Lyle-suffered through the harshest years of the Great Depression, aided by grandparents, aunts and uncles. George graduated in the Class of 1942 from Potter High School and in the fall of 1942 entered Kansas State Teachers College in Pittsburg, Kansas. Navy recruiters arrived on campus in the Fall of 42 seeking students to enter a Naval Officers Training Program to serve in WWII. On July 1, 1943, he qualified for the Navy V-12 Program on campus, and the following year he completed his training at the Naval Midshipmen’s School at Northwestern University in Chicago.
George Highfill received a Commission from the Navy at age 19, and on Nov. 22, 1944, became one of the youngest officers in the history of the U.S. Navy. He was assigned immediately as Ensign on LCI 361 and participated in the liberation of the Philippines. After being discharged from the Navy in June 1946, he returned to Pittsburg and graduated with a degree in Mathematics, Class of 1947. In the Fall of 47 he began his career in education as a Math teacher in Garnett, Kansas. The following year, a young, gorgeous blond girl from Oklahoma A & M University, Clara Mae Scott, began her teaching career in Garnett as a Home Economics teacher. A romance blossomed, and on Christmas Eve 1949, they were married.
In 1950 they moved to Meade, Kansas, where George taught Math and in 1953 became high school principal after receiving a Masters Degree in Educational Administration from Kansas State Teachers College in Emporia, Kansas. He continued to teach math and was an administrator in Kismet, Pretty Prairie, and St. John, Kansas. He retired in 1988 after serving 23 years as superintendent of St. John USD 350. He and his Clara Mae moved to Lawrence, Kansas in 1995 and lived there for 22 years attending events at the University of Kansas and taking classes. They never lost their zeal for learning. In retirement, George became a voracious reader, consuming piles of books on American history and politics and developing a deep concern about social injustice. Both George and Clara Mae became avid cyclists during those years. They completed a major segment of the yearly ride across North Dakota, and at age 70, George participated in the Ride Across Kansas, riding his bike from southwest to northwest Kansas.
As a tireless volunteer and contributor to his community, George was highly respected and admired in every town in which he lived. He served on the board of the United Methodist Church in St. John, worked on the Western Kansas Economic Development board, and was a long-time member of the Lions Club. He helped establish the Lions Club basketball tournament in St. John which has been the premier winter invitational basketball tournament in Western Kansas for over 50 years.
George was preceded in death by his parents and brother Joe, and also by a brother, Lyle Highfill, and a sister, Hattie Thompson. He is survived by his older sister, Betty Theobald of Bushnell, Illinois, and a sister Martha Parret of Leavenworth, Kansas. He is also survived by his four children: Juli of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Scott of San Diego, California, Philip of Kansas City, Missouri, and Jay and wife Amy of Overland Park, Kansas. He is survived by eight grandchildren: Scott’s three sons and two daughters-Cameron of Healdsburg, California; Chad and Cade of San Diego; and twin girls, Sydney and Shelby, of Wilmington, North Carolina; Philip’s son Dan of Philadelphia, Ohio; Jay and Amy’s daughter Megan of Panama City, Panama; and their son Tavis of Overland Park, Kansas. In addition, he is survived by two great-grandchildren: Sophia and Joseph Guinn, the children of Dan and Beth Guinn of Philadelphia, Ohio. In lieu of flowers, please send memorials to the Haskell Indian Nations University Endowment Fund, 155 Indian Ave, Box 5019, Lawrence, Kansas. A Celebration of Life will be held at Johnson County Funeral Home, 11200 Metcalf Ave, Overland Park, Kansas, July 20, 2019, at 3:30 p.m.