High school alumni lived Park City history
May 30, 2007
June 8, 300 students will graduate in Park City High School’s class of 2007 and move boldly into the future.
Saturday night, almost going unnoticed on a busy holiday weekend, 150 or so high school graduates from the past came together to quietly celebrate their associations with each other, in the town they helped create. Alumni dated all the way back to the class of 1938. The annual Park City High School Alumni Dinner and Dance, took place in the Radisson Hotel. Many of the attendees have not missed one event since they graduated.
Park City was different back then, they will tell you.
Park High, as it was called, taught children in a town supported by mining.
"There’s not that closeness in town now," said Jim Santy, a former music teacher at the high school, whom the Santy auditorium is named after. "Back then, you knew your classmates, you knew their brothers and sisters, and their parents — and all their secrets,"
The Park High Alumni Association was started in 1902, making it the oldest alumni association in the country. While alumni show up to the event with a loyalty similar to military veterans, their ranks are falling, as few graduates from recent generations participate.
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Many heads of family died from mining related illness or accidents, but their families stayed.
Life has changed in Park City. People don’t know each other the way they used to. These days people come and people go according to the old-timers . That’s the only explanation they have for few recent graduates attending the alumni event. That’s why from the mid-seventies on there are fewer alumni attending than from the ’30s, they say.
One said, this year, Park City High School will graduate 300 students, and that if they’d all come to our event we’d be happy to get an auditorium. The alumni seem troubled that the numbers of their association are dwindling.
Bob Johnson was in the class of 1940. He is 86 now. "They’re were a lot of minorities back then; like Norwegians, Germans, Italians They all came to work in the mines. "
Johnson was 9 when his father, a miner, died of a lung disease.
The younger Johnson grew up skiing around Park City. He and his friends made six-foot- long skis out of maple, attaching them to their feet with wire and straps they cut from inner tubes. His nickname was ‘Robuski’.
After graduating from Park High, Johnson fought in World War Two. "I came home from war, riding home to Park City on Lewis Brother’s Stages. That was the happiest day of my life." His mother was waiting to greet him.
Sam Lee returned to his former home from Las Vegas, to attend his 60th class reunion. He said there were 47 in his graduating class, of 1947.
"My grandfather, Sam Raddon came to Park City in 1868. 1874, He took control of the Park Record Newspaper. When I was young, he showed me how to set type.," Lee said. "Sam Raddon was a patriotic man. He flew the flag on holidays. On the Fourth of July, all kids who marched in the parade were given a dime, which just happened to be the admission price to the matinee at the Egyptian Theater."
Winters had their own allure, where Lee said he and his friends would pack a trail in the snow, hike to the top of it and ski down.
Lee worked for a short time in the Silver King mine after graduating from Park High, went to college, went on to attain his masters, and became an occupational analyst for the State of Utah.
But times were hard in Park City, sometimes dangerous not only in mines but also above the mines. "I remember the mid 1930’s, miners were starting fights on Main Street with union busters crossing the picket lines," Lee said. "My dad wouldn’t let me go down Main Street."
Jo Ellen Mendiola, also from the class of 47, worked at the Silver King mine after graduating, as a timekeeper. My uncle, Harvey Greenwood, worked in the Thayne’s Canyon mine. You know the old restaurant on the ski hill? (The Mid-Mountain Lodge at Park City Mountain Resort) That used to be the miners’ quarters where he stayed."
Bob Adamson was one of nine students at the banquet from the class of 47. Adamson, who was nicknamed Bob Gandhi for his shaved head and lean appearance, said his most vibrant memory was catching the winning touchdown against the North Summit Braves. "I stepped on their Indian figurehead and they didn’t like that," he said.
Sculptor Ed Fraughton graduated in 1957. After another 57 graduate said he was the student body president, Fraughton said, "I was the other student body candidate — and I voted for him."
Dee Wheeler is one of the more recent graduates, from the class of 1966.
"My family came here in 1914," he said. "My grandfather was a homesteader and a sheepherder. My dad, Cecil, worked the mines from 1932-72. He’d come home exhausted. Sicker than a dog from the mines. But he’d still find time to take us fishing. Those mines were pitch black. Nothing could be darker. There were quite a few disasters. My dad ended up with consumption and emphysema and died at 65."
Wheeler, tall and powerfully built with a slight, jaunty mustache, had a favorite story about his days in Park High, which then taught seventh through twelfth-grade.
"My friends and I wanted to go deer hunting, so I faked a heart attack to get out of going to school. We shot a deer that day, but we were found out. At school, our principal, Charlie Mayburry knew. He called us out of class to come with him. He had these pointed cowboy boots, and he’d kick you in the butt when you’d done something bad. He kicked us up the stairs to his office. He said we’d lose 10 percent of our grade unless he got half the deer. But he was the best principal ever. "
Wheeler said there were 23 in his graduating class, 13 girls and 10 boys. He was a sophomore when the Beatles arrived in the United States. "We called the guys in our class who started growing long hair ‘Beta boys,’ because they had hair down over their eyes and over their ears, and it made them look like girls. I was more of a cowboy and we had flattop haircuts and crew cuts."
As graduation approached, Wheeler knew he was about to be drafted, and that he would be going to Vietnam. He joined the army, did go to Vietnam, and now trains pilots to fly heavy-aircraft at Hill Air Force Base.
During banquet ceremonies, most of the graduating classes that were not represented were from the late 1970’s to present, with the exception of three women from the class of 2002. Andrea Finch, Jennifer Klettke, and Heidi Hackney. They think word isn’t getting out to more recent graduates about the yearly reunion. "It is wonderful to hear these people’s experiences," Hackney said. They had some of their own stories, too. The three were celebrating toga day during homecoming, when 911 hit. As somber as that time suddenly became, they ended in triumph, with the 2002 Olympics held in Park City the year of graduation.
Finch is graduating from the University of Oregon, Klettke and Hackney are graduating from the University of Utah.
Even some of the earlier generations left Park City after graduation, finding that they were unable to afford to move back. Wheeler grew up in a modest home in Deer Valley. "About all that Deer Valley had back in the 1960’s was a few houses and a stream." When I retired, I had dreams of coming back."
When he recently returned to the home he grew up, one similar, directly across the street, was for sale for $900,000.
Bob Johnson wrote a poem this year. "I’m 85 and still alive. I’m losing hair but breathing air. I’m climbing stairs, and enjoy my chair, I’m taking care and say a prayer."