SPHS class of ’61 remembers during reunion
First published in the October 29 print issue of South Pasadena Review.
The happy days were here again.
That’s the feeling I had last Friday when I joined some 30 1961 South Pasadena High School graduates, along with 14 of their spouses, for the start of their reunion reunion.
High school friends – who came from as far away as Bethesda, Maryland – were having so much fun at Mamma’s Brick Oven Pizza and Pasta that many people missed the return game – something they never would have done at high school. (And missed a game they did: The Tigers hit a winning touchdown against rival San Marino with a minute to spare.)
Funny how South Pasadena is tagged with the names of TV shows. People refer to South Pas as “Mayberry” – the fictional “Andy Griffith Show” site. I interviewed about half a dozen people and many of them talked about the series “Happy Days” – the show starring Fonz and Richie Cunningham – or the movie “American Graffiti” – the blockbuster movie. by George Lucas on life in a city in the early 1960s, where students were browsing, dating, and trying to figure out what was to come in their future.
“’Happy Days’ was the closest you could compare it to,” said Al Kinser, who now lives in Claremont. “It was relaxed. The people were nice. The teachers cared about education and our personalities. Everyone was friends. They were happy and carefree days.
“The biggest thing some people did wrong,” he admitted, “maybe was sneaking a few beers on a Saturday night.”
I heard that boys wear white bucks and girls have to wear certain colorful skirts. Kinser remembers that when you loved a girl, you could give her a Saint Christopher medal. Ron Powers, now of Folsom, was seated with his wife, who smiled as her husband described people in his class dressed as if they were in “American Graffiti.”
For SPHS students at the time, there were double films at the Rialto Theater on Fair Oaks Avenue and at the Hastings Ranch Drive-In. You can drive your Chevrolet on Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena or go to Henry’s Drive-In, Bob’s Big Boy, or Frosty’s, where McDonald’s is now located in South Pasadena.
Ah, memories. Many of these memorabilia are 60 years old and those collected were around 78 years old.
“My high school years were the highlight of my life,” said Halle (Ellison) Kistenmacher, now at Clayton. “This reunion brings me back to where I was for a short time. Things were very different today. I found friends my age and we played outside. The Plunge (an outdoor slide) was a big deal.
“When I was in high school, there was shopping at the Alhambra, football matches, drive-ins,” she added. “We went out together – mostly in groups. I had a boyfriend with a car so I didn’t need to have one. Girls had to wear blue or white skirts. Girls never dreamed of wearing pants back then.
Dolores Hoegeman Brown attended school in South Pasadena from elementary to grade 12.
“Things looked so easy compared to today,” said Brown of Eagle Rock, who has served on the organizing committees for most of the meetings, which usually take place every five years. “I have friends today that I made in kindergarten.”
Cars were important among some of the guys.
“The 1955-60 Chevrolets were big,” Brown recalls. “Having your own car – and having a muscle car – was really something special. But it didn’t matter what you had, as long as you had wheels.
He still remembers when the son of a local car dealership drove a Chevy 409 around town. But in their youth, South Pas elders remembered that they often walked or cycled to elementary and secondary school.
“It was so ideal. The children played outside with friendly children. There was no fear of being attacked, ”said Kinser, a former president of the junior class, who then flew for the US Air Force in Vietnam. “You could stay outside until dark. You could go anywhere in the neighborhood and there were lights everywhere. On Halloween, there was no danger of having something in your candy. The worst thing I ever had was someone put a melting ice cube in my bag of candy.
But not everyone had happy memories of those days. Ted Rhodes, who grew up to be a tax accountant after he sailed around the world in his boat, recalled that while SPHS was sympathetic, he was definitely not in the “crowd”. His mother and father divorced when he was 9 and his mother died when he was 12.
“It certainly wasn’t a ‘Leave It to Beaver’ life back then,” Rhodes said, recalling the popular 1950s series. “Most people had nuclear families and I didn’t, which could. explain why I felt a little unsuitable.
“But,” he added, “the rest of my life has been a charm.”
Do you remember “Happy Days”? You didn’t see a lot of racial diversity in this crowd, and there wasn’t much in the class of 1961.
Powers said there were 243 people in the class of 1961 and Felix Gutiérrez, one of the organizers of this year’s event, recalls that there were three Latino students, three Asians and no black in the classroom. graduating class. Gutiérrez could literally feel the difference between him and the other students.
“It was very friendly and very white,” said Gutiérrez. “It was all part of the package. “
He encountered some physical “brutality” and hurtful comments.
“It’s just part of life. Each day you just moved on, ”said Gutiérrez.
And move on, he did. Gutiérrez grew up to be senior vice president of the Freedom Forum, which works to promote First Amendment rights for all, and also dean of the University of Southern California.
“My teenage years in South Pasadena taught me a lot about whites and white society,” Gutiérrez said. “It prepared me for a life in which I was the first or the only Latin American or non-white person in all the jobs I had after college. It also inspired me to advocate for the equality of members of all marginalized groups.
“It was the ‘Happy Days’, some days happier than others,” he added. “Either way, I made some friends who are still friends today.”
Gutiérrez, who is returning to South Pasadena, and his old comrades were still eating pizza and telling stories when I left them. Some stories probably weren’t told.
But everyone seemed to be having fun and staying connected by their experiences growing up in South Pasadena and graduating from the Class of 1961.