Editor’s note: The following was written by members of Vernon High School Class of 1955, which recently celebrated its 60th reunion.
Whenever classmate George Parchomchuk (retired RCMP) phones, we are reminded that this Mountie “always gets his man.” He wanted a 60-year high school class reunion and so, ignited by his enthusiasm, the planning began.
Seven near-octogenarian grads, all resembling that familiar “the ‘50s” teenage spirit of leadership, gathered in willingness and co-operation: Miyoko (Chiba) Croken, Richard Coomb, Shirley (Nistor) Ogasawara, Lydia (Price) Cumming, Helen (Sasges) Donovan, Joye (Sengotta) Raber and Jean (Ferguson) Wetherill.
With e-mails and addresses confirmed, invitations were then sent to all Grade 12 students who attended Vernon High School in 1955. While Helen and Lydia received responses, which were then forwarded to George in Saskatoon, Richard created large pictorial name tags with a weekend agenda attached to the reverse of each.
Two large reunions took place in 1981 and 1992, the latter being the last chance to visit the Vernon High School building (Fulton Secondary) in Polson Park before demolition. Our 1955 class held its first ever reunion (50th) in 2005, complete with two publications of Reconnections 2005, written and published by Helmut Fandrich of Abbotsford (a treasured keepsake with pictorial, biographical updates of each student since 1955). He included teachers, school events, quotes, newspaper articles, valedictorian address, and deceased students. His more than 20 publications can be found in the Greater Vernon Museum and Archives.
The decision to extend the event to three days was popular, as many did travel in from afar: Australia, Mexico, California, New York and all parts of Canada. Eliminating music and dancing suited everyone and encouraged people to converse, hear one another, and enjoy the presentations at the microphone.
Sept. 4 was the initial gathering at The Pantry restaurant for registration and appetizers, with time for mixing and greeting.
Sept. 5 previewed the banquet, set up in the Schubert Centre Emerald Room. Round tables held gigantic martini glass vases with floating candles in blue shimmering water. The attendees were greeted by Helen and Miyoko, giving out booklets of Vernon attractions and a fun “remember when” quiz page. Betty June (Sherba) Gair brought cards to be signed by classmates with wishes for good health to some who were not able to attend, as well as large fabric tote bags for everyone. Classmate Harry Costerton and Miyoko’s cousin Janice Ogata kept busy taking candid pictures as the evening went on.
Historical highlights of the reunion were more than 40 creative displays around the room, and on easels provided by Richard through the Vernon Community Arts Centre. Shirley (Nistor) Ogasawara and Joye (Sengotta) Raber devoted months to collecting photos and memorabilia from Vernon businesses and other sources, showing local buildings, homes, schools, early years, teachers, pupils and yearbooks. The walls and easels were a collective kaleidoscope of history, and resembled a gigantic wraparound scrapbook, placed on stunning blue backgrounds.
The Vernon public dropped by all afternoon to view the remarkable displays, with which Joye, Miyoko, Janice and Jean assisted, and transport done by Joye’s husband Howard and Shirley’s son Dwayne. A lovely served dinner was followed by George calling speakers up to the mike, segueing with humourous and nostalgic remarks. A former favourite classmate, 1955 valedictorian Jerry Jellison, sent his address from Calgary. It captured us in a special sentimental listening silence, remembering a younger Jerry in better health.
The reunion was happily added to with several classmates joining the festivities after all, with their reason being consistent: “George phoned!”
Sunday saw the conclusion of the reunion at O’Keefe Ranch with a brunch and open mike at the Cattlemen’s Club restaurant. The fine Okanagan weather added further enjoyment to an afternoon visit at the BX Press Cidery and Orchard for a tour and tasting, compliments of classmates John and Walter Dobernigg, and their families, who now manage the business.
We had 80 people celebrating our 60 years: some a portion of the 123 grads and other VHS classmates, and others guests and spouses. To date, 58 classmates have passed away (a special scroll held their names on display). Asking if all this effort for the reunion was worth it, the response echoed over and over was: “when George phones, you know it will be worth it.”
This reunion held a sincere memory: a strength of welcome, somewhat different to 2005, which was a slightly shy meeting for many, coming back together after 50 years. Now, only 10 years later, familiarity was felt; the wrinkles and hair shades less jarring. The lapse of time was brief, and here we were, together again. It was a warm homecoming, to reconnect once more. Farewell words on Sunday were fitting: “Please drive home with care and attention, and look in the rearview mirror often; George is watching!”
The planning team was tops! Extra sincere thanks with great appreciation goes to valued grad friends: George, Helen and Shirley. Under Helen’s financial wizardry, donations have been possible to the Vernon Arts Centre, the First Baptist Church, the Vernon Museum, the Schubert Centre, the Pantry Restaurant, and O’Keefe Ranch. A very special VHS thanks to Tom Burgess, Dale Flowers and Jack Gareb. We were appreciative and proud of your interest and high standards, which added to the enjoyment of the event.
n First class in the new Junior High School (by McDonald Park, the school would later become W.L. Seaton Junior Secondary). Most of the staff under George Falconer and Bill Seaton Sr. were quite young and dedicated, but all taught well and inspired this small inaugural Grade 7 to 9 group, before entering VHS (Grades 10 to 13). We were better equipped than previous 15-year-olds, attending VHS, amidst the crowded Grade 6 classes, on “shift system hours.” We had the benefits of teachers who led extra-curricular activities all year, instilling competition and leadership.
n We were the largest grad class to date (few drop-outs); having one student with the highest IQ ever recorded at VHS up to that time.
n We had the largest number of students who have passed away to date.
n Our year had more students continue their education, to achieve academic degrees (including doctorates) in engineering, sciences, nursing, health/medicine, teaching and theology.
n One classmate and his wife are proud to have 12 children (eight of them are university graduates).
n Another student holds 14 patents, a doctorate and three degrees (he, his wife, and four children have achieved 14 degrees). This exceptional classmate revolutionized the tree-seed collecting industry, with technology-inventions.
n A first-time reunion classmate helped Bell Telephone develop the first touch-tone phone.
n During our 50th reunion, Jerry Jellison presented a poem, Facing Us, on video, from his wheelchair, in which he named most of the students and their achievements from that class of ’55.