According to Greek Mythology, Nike was the winged goddess of victory.
In 1944, the United States Army thought Nike was the perfect name for their redesigned version of the German Wasserfall Missile, which was the world’s first successful guided-surface missile.
There were two versions of the Nike Missile.
The first, used from 1954 to the early 1960s was the Nike Ajax and had a range of 25 miles.
The second was the Nike Hercules, used between 1958 and 1974. The Nike Hercules had a range of more than 75 miles. It was faster and had nuclear capabilities.
During the scare of the cold war the U.S. Army insisted on having four base locations around the Kansas City area exclusively for Nike Missiles.
In 1957, $4.5 million was spent on constructing these missile sites.
Locations were Lawson and Pleasant Hill on the Missouri side and Gardner and Leavenworth on the Kansas side.
Farmland south of Gardner was purchased from Alonzo L. Harlan and Walter Fajen.
The Gardner Nike Missile Base opened October 1959 under the supervision of commanding officer, Lt. Col. Ralph Miller. German Shepherds were used for gate security at all four Kansas City locations.
The Gardner Nike Missile Base launch site, south of 199th Street, housed 13 Nike Hercules Missiles in three magazines and all were nuclear capable and outfitted.
The headquarters north of 199th Street and Gardner Road enclosed a small PX, a men’s club, and a barber shop.
The majority of the men spent their Saturday nights at the Fire Side Club next to the bowling alley on Main Street in downtown Gardner.
In 1968, following Army updated technology was the command to close and dismember all Nike Missile Bases. The Gardner Nike Missile Base’s closing commanding officer was 2nd Lt. Dale Nichols in February 1969.
The former base soon became a sought-after property to many organizations, including the Johnson County Community College, and the Gardner-Edgerton-Antioch School District.
The federal government awarded the main Nike property to the school district in December 1969.
The school board built a gymnasium and remodeled the military buildings on the existing property for Gardner’s new junior high school.
The project was funded by a bond issue and federal grant, totally to be almost $500,000.
Nike Junior High School started classes in August 1971.
The school’s mascot was the Missile and its colors were blue and gold.
Staff included Principal Wes Oyer, Minnie Ashmore and Joe McNulty taught mathematics, Charles Barnett taught social studies, Bill Dymacek and Bob Graves taught science, Malcolm Meyer, Carolyn Pickering, and Kipp Willnauer taught music, and Gene Wilmouth taught boys PE.
In the early 2000s, Nike Middle School was remodeled and turned into Nike Intermediate School.
Most of the original military buildings have been torn down for new construction.
At the missile launch site about a mile south of the school, one of the three original silos with elevators was used for storage by the school district for many years.
Approximately two years ago the school district sold the land containing the silos.
The new owner at the time announced plans to turn the former missile site into a paintball range.
Karen Angell, president of the Gardner Museum and Historical Society, said recently teams of army personal have been seen approximately once a month driving back to the dilapidated area, supposedly inspecting the grounds, though the official public statement is, “the silos have been sealed off due to storm water damage and are rusted beyond use.”
Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the Aug. 22, 2008 edition of The Gardner News.
Nike on location of former missile base