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Remember When: 1959

by Rick Blane

The following article appeared in the Summer, 2003 Foundation News, Vol. 15, No. 3

I felt a chill that dark Saturday night when we said goodbye. I looked in her eyes and said nothing, but both Linda and I knew that Monday we wouldn’t be together. We’d been going steady for a long time—almost three months. How could life be so cruel as to separate us as we began our senior year in high school?

Looking back, the answer was simple: my senior year was at SRHS and Linda transferred to Montgomery High. Until the fall of 1958, SRHS was the only public high school n Santa Rosa. But it was my senior year when Montgomery opened, and many of my old friends (including Linda) transferred to the new school. Maybe it wasn’t as dramatic as I thought. But it sure was different.

Linda said going to Montgomery and leaving her friends behind was like a family breaking up. Montgomery had no lawns, no landscaping, no student body officers and not even a school mascot. The student body would later in the school year decide on “Vikings.” At SRHS I sadly realized that some of my oldest friends were now attending a different school.

A lot of those friends wanted to stay at SRHS, but with the new attendance boundaries, they had no choice. There was one exception: do you remember the senior girls who wanted to stay at SRHS because Montgomery didn’t have agriculture classes? Announcing their silent and life-long interest in animal husbandry, they asked the administration if they could stay and enroll in agriculture classes. But it wasn’t easy: they first had to convince Dr. Mitchell Soso, the Assistant Superintendent of Schools. I guess they were successful because suddenly SRHS had a class called “Girls Agriculture.”

Their field classes in the spring (conducted by a student teacher from UC Davis) were scholarly jaunts into the farmland, especially the one where everyone ended up in a swimming pool.

I didn’t think the girls were serious, but the Echo confirmed their sincerity by showing them with a sheep, a horse and a cow. Ironically enough the 1959 Girls Agriculture class opened the door for continued integration of the agriculture program.

Even though we attended different high schools, Linda and I continued to do things together as did the rest of the two student bodies. The Santa Rosan announced the welcoming dance was a joint affair, attended by more than 600 students from both SRHS and Montgomery. The newspaper even ran a column entitled “Cross Town Comments” that kept us up to date on events at Montgomery. The gossip column was quick to point out that certain couples were still dating even though they attended different high schools. (Linda and I were never mentioned, however.)

Maybe the biggest rivalry we had in 1959 was which school would sit on the “home” side of Bailey Field for the very first Santa Rosa-Montgomery football game. Who would be the “visitors?” Well, weren’t we here first? Shouldn’t SRHS be the “home” team? Everyone got involved: the principals, the student body leaders, class presidents, etc. I don’t know who made the final decision, but SRHS students ended up on the visitors’ side at the first Big Game. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Montgomery song leaders knocked down our song leaders at half time as they exchanged sides. So much for sportsmanship. Our football team responded in kind, defeating Montgomery, 27-6.

There were other changes at SRHS: Jack O’Sullivan became vice-principal, Bob Bagley took over as football coach, John Bamesberger became Montgomery’s track coach. 1959 was the first year of George Vine’s career as basketball coach. Al though the Speech Club dropped out of sight (not enough members), it was the first year of the Pantherettes, a 16-member girls drill team.

It was also the first year that SRHS had a foreign exchange student: Harold Overagg (he lived with the Ziebers). Needless to say, 1959 was the first year for the car caravan prior to the Big Game.

Even though the Santa Rosan said, “sure, we all miss our friends . . .” student life at SRHS was about the same. The gossip column told us who was seen with whom, we attended competition rallies, signed up for driver’s training, enjoyed Mr. Hodder and waited for the 2:40 bell.

I no longer took Linda to school. I took three other girls instead. It seemed like all the senior girls piled into someone’s car every morning to get to school. Across town, Linda drove her mother’s Ford Anglia to school, but it was cramped when she wore those crinoline skirt things. The night before, she’d soak the crinoline in starch and hang it out to dry. I guess she liked the final result, but sitting down became a major event. She also wore those fashionable straight wool skirts and, of course, she rolled socks down just so, to a point above the ankle. The guys wore Levis and pegged pants—some were pegged so tight that you wondered how they got them on. The White House had them on sale: two pair for $7.50. Do you remember white buck shoes?

There were a lot of westerns on TV in 1959—Wagon train, Gunsmoke, Broken Arrow, Wyatt Earp, and Have Gun, Will Travel. Our televisions were black and white and if we had a good antenna, we didn’t have “shadows.” Remember?

Linda liked Lawrence Welk, Bob Cummings and Roller Derby. The Friday night fights, sponsored by Gillette Blue Blades came on at 7:00 o’clock. But my favorite was Peter Gunn—the epitome of Ivy League—and what can I say about Lola Albright?

After football games we’d go to the Canteen on Third Street (above the telephone company), or someone would have a party. We always had lots of parties. Linda and I used to dance to “Venus,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” The Kingston Trio had four separate albums on the Top Ten.

Highway 101 was not elevated between Barham and Steele Lane in 1959. Before I’d go out on a date, a service station attendant would wash my windshield as he filled my gas tank for less than $3.00. Santa Rosa’s population was 37, 200. At the intersection of Hoen and Yulupa, Hugh Codding wanted to build another subdivision—he would later call it Mayette Village.

1959 witnessed the separation of Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, the introduction of direct distance dialing and Bert Parks crowned Mary Ann Mobley as Miss America. Gigi won the Academy Award for Best Picture. President Eisenhower said the U.S. should defend Quemoy and Matsu while Senator Bill Knowland and Attorney General Pat Brown rand for governor of California.

As our senior year came to a close, it was apparent that students from both high schools had maintained friendships even though they’d been split up. In fact, the school year culminated in a combined junior-senior prom at the Vets’ Memorial. That was probably the first—and last—time that SRHS ever had a joint prom with another school. Linda and I went to the prom together, and she came to my graduation. After graduation the senior cruise had been canceled (anybody remember why?), but the senior class attended a special midnight showing of High Society at the Cal Theater. It was a memorable end to my senior year: as Grace Kelly and Bing Crosby sang “True Love,” I fell asleep on Linda’s shoulder.

1959 was a memorable year for all of us, the year of the big split up. Looking back, I’m glad we kept our friendships. It was truly a unique year. What happened to Linda? Well, we went to different colleges, so it was hard to stay together. Today, she’s married, raised four kids and teaches elementary school in Ponca City, Oklahoma. Not bad for a Montgomery grad.

Class of 1959 Yearbook

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