Class of 1958 celebrates 50th reunion

Seventy-seven members of he first graduating class poses next to Mercer Island High School. The class of 1958 recently celebrated its golden anniversary. - Contributed photo
Seventy-seven members of he first graduating class poses next to Mercer Island High School. The class of 1958 recently celebrated its golden anniversary.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Fifty years after leaving Mercer Island High School, alumni from the Class of 1958 — the first class to graduate from MIHS — walked the school’s hallways once again.

On Sept. 12, more than 40 members of this historic class returned to Mercer Island to celebrate their 50th reunion. They toured the twice-remodeled high school, the now defunct East Seattle School, and the little red Sunnybeam schoolhouse, which welcomed many to their first years of learning. The mood was both jubilant and sentimental. The group shared smiles, stories and laughs, much as they did half a century ago.

“We’re all very close,” Judi Louro said of her fellow alumni. “There’s a real core group of 20 to 25 of us who regularly keep in touch.”

Yet not everyone in the Class of 1958 has been able to maintain close contacts over the years. Last week’s reunion was akin to opening an old, dusty box of memories for some. Simply returning to the Island was like revisiting a time lost.

“I didn’t recognize downtown Mercer Island at all. It’s like a place I’d never seen before,” said Don Brown, who had not been back to the Island in more than 30 years. “I had to go to a real estate office and ask for a map just to find Albertsons.”

Although many of the Island’s buildings were hard to recognize, the faces of classmates were not. Smiles of recognition flashed across face after face as the alumni reunited in the Albertsons parking lot. Some needed a few seconds, an old nickname or high-school reference to spur their memories. But then it all came back:

“Nancy Ramey! It’s Jeff,” with a kiss on the cheek.

“Is that Bill Webster? How’ve you been?”

“Now here’s a face I remember.”

After a whirlwind tour of Sunnybeam School, which the alumni knew as Lakeview, the group made an appearance at Mercer Island High School, which few had seen since the building’s original 1950s structure. Principal John Harrison, Associate Principal Mark Roschy and Superintendent Gary Plano welcomed the alumni to MIHS, leading them to a glass case of memorabilia from their historic class.

“We invented many of the school traditions,” said Erik Peterson, MIHS senior class president in 1958. “Because we had no upper-classmen, we formed the high school from scratch — writing the fight song and choosing our school colors.”

Many of the alumni had not been back to MIHS since graduating. Led by administrators, the group split up to tour the school — poking their heads into doorways to view the latest in education technology — and posed for a group shot before heading off to view the Boys & Girls Club, which was formerly the East Seattle School.

According to reunion coordinator Sally Brown, 11 of those who came to the event are part of the “Graham Cracker Club” — alumni who attended Sunnybeam all the way through MIHS. Only three of the original 78 students still live on the Island today. Bill Webster is one of them.

Living on the same lakeside property where he grew up, Webster enjoys the water as much today as he did as a teenager.

“I’ve been out waterskiing over 40 times just this summer,” the 68-year-old said. “My brother drives the boat. We do a lot of skiing and boating.”

Reflecting on his years at MIHS, Webster was struck by how much the high school has grown since his time — especially in sports.

“We were the smallest high school in the KingCo league those days and that really showed in football. We had only 18 or 19 people turning out as seniors,” the athlete said. “I got to play basketball, football and track. In a big high school, I wouldn’t have made the teams.”

“A few years ago, I attended some MIHS football games to watch my nephew play, and I was amazed by the school marching band. It’s just huge,” he added.

The Class of 1958’s small size may have been a drawback in sports, but it led to a lifetime of close friendships.

“Every year I come up to [Mercer Island] for slumber parties,” said Louro, who lives in San Francisco. “I stay with Sally Brown. We’ve been friends since high school.”

In addition to making priceless friendships, Louro said she received an unparalleled education at MIHS.

“The teachers prepared me for a great life in the 20th century, which might not have happened at that time for some American women.”

Indeed, the Class of 1958 went on to do great and wondrous things. Nancy Lethcoe, an Olympic silver medalist in swimming (1956), is running for the Alaska State House in November. Don Brown has donated much of his career to reconstruction projects in Africa. Con Comeau is a pilot and TV actor. Ranney Eddy helped write the Canadian Constitution. Elaine Johnson is a professor who has published several books. And the list goes on.

“It’s an interesting group. We’ve all gone on to do great things. Many have travelled around the world,” Brown said.

After touring the Island, the alumni celebrated their first day together over beers at the Roanoke Inn. For some, it was the first time stepping foot into the historic Island bar, “although we always tried to get in,” Brown said with a laugh.

The three-day 50th reunion commenced on Saturday evening with a formal dinner party at Kaspar’s in Seattle. Stories were shared, friendships were rekindled, and old jokes were laughed over. For one fleeting night, the Class of 1958 became itself again.

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