Two Nights to Remember
I have to admit that I was more than a little apprehensive about my upcoming Orland High School class reunion. I hadn’t seen most of my classmates since we crossed the stage and received our diplomas on that fateful night fifty years ago. Would I recognize anyone? Would anyone recognize me? I sure hope they provide name tags.
Thanks to Kathy and Butch Skala, all of my apprehension turned to unbridled excitement when my wife, Kathy, and I arrived at the Skala Ranch for last Friday evening’s pre-reunion dinner. There’s John Nesbitt. I can’t wait to talk to him about all the books he’s written since high school. I think that’s Jan Vonasek over there. I worked for her dad at the 76 Station. Who’s this big guy coming up in the checkered shirt? “Hi, I’m Steve Callan,” I said, staring into his eyes, hoping for a clue to his identity.
“I’m John Byker,” he replied, grinning from ear to ear.
“John! It’s so great to see you.” Fond memories of John Byker, Pete Seiler, and me eating our lunches together on the front steps of the administration building immediately came to mind.
Paul Meranda was hard to miss, towering over the rest of the crowd. Paul and I talked about basketball—his favorite subject—and our post-college softball careers. Nearby were my longtime buddies Larry Bruckenstein and Larry Howard. The three of us had grown up hunting, fishing, and playing sports together in this small farming community at the northern end of California’s Central Valley. Like me, Larry Bruckenstein spent an exciting career working in wildlife protection for the California Department of Fish and Game. Larry Howard had spent his career supervising the folks over at Holly Sugar.
I didn’t recognize Steve Harder at first: he’d grown considerably since graduation. Learning about Steve’s successful business career in the coastal community of Sea Ranch was an adventure. Kathy and I said hello to Diana Hoffman, Linda Bucke, Kay O’Neil and Peggy O’Neil, four of the sweetest ladies who ever graced the halls of Orland High School. My good friend Ernie Simpson happened to be sitting next to John Nesbitt, so while I bent John’s expert ear about writing, I was able to visit with Ernie at the same time. Ernie retired from the Glenn County Agriculture Department and served on the Glenn County Fish and Game Commission for many years.
Terry Barley and I reminisced about playing on the freshman football team, coached by Dick Hoffman, Diana Hoffman’s father. Terry and I both weighed about 110 pounds at the time. We shared a good laugh about the afternoon we played a much-larger Anderson High School team.
The evening was over all too soon. Kathy and I thanked Kathy and Butch Skala, Rosemarie Wiseman, Donny and Linda Schroer, and all of the ladies who worked so hard to make the first night’s festivities so memorable. “This is just the beginning,” someone said. “Tomorrow night’s the reunion.”
With Kathy taking photographs, I spent much of Saturday evening listening to the fascinating real-life stories of my 1966 Orland High School classmates. John Pitter retired from teaching agriculture in Los Molinos but still teaches classes part time at Chico State. Ann Higginbotham and her husband grow almonds in the Chico area. Don Schroer is a farmer, as are Butch and Kathy Skala; Kathy also was a real estate agent for many years. Linda Elmore became a teacher in Chico. Roy Wickland and his family manage Wickland Oil Company. Mitch Hoggard became a pharmacist and successful businessman. Georgiana Lockhart taught in San Francisco for many years. Pete Seiler was a teacher and school administrator in Redding. Frank Limacher knows everything there is to know about recycling and manages the California recycling program. Bruce Frank became a high school teacher and counselor. Ed Oltjenbruns built homes in Peru. Joanne Ellis works in the insurance business. And, after working for many years in San Diego, Jerry Tanson became a preacher in Arkansas.
Speaking for everyone who attended the reunion festivities, thanks so much to our anonymous benefactor. You made a once-in-a-lifetime occasion even more enjoyable.
Our evening ended with Kathy Skala receiving a well-deserved award for all the joy she’s brought to the Class of 1966 over the last fifty years. Without her kind heart, generous spirit, and tireless efforts, much of the fun we’ve shared would never have happened.
Am I glad I went? Absolutely! I learned more about my classmates in a few hours last Friday and Saturday nights than I did during the four years I attended Orland High School. Back in those days, we were too busy trying to find ourselves and jockey for position. Egos, competition, and hormones played a major role in just about everything we did. Now that we’re more mature and have fifty years of experiences under our belts, I hope we’ll stay in touch and take the time to share our stories. Everyone has a story, after all, and every story deserves to be heard.
Please scroll down for many more photos from this memorable weekend.