Fifty-one years ago, the class of 1970 was the inaugural graduating class at the new Centralia High School.
And yes, we still call it that.
We gathered in August to mark our milestone after the reunion committee — led by class president John Stiltner — worked 13 months of overtime to make sure it happened. Both the onset and the conclusion of our 50 years were historically momentous.
Our arguably-beloved three-story, columned school was 50 years old when it was replaced in 1969. During senior year, classmate Sam Mattix described the new school, synced with a slide show, in our team’s introduction on Channel 5’s Hi-Q:
“It is of contemporary red brick and steel construction. Romanesque arches greet people entering the school. Our large commons area serves as cafeteria, dance floor and lounge area. The library features a sunken stack area, carpeting and the lavish use of natural wood. It is interesting to note that our gymnasium is the first high school gym in the state to have installed the new Tartan rubber gym floor.” (P.S. Our Hi-Q team was undefeated!)
Fifty years later, our second high school was renovated. (Yes, sobering.) The Tartan floor is long gone, and now too are the arches, the commons — including the senior deck lounge, seen by many as our compensation for losing the senior privilege of lunch off campus — and the sunken library.
Natural wood has been uncovered. New construction cost $2.7 million. Renovation came at a cost many times the original price tag.
In 1970, the Beatles broke up, voting age was lowered to 18 and the Vietnam War was coming to a head. Protests heated up as the first draft lottery since World War II was instituted and some of our class went to war.
Our Sam went to Laos peacefully as a Christian missionary, but was taken captive, traveling the Ho Chi Minh Trail for 40 days, ending up in the Hanoi Hilton. Fifty-plus-one years later we are fighting a different war: a pandemic that won’t give up.
I wonder if there has been another class who had to wait a year to celebrate 50 together? We are a class of firsts.
As we collectively look back on our years since graduation, we remember 44 classmates who no longer walk the earth. It seems an inordinately large percentage of the 256 in our class. They can’t all be named here, but Pam Hatfield was the first, in a car accident our junior year.
It was the first experience of death for many of us; a young woman on the cusp of her life, who was kind to everyone, gone.
In the years since, we have all encountered death many times, but there is something life-changing about the first, a peer. There was a coming together of our class to grieve as one, to walk in an orderly manner down the church aisle to say goodbye.
Fifty-plus-one years ago, we walked as one again, down the new gymnasium Tartan floor, received our diplomas, tossed our hats and went our many and varied ways.
Fifty years of a life, pretty much as we expected it to be or not at all as we expected it to be, have gone.
Perhaps no one saw the past year coming and we don’t know what the rest of our lives — or even the next year — will hold.
But we will hold precious the time left and when we meet again, “sing to praise the honor of our fighting orange and black.”
Gretchen Staebler returned to her hometown in 2012. She blogs about life and wandering in the Pacific Northwest at www.WritingDownTheStory.com.