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Remember When: 1976

by Rick Blane

We graduated the year SRHS was 100 years old, so you could say that does make 1976 a special class. High school education began in Santa Rosa in 1875 when 10 students entered the John C. Fremont School on Fourth Street and took up study on the second floor. All 10 students graduated three years later from the only high school in town.

In 1976, 490 of us marched into Bailey Field for commencement, and so did the graduating seniors at the tow other high schools. Public education in the U.S. was 300 years old when we began our last year, and the largest senior class would graduate that spring, about 3.1 million of us.

The nation’s bicentennial anniversary was big new that year. American flags and other patriotic art seemed to pop up everywhere—on buildings, on billboards, on water towers, on the sides of buildings, and even on automobiles. I remember Mr. Von der Porten talked it up quite a bit, and I guess a 200th birthday was a remarkable event.

A first-class stamp cost 13 cents in 1976. Solar energy was called the “wave of the future.” President Ford made an appearance up at the Geysers in support of alternative energy sources. The shortage of gasoline two years earlier was still a strong memory, so the auto manufacturers came out with high mileage cars like Mustang II, Maverick and Chevy Chevette. Although gas was 61 cents a gallon, the lines to fill up were note like they were. You could buy a used ‘74 Pinto Runabout for $2995 at Niles Buick. Or a sexier ‘75 Plymouth Duster for $4338 at Bishop-Hansel Ford. But few of us had that kind of money then. What did you pay for your last car?

More of us were encouraged to go to college, and although many of us made plans to do so we could get training at SRHS for jobs that didn’t require college. SRHS had lots of shop programs. Mr. Norris taught auto shop, Mr. Philipsen was in Metal shop, Mr. Diez was in wood shop (remember his boomerang project?) and the ag students learned welding and other skills. Girls could take clothing and learn other homemaking skills from Ms. Pannizzera or Ms. Carpenter. Does SRHS still offer those programs?

You could also enroll in work experience. That was a program in which you could earn graduation credits for working after school. You just turned in a time card. Talk about easy!

The Car Caravan happened in October just before the Big Game. Many clubs decorated trucks and entered them in the competition. I think teachers did the judging. We crammed those trucks full of students and drove them down Ridgway to Armory Drive to Steele Lane and back to campus. I bet you couldn’t load a flatbed that way today and drive around.

We beat Montgomery that weekend, and the football team placed second in the NBL. Do you remember how the Block S boys kept a 24-hour watch on the bell so that the Monty boys couldn’t try to steal it?

Was it the Montgomery game when Pandy stumbled and fell and lost his head? Pandy’s identity was always a secret, but everybody knew who he was that night.

Old teams left the NBL and new teams came in. The Napa and Vallejo schools went to new leagues, and we played Cardinal Newman and Rancho Cotate for the first time.

Title IX was changing sports that year. The girls could compete with the boys on “non-contact” teams. Mr. Shea, the football coach, also coached swimming that year. If you were on the swim team, you probably remember he didn’t seem to want the girls around. One girl earned a varsity letter in swimming. She was the first at SRHS to do so. What was her name? I’ve forgotten. Maybe she’ll write to the Foundation to tell me.

While some of the P.E. teachers and coaches didn’t want girls competing with the boys, other teachers were encouraging. I remember Mr. Brown and Mr. DeSoto talking to the girls about the opportunities in athletics.

Mr. DeSoto. “Mean Gene, the Grammar Machine,” we called him. But inside he was such a softie. If you got through his class, taking college English was a breeze. Same for science if you had Mr. Stone. We were fortunate, I think, to have so many good teachers who really cared for us.

Did Mr. Vine every call you “Goody-Two Shoes?” He did me. While his humor was biting, he loved being with us and was good for us. He was the senior class advisor. We students often taught his class. Ms. Waco was also a big help. She called the girls “women libbers” when she praised them and when she encouraged them to do away with double standards. If ever there was a “libber” at SRHS, it was she.

We could enroll next door at SRJC and take some classes there instead of at SRHS. If you did and if you cut classes on both campuses, you weren’t alone. The local newspaper said unexcused absences could costs the schools money, but the administration admitted cutting classes was “traditional.”

Did you ever miss class and “sprint to Bo’s” for breakfast? Lots of us did. The campus was open, so we could make choices about where to eat. You could walk across the street to Perry’s Deli or Farmers’ Market. You could walk down Mendocino to Roger’s Hamburgers or Taco Bell. If you had a car, you could make it to Eat & Run and get back in time for class. After football games, you could go to Denny’s and stay until late. Denny’s was open all night, wasn’t it?

Today a McDonald’s is across Mendocino where the railroad tracks used to be. In 1976 you could buy a McDonald’s burger for 20 cents. Where was the closest McDonald’s, anybody know? Probably in San Francisco, I think.

We went to the movies, usually the Star-Vue Drive-in, because if you knew the secret you could get in for free. That wasn’t easy at the Village Drive-in. We saw “Revenge of the Pink Panther,” “Jaws,” and “The Happy Hooker.” Did “The Exorcist” frighten you?

We went ice-skating at the Redwood Empire Ice Arena, and we played poker until really late. We tooled Fourth Street and parked up on Parker Hill or Grace Heights where the paved roads had just been built. On warm days we went to the river, to Healdsburg or to Hacienda. Did you ever go the beach at Palomar above Healdsburg, where the inflatable dam was? That was such fun!

On television we laughed at “Get Smart” and “All in the Family.” Some of us wondered about “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.” What was her problem?

We wore ski clothes to school. Why did we do that? “Mix and match” was a big style for the girls and so were pantsuits and coordinates. Girls could buy “pant coats” for $12.88 at the White House on 3rd Street. The dress code was changing, becoming less strict. Girls could wear pants and boys could wear t-shirts and their hair could grow long. Boys also wore bell-bottom Levi’s and tried to grow sideburns. Do you remember that massive beard Mr. Upson grew? His appearance frightened some younger students.

Do you remember Senior Character Day? Do you remember the “Brillo Soap Pad” that won a prize? That was fun too! I hear Senior Character Day doesn’t happen anymore and that the convention to elect student body officers doesn’t either. That’s too bad because I know we learned much about the electoral process and politics because of the convention.

The prom was fun. Did you go to the Villa for dinner? Did you ditch your date? I know two girls who did. They ran into their dates later. I wish I had seen that.

The Senior Picnic was at Morton’s Hot Springs near Kenwood. We rode buses to Disneyland for Grad Night. Those buses were sure quiet on the way back. We were all asleep. Charles Schulz of “Peanuts” gave us a graduation party. That was special.

It was a good year. I think we turned out well. Maybe we really were a “good” class.

Class of 1976 Yearbook

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