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Remember When: 1944

by Rick Blane

The following article appeared in Foundation News in Winter, 1998 Vol. 9 No. 4

One hundred sixty-five of us graduated in the auditorium on June 15, 1944, nine days after D-Day. It was a small class as some of the boys had left school to go to work or enlist in the armed forces. Santa Rosa’s population was only about 13,000. The city limits included Grosse Avenue, Bennett Avenue (by the fairgrounds), a boundary line just north of the junior college and probably the railroad tracks.

Our lives centered around SRHS. We had a great faculty: Mitch Soso, Glen Guymon, Ruth Godkin, Lloyd Wasmuth, Clair Elmore, Wes Jamison, Jim Underhill and Orb Fortier, just to name a few. Many of those teachers remained at SRHS for years and years.

The “War Effort” was everywhere at SRHS. We had war stamp sales between the classes. The freshmen won the clothing drive when they collected 1,513 pounds of clothing. The seniors collected 40 tons of scrap paper. And do you remember that our FFA chapter sold $32,000 of war bonds, the third largest amount in California? The girls sold homemade pies, cakes and salads at the Pershing Market on Fourth Street with the proceeds going to the Victory Corps. Who remembers what the Victory Corps was?

The advertisements in Life magazine (10 cents a copy) featured both men and women working at “essential war jobs.” We were urged to “Back the attack-buy war bonds.” We were told to save, not to spend and to make things last longer. The auto industry hadn’t built a new car in years. If you could afford to buy a used car, you asked whether the tires were “pre-war” or not because rubber was rationed. And is you had a car, one of the best parking places was in Proctor Heights, by the old McDonald Water Works.

We were at war, a war that only supposed to last six months. Some of our parents were block wardens. We experienced “blackout” days when you had to cover your windows with those oily, smelly blackout curtains, and we wondered why some of the businesses did have to comply with the blackout laws.

In the summer, we worked in the apples, the prunes and the hops. Some of us pulled weeds at Waldo Rohnert’s seed farm down by Cotati. We went swimming at the swim tank on King Street for 20 cents. A minimum wage was 40 cents an hour, not that we could spend a lot; butter, meat, sugar, shoes, tires and gasoline were rationed. Even though gas was only 19 cents a gallon, you had to have ration stamps to buy it. If you didn’t have gas stamps, maybe you’d stand on the senior steps and hope that someone would have a “A” or “B” stamp to sell.

So what did we do? We went to a lot of the SRHS activities, we went to each other’s homes and visited, and we listened to the radio. Jacky Benny, Fred Allen and One Man’s Family (set in San Francisco) were some of our favorites. It was the big band era. We liked “String of Pearls,” “In the Mood,” “As Time Goes By,” and “Sentimental Journey.” SRHS dances cost only 35 c3nts for a single admission and 50 cents for a couple. Some of the senior girls also went dancing at the Melody Bowl, maybe to meet some of the soldiers from the army airfield south of town.

School spirit was high. It seemed like the entire student body would show up at athletic events. The Block S was strong, and the Class of 1944 had seven boys wearing white Block S sweaters. I remember that school buses couldn’t take us to football games and other athletic events. They said that if the school used the buses for anything other than taking kids to school, the buses would not be eligible for new tires. So we didn’t go to many “away” games. More school spirit: the seniors were supposed to wear senior sweaters every Thursday. Whatever happened to senior sweaters?

We watched movies at the Tower, Roxy and California theaters. The Tower sometimes had special movies for students who had sold war bonds. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one to roll marbles and ball bearings down the sloping floor at the California. I just got caught more often.

We threatened to strike in our sophomore year. The Press Democrat reported that our journalism teacher “. . . attractive young Mary Frances McKinney . . .” was told her contract would not be renewed. Why? Get this! The board of education had a policy of not hiring women teachers who were married! When she filled out her job application, she failed to say that she was married to a Navy ensign stationed at Pearl Harbor. So her contract wasn’t going to be renewed. We protested. We had noon time mass meetings, and a student committee complained to the board of education. We wore badges that said “McKinney or Bust.” We were ready to go on strike. But suddenly Miss McKinney withdrew her request to teach another year, and she left SRHS. I wonder whatever happened to her?

But not everything was rosy. I remember the day, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when school officials went from classroom to classroom, telling the Japanese students to go to the principal’s office. We never saw them again. I wonder where they are today?

But we were also thinking about what would happen after the war. I remember reading in the Press Democrat that there was talk of ” . . . a new state highway” coming through Santa Rosa, but that “several problems had arisen concerning its location.” Remember? This was 1944.

When I graduated, we didn’t have television, video tapes, ATMs, credit cards, freeways, jet aircraft, washers and dryers, dishwashers, calculators, computers, foreign cars, or pagers. Some of us didn’t even have a telephone. That’s just how it was. The United States was at war.

But even though we didn’t have a lot of today’s modern conveniences, we really didn’t need them. We trusted each other. We locked our doors only when the carnival came to town. We didn’t need to be entertained. We stood together. We were friendly, enthusiastic, industrious, moral, fairly obedient, and we were patriotic—and proud of it.

And now, years later, we still haven’t moved away. One hundred and five members attended our 50th year reunion. We are one of the largest classes within the SRHS Foundation. Sure, we were at war in 1944. But in spite of that, were fortunate to gain values and friendships that we’ve maintained all these years. We’re proud of ourselves. We graduated from Santa Rosa High School. Life has been good for us. What more can we ask?

Class of 1944 Yeabook

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