Alameda in history: A reunion for the ages

Alameda in history: A reunion for the ages

Jim Pruitt and Kate DeWein

Photos by Jim Pruitt and from the Acorn yearbook.

One of William Shakespeare’s sonnets begins:

“Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.”

This sonnet speaks of the relentless passage of time. Some 400 years later, the graduating class of Alameda High School of 1964 chose that stanza to grace their yearbook.

These were the first of the Baby Boomers, most of them born in 1946. Their senior year was the year the United States surgeon general announced that cigarettes can cause lung cancer and also, the year of the Kennedy assassination. They graduated the same year as former President Bill Clinton did from an Arkansas high school and his successor, George W. Bush, from a high school in Texas.

According to the school yearbook – then, as now, called the Acorn – 499 students graduated that year. That graduating class held its 50th reunion this past Saturday night at the Oakland Yacht Club in Alameda.

The people from the Alameda High School Class of 1964 who have survived the last half-century and who chose to come to the 50th reunion are successful and optimistic individuals. They have vivid recollections of Alameda in the early 1960s and honor those memories and each other. According to Ash Jones, a popular teacher, they were good kids.

One of the students, Judie Nelson, told us that she believes the students of her high school days were not in a lot of trouble. At worst they would “teepee someone's house or try to sneak off and buy some beer on Webster Street.”

We caught up with these graduates at the yacht club and wanted to know: What do you remember about Alameda from the early 1960s? What teachers or administrators do you remember from Alameda High School? What are some of the most important things that have happened in your life since 1964? If you could, what would you tell high school students of today?

More broadly, we wanted to know what Shakespeare’s insight into the passage of time meant to them. The people we met understand William Shakespeare’s vision of the passing of time captured in their Acorn. But if we were to choose an adage for them today it would be from William Faulkner: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Here are some of their stories, and what the high school yearbook said about them a half century ago.

Drake Grega: The yearbook reads that “Drake wants to make life easy for himself." Well, if he did, he accomplished that through hard work: Grega embarked on a career as a financial advisor. Grega, a competitive swimmer in high school and college, relates a life lesson he received when he was about 22 from an older man, who was probably born about 1900: "Take it from a dude who blew it, if you doubt it, do it." Grega retired, but has gone back to work. He currently works with much younger people and laughingly recounts that he is older than their parents.

Faith Echtermeyer: The Acorn reports that “Faith will never be replaced in most people's minds." Echtermeyer works in commercial photography, although she took no photography classes at Alameda High School. She credits the school’s teachers with steering her towards college. We Googled her after the reunion; her photographs are stunning. Some can be viewed at http://www.faithechtermeyer.com. Like many in her generation, Echtermeyer participated in the 50-mile hikes that President Kennedy had advocated. She walked to Union City and back with classmate Charles Schwab. Echtermeyer recalls the November day her senior year when the public address system come on shortly before lunch. Without introduction from a school administrator, the radio news was broadcast to the students that President Kennedy has been shot. She remembered being shocked and wondering how something like that could happen here.

Hank Saroyan was Alameda High School’s student body president 50 years ago and before that, Henry Haight Elementary School student body president. The yearbook predicts that "Hank will go to the University of California and study medicine." Saroyan did attend UC Berkeley, but he became a writer/producer/director in movies and animation. Saroyan has won over 100 awards for excellence in children's and family programming, including Emmys for Jim Henson's "Muppet Babies" and more. He comes from a prominent California family: His uncle, William Saroyan (1908-1981), was one of the prominent American writers of the mid-20th century, in the same league as John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway. Saroyan told us that a movie based on his uncle’s book, The Human Comedy, will be released in 2015. We asked Saroyan if he thought everything went to hell in the 1960s and ‘70s; he responded that he saw that time as a "great opportunity to find out there was a hell and to do something about it.”

Kathie Woulfe is in the fields of government and community relations in Alameda. She works for the Alameda Council of the Boy Scouts, is a director of the Chamber of Commerce and is the manager of Mayor Marie Gilmore’s re-election campaign. The 1964 yearbook does not hint at any of this, saying only that “Her interests lie at Santa Rosa Junior College.” Woulfe organized the reunion with Jacque Glidewell Reynolds, Donna Butler Moore and Bill Moore.

Gayle Nissen: The yearbook says that "Gail's ambition is to join those in the teaching profession.” And indeed, Nissen was a teacher for 44 years. She wishes that today's students were not as hooked into electronics and that they would forge more long-lasting relationships. She recalled her days as a young person attending the Episcopal church at Grand Street and Santa Clara Avenue. An arsonist burned down that church in the early 1960s, and hwen she was caught, Nissen recognized the woman as someone she’d seen in the old library. The church recently observed the 50-year anniversary of the “new” building.

Rich Sherratt: The Acorn notes that "Pound for pound, Rich is the world's greatest athlete." When we showed him this on Saturday night, Sherratt, who is a businessman and who also served on the Alameda City Council from 1975-1983, laughed and said, “I must not have weighed much.” Sherratt was actually a very good athlete: He played on the league championship baseball team in 1964. All nine Alameda High School starters that year later played college and/or professional baseball. Gary Nelson, an optometrist with an office on Santa Clara Avenue, was part of that team; Rich McNamara, who pitched the championship game at Lincoln Park on May 26, 1964, was present Saturday night.

Dann Hall: The yearbook reads: “Dan, who could be another Chess master, desires to be an engineer.” He is one. One son is a combat veteran about to retire from the Marines; he also has 12 grandchildren. But he lost his wife, Pat French, to cancer over 20 years ago. She was also a member of the Class of 1964. As a high school senior, French was elected yell leader or, what we would call head cheerleader today. She was on the mind of more than one person Saturday night. Hall has not remarried.

Like other young people in 1964 who were coming into adulthood, this class experienced mortality and thoughts of mortality. Ken Duering was the senior class president in 1964 and was also elected class “jester.” The Acorn reported that "Ken likes to read but is uncertain about his future." Duering was the first member of the Class of 1964 to die, killed in an automobile crash later that year. In contrast to his classmates of that time who are about to leave their 60s, Duering is forever young.

We asked several men present about the Vietnam War and the draft. Most had stories about their service, or about college deferments, high draft numbers in the lottery and early marriage. One said that his first “high school reunion” was six months after graduation at a pre-induction physical.

Ash Jones, 82, was a favorite teacher. His recollection of 1964 was that it became for him a time to become an activist. On Saturday night, he told the group that “you, more than any other class, decided to create a society that would stay together." As a teacher, he would put up these four messages for the students to ponder:

• Be kind.
• Be happy
• Be generous
• Be yourself

He told us that the students always “got it.”

About the Authors

Jim Pruitt lives in Alameda and can be reached at njamespruitt@gmail.com. Pruitt holds a bachelor of arts in history from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master of labor relations from Michigan State University. He is the vice president of labor relations for the Permanente Federation of Kaiser Permanente and a substitute teacher in Alameda. He attended Haight School from 1957-64.

Kate DeWein lives in Portland, Oregon and can be reached at Kate.DeWein@gmail.com. DeWein holds a bachelor of arts in political science and a master of education from the University of Oregon. She is a public school teacher in Vancouver, Washington.

Comments

Submitted by Don Carmody (not verified) on Fri, Aug 8, 2014

Aloha, Sawasdeeka, and Mabuhay from Thailand!!!

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