After months of marketing in a monkey suit, David Woodward is in town with his fellow Shawnee High School Class of 1978 as they celebrate their 40th reunion this weekend.

After months of marketing in a monkey suit, David Woodward is in town with his fellow Shawnee High School Class of 1978 as they celebrate their 40th reunion this weekend.

On Friday evening grads met for dinner, entertainment and mingling.

This afternoon (Saturday), alumni will gather for a lunchtime pizza party at FireLake Golf Club.

The pinnacle of festivities wraps up tonight as the months-long campaign to time-warp to the late '70s concludes. Over dinner, music, performances and a speaker — state Sen. Ron Sharp — will take turns dominating the stage.

Aside from former teacher Sharp, perhaps the biggest local name to grace the party will be Ralph Johnson, who is almost certain to make an appearance — if not a scene — at the event.

Monkeyshines

Many of Shawnee's Class of 1978 may recall a somewhat unique, and popular, front-page photo in The Shawnee News-Star that celebrated their graduation day. In caps and gowns, students were lined up just outside Raley Chapel, on Oklahoma Baptist University campus, waiting to rehearse walking across the stage, when one teen donned an ape mask and cowboy hat just in time for then-News-Star Photographer Ed Blochowiak to snap a photo.

Curious, others asked who it was behind the mask.

“Ralph Johnson,” graduate David Woodward replied.

Soon, the Associated Press caught wind of the fun pic, and before long it was circulating nationwide, Woodward said.

By all appearances it just seemed like a great costume prank that started at graduation — not so.

The joke behind the joke is that, though he was enrolled as a student, Ralph Johnson does not even exist.

In reality, Woodward said the student in the mask that day was fellow graduate Gary Aber.

Ralph Johnson, it turns out, was a figment of Woodward's imagination back in middle school. Being ever the prankster — and perhaps accidentally — Woodward managed to create a scapegoat for much of the random mischievous behavior that always seemed to occur around Woodward during his years in school.

“I had a girlfriend who was a teacher's aide, and we actually enrolled Ralph Johnson in school,” he explained.

There was a class that would often have a substitute teacher, Woodward said, and he would sometimes show up and make funny noises or disruptions when the teacher's back was turned, then leave the class.

When the teacher would ask who that guy was, who would get the blame?

Woodward said students would respond, “Ralph Johnson.”

Of course, puzzled teachers never managed to locate the unruly teen (to impose punishment), since he wasn't real, Woodward said.

It was the best-kept, class-wide joke, he said.

“Even the straight kids didn't say anything to ruin the fun,” he said.

So, forty years later, the joke still remains alive and well — and the silliness continues.

Ralph Johnson sightings — via video snippets on Facebook — have been centered around local haunts that are burned into the memories of Shawnee's Class of '78. Though there have been many changes to the community, many of the longtime restaurants, businesses and cruising routes are still around.

As entertaining as the antics have been, the monumental effort to coerce peers into attending a reunion could just be an excuse for the old buddies to relive younger, wilder days.

“It's fun to see a bunch of 58-year-olds running around acting like teenagers again,” Woodward said.

He said out of the class of 300 at least half of its peers have made commitments to come to the weekend event.

Videos

In probably one of the longest standing inside jokes around, several members of the 1978 Shawnee High School (SHS) wolf pack played up local sightings of fellow graduate Ralph Johnson while running a series of videos to encourage peers to attend this weekend's reunion.

A group of local grads has helped Woodward make many videos that were shared on social media over the summer.

The team is a natural when it comes to filming; most videos are accomplished in just one take, Woodward said.

Some of the video shenanigans include Ralph Johnson — sporting monkey mask and cowboy hat — along with his classmates at least 20 locations; some were:

• Handing out bananas at Brown Derby

• Executing a spontaneous Chinese Fire Drill at Kickapoo and Independence

• Target practice at BDC Gun Range

• Eating Monkey Tail pie at Hamburger King

• Getting a senior discount on supplies at Richard's Drug

• Being fitted for a zebra jacket at Shepherd's Mens Wear

• A visit to Fairview Cemetery

• Buying snacks at the Hornbeck Theater before the premiere of Animal House

On Facebook

Woodward has spent months interacting with classmates in a closed group page on Facebook.

He said the social media effort was to keep in touch with his fellow graduates, though residents with ties to Shawnee were allowed to join in.

Woodward kept a rigorous agenda on the site. Every day, games filled with opportunities to reminisce were shared, as well as regular videos featuring Johnson and friends.