A long time ago (in 1942), far, far away (in Portland), 294 students graduated from Jefferson High School, and for at least the last 30 years, Summerfield resident and Jefferson Class of '42 graduate Bob Santee has been keeping track of his classmates and organizing reunions.
On June 24 Santee organized the JHS 75th reunion at Summerfield Estates where he now lives, hosting a luncheon in the private dining room.
In attendance were Betty (Copeland) Farrell; Jack Hilbourne who brought along his wife Irene; Ralph Olsen; Mary Anna (Bird) Stouffer who lives in Summerfield and brought her husband Len; and Virginia (Kaptur) Mahoney.
Santee, who was featured in the July Regal Courier, keeps meticulous records on his classmates and sends out quarterly updates about what they are doing. A retired engineer, Santee also keeps statistics, noting in 15-page booklet he sent along with the invitations that of the 294 graduates, 173 or 59 percent have passed away, 85 or 29 percent are unaccounted for, and 36 or 12 percent are active.
"Five year ago we had 75 still living," Santee wrote in May for the booklet. "Now we are down to 36 (27 girls and nine boys). We lost one girl, Jeanette Kirby, this past month.
"A problem we face is the fact that 12 former classmates or one-third of our living class live hundreds or thousands of miles away. Also, some are too ill to travel...
"As a class, I believe we have had our share of great moments and outstanding events. We have had individuals who have excelled in many fields. We can look back on 75 years in addition to the four years we spent at Jefferson High School with confidence and pride and reminisce about many successes."
The class of '42 was shaped by the U.S. coming out of the Great Depression and participating in World War II, and those still alive are now 93 years old or soon to turn 93. Santee himself served in WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
In the booklet, Santee copied photos from the 1942 yearbook and articles about classmates. He posted graduation photos of Eloise (Mulhausen) and Ress Stevenson, who met at Jefferson and married. She died in April 2017, and he is still living.
Part of her obituary reads, "She attended Jefferson High School where she sang in the choir and, at age 15, met the love of her life under the clock in central hall. Rees loved taking his girl out for a drive and an ice cream cone – a tradition they continued until the last few weeks of her life. That same year Eloise and her best friends served in the Motor Corps, driving trucks to transport veterans and blood, even though they only had learner permits."
Probably the most famous of the graduates is Virginia (Patton) Moss, who was a member of the cast of Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life." James Stewart played George Bailey, Donna Reed played his wife Mary Bailey, Todd Karns played George's brother Harry Bailey, and Moss (then known as Virginia Patton) played Harry's wife Ruth.
Santee's booklet included a photo of Stewart, Karns, Patton and Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy Bailey.
In May 2017, Santee wrote a letter to the Mosses, included in the reunion booklet, saying how much he enjoyed reading an article about them and all their accomplishments in the December 2016 "Ann Arbor Hills Living" in Ann Arbor Hills, Mich.
His letter reads in part, "Our class graduated in June 1942, which was 75 years ago. At that time, we had been engaged in WWII for six months. At the same time, Virginia was selected to play a part in a classic movie, 'It's a Wonderful Life,' one of the best movies to be produced during that time."
As the classmates arrived at Summerfield Estates, they started catching up on each other's lives. They have been holding reunions every 10 years until this time, when only five years had passed.
"Last time we said it would be the last time," one of the graduates said.
"I tried to find out if there were any other 75th anniversary reunions going on, and I couldn't find any," Santee said.
They recalled another well-known classmate, Jack Crocker, who went on to become president and then chairman of the board of Fred Meyer and married Patricia Irwin, also from their class. "She was a pretty little redhead," one of them said.
Mahoney recalled a fire that broke out at the school, "and I walked to school with my cousin, who came by and said, 'We don't have to go to school today.'" School was closed for a couple days, and it took quite a while to fix it. They closed sections of the school for a while."
Stoffer remembered that "our lunchroom wasn't a very fancy place." Speaking to Hilbourne, she said, "I remember you. You were a real handsome guy."
She added, "We had a wonderful time in high school. I was into music – I was in the choir, and we had a good band too. Those were good years, but it was during the Depression, and there was no money. We did all the free things like dances. Not many of the boys had cars, and none of the girls did, so if someone had a car, we'd put four couples in."
Hilbourne said he was president of the Spanish Club his last two years at Jefferson, and Mahoney added, "I joined the Latin Club, but I didn't like it. It was just as boring as the language. I loved to sing and wish I had joined the choir.
"Every year we would choose a Rose Festival princess. Remember Madelyn DeVaney (Feehan)? She was a very pretty girl. Someone signed her photo in the yearbook right across her face. That's when I stopped asking people to sign my yearbook."
But the Class of '42 had fun, recalling dances going on all over town, including at the Odd Fellows Hall and the Crystal Ballroom. Their moms would drop them off and expect them to get home on their own safely.
They discussed where they lived in relation to Jefferson, and Farrell said, "My family moved to different areas when I was a freshman."
The women recalled Santee in high school "as so popular and a good dancer."
The group also talked about how old their parents and grandparents were when they died, but they parted on a positive note, thanking Santee and saying it was a wonderful reunion and telling each other to "have a good rest of your life."