Santa Rosa High School class of 1961 excited for 50th reunion
By NINA LARAMORE / Santa Rosa Correspondent
In 1961, Jim Nelson was president of the Santa Rosa High School senior class, and he spoke at graduation. This Saturday
night, at their 50th reunion, he will speak to more than 80 of his graduating class returning for the reunion.
To put the last 50 years in context of the class personality, which he believes was one of “ adhesiveness and high spirits,” he is going to start by reminding them of what happened historically that year that he believes affected the class: John F. Kennedy’s election, the cold war and Russian Missile crisis, the Cuban Bay of Pigs, Viet Nam, Astronaut Alan Shepard and the manned space program, “Will you Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles and the movie the “Parent Trap.”
“Life got busy and I missed a couple of reunions but it never felt like I was disconnected,” Nelson said. “It feels like those high school years and the people from them are still close. In reflecting back in preparing for the reunion, I realize it was one of the best times in my life. “I remember everyone sticking together. No one put anyone else down. I was proud to be the class president. I accomplished things that I wanted to do.”
Now living in El Dorado Hills, Nelson worked for Lockheed Martin Corporation for nearly 40 years before retiring as senior manager in May 1998. Voted “Most Talented” for his participation in high school theatrics, the a capella group and choir, Nelson says he had an exciting career in the world of satellite space.
Some of the graduates who scattered throughout California and the U.S. and are planning to return for this landmark reunion include Peter and Jane Schmidt, who live in Florida but have a vacation home in Cazadero and author Charles Johnson of Rockville, Md.
Others, including Janice Myer (née Horn) stayed in Santa Rosa to work and raise families.
Then there are those, like Ivan McCord, who spent years in Hawaii with Caterpillar Tractor Company, and Class Secretary Ann Porrino, (née Hutchinson) who lived and worked in the Greater Bay Area as a physical therapist, who have returned in retirement to Santa Rosa.
It is Porrino, who remembers high school as a carefree time of song leading, rallies, attending football and basketball games, car caravans and dances that most classmates credit with keeping the class in touch and planning the reunions. She hasn’t stopped cheering the school either. She heads the One Thousand Panthers fundraising campaign she initiated and sits on the board for the Santa Rosa High School Foundation.
“When we graduated Santa Rosa was growing but was still quite tranquil,” Porrino said. “Our class had a certain kind of energy and Santa Rosa was a phenomenal place.”
When thinking of then and now, Porrino laughs at how risqué they were. The new band teacher, Mr. Norman “who we all thought was so handsome” had given permission for them to hem their cheer uniforms to just above the knee.
“We had to go to the Dean of Girls office in our uniforms and kneel on the floor,” Porrino said. “If the hem didn’t touch the floor while we were kneeling we had to lengthen the skirt until it did.”
Returning from the furthest away are Peter Schmidt and Jane Schmidt (née Hamilton, who are coming directly from Africa, where his work as a Professor of Archeology and African Studies with the University of Florida has frequently taken them.
Although they served together as the California High School Conventions state president and state secretary while in the same graduation class, it was not until they both ended up at Stanford studying anthropology that they began dating and eventually married.
In 1967, on the first of multiple trips, the Schmidts went overland by hitchhiking and tramp steamer from Europe through Egypt, into the Sudan to Uganda.
Jane Schmidt became a teacher both in Africa and the U.S. and continued researching the culture and archeology of the continent.
Peter Schmidt credits his high school education with laying the foundation and background of his work, which has been featured in “Science,” “Time” a PBS film “The Tree of Iron,” and a book, “Archeology of Ancient Eritea.”
He credits Mr. Elmore and other high school teachers with setting the model for his own teaching career.
“We were blessed to have such dedicated teachers, people who knew the value of an education,” Peter Schmidt said.