Members of Class of 1961 meet in Otis Orchards and talk about their days at then-new high school
When this year’s seniors at East Valley High School turn out in their caps and gowns to receive their diplomas, it will mark the 50th time the school has produced a graduating class.
In 1961, 33 bright-eyed seniors were the first to graduate from the school, ready to take on the world and start their lives.
Most of them came from the old Otis Orchards High School, a building that stood near what is now the Otis Orchards Library just east of Harvard Road and Wellesley Avenue. Two blue spruce trees, which once stood guard at the front doors of the high school, still stand on the property.
“We were the first with the East Valley name,” said Pat (Maurer) Orebaugh, one of the members of that first class. The first East Valley students attended class at Otis Orchards High. The new building was under construction at the corner of Wellesley and Sullivan Road in Trentwood.
Orebaugh said the students were able to choose the school mascot – the Knights. They also chose the school colors, green and white. They wanted to name the school “Ponderosa High School” but were overruled by a member of the school board, with the argument that there weren’t any ponderosa trees in the area.
The senior class was still relatively small. When Otis Orchards and Trent school districts consolidated to become East Valley, some of the seniors in the new district chose to stay at their old school – the majority at West Valley – for their senior year. Georgia “Gerri” (Resch) Bohn said there were around 120 students in the freshman class.
Judi (Curtis) Shelley, another member of that first class, said there were about 12 students in her class that attended all 12 years of school together. She recently took a look at the group picture of the class, taken on graduation day.
“There’s nobody in this picture that I don’t recognize,” she said.
Shelley, Bohn and Orebaugh gathered recently, along with their student body president Jan (Wendler) Batt, to recall their days at East Valley.
Batt said she remembers that at Christmas, one of the teachers would pull a piano into a common area and everyone would sing Christmas carols.
“I loved it,” she said.
Dennis Scheminske, another member of the class, sent some of his memories of EV to Orebaugh via e-mail. He is now working as a missionary in Guatemala.
“I remember how, when Jan Wendler, Patty M. and I were running for school offices, we campaigned against freshman hazing and really glad-handed all the incoming freshman … because they outnumbered our class nearly three to one,” he wrote. “And then I remember hearing about a bunch of rowdies who, after graduation I believe it was, ventured out with paint and brushes, making the EV mark on Central Valley property and other locations. The names of the members of that outfit remain a secret even to this day.”
Scheminske, it turns out, was a bit of a prankster back then.
“Denny put fake vomit outside Mr. Lee’s (the principal) office,” Orebaugh said.
Ken Courchaine, another grad, wrote, “During our senior year in football, we never won a game. But everything was in good fun. There were no drugs and we didn’t even drink.
“We had our basketball games at Trent Elementary because the gym was larger than the one at Otis Orchards. … I remember the senior prom at the Francis Lester Hotel (Patsy Clark’s), going to boys’ state in Tacoma and sadness when they tore the old building down.”
To celebrate the milestone class, East Valley has plans for 2010 graduates.
John Savage, an assistant principal at the school, said each graduate will receive a commemorative pen. The senior class is creating a mural in one of the hallways as a monument to the school’s history.
Principal Jeff Miller prepared a history of the school which will be included with the graduation ceremony programs.
In it, he points out that the school has just four principals in its history – Raymond Lee, who was principal from 1959 to 1973, Al Latimer from 1973 to 1981, Donald Kartevold from 1981 to 1994 and Miller, from 1994 to the present.
In the almost 50 years since that first class graduated from East Valley, the students have gone on to carve out their lives – they had children and grandchildren, some of whom also attended school in the same district. They’ve had careers in the community and throughout the world and still count among their friends the people they met while they were in school.
And they have a message to the graduates who are starting out on their own paths today.
“You have many more challenges to face than we did,” Orebaugh said. “Know right from wrong and do the right thing.”
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