Santa Rosa High School will be feted Sunday with an open house and birthday party of sorts as Panthers celebrate 140 years in business.
Santa Rosa High, which counts its birth in 1874 while classes officially began a year later, is the second-oldest high school in Sonoma County, behind Petaluma High which opened in 1873.
The event is open to all, but Student Teacher Parent organization president and organizer Susan Burch said special effort was made to alert alumni to the event.
"Just let them walk the halls, walk down memory lane," she said. "We are just trying to involve the whole school as much as possible."
Buildings and classrooms will be open. Programs from ArtQuest to veterinary technology, as well as clubs and sports, will have displays — some offering a look back in time.
The school's agriculture program celebrates 85 years of existence this year and will have students demonstrating sheep-shearing, as well as animals and a petting zoo on hand.
Until Montgomery High opened its doors on Hahman Drive in 1958, if you lived in Santa Rosa and the surrounding environs, you went to Santa Rosa High.
In nearly a century and a half, Santa Rosa High has weathered a devastating fire at one of its early locations, hosted a Richard Nixon debate, and endured the birth of four new district high schools and enrollment trends that have ebbed and flowed dramatically over the decades.
Boundary squabbles in 1958 and 1976 were reignited in 1999 as backers tried to shore up enrollment at Santa Rosa High while students were opting to enroll elsewhere.
Today, Santa Rosa High has the highest enrollment in all of Sonoma County's high schools, with more than 1,900 students.
"There is something about the school, something about the pride. Maybe it's self-infused," said Mike Grace, class of 1965 and a founding member of the Santa Rosa High School Foundation. "They see all these kids fired up about being a Panther, the history. The teachers are fired up because they really do want to be there."
Four generations of Grace kids — Mike married high-school sweetheart and fellow Panther Kathy — have attended Santa Rosa High and a fifth is rapidly approaching. In an era of open enrollment and school choice, Grace's 12-year-old granddaughter could go anywhere. When her parents, Josh and Jeannette (both class of '89) asked her where she wants to go, her answer was quick.
"'I can't break grandpa's heart,'" she told Mike Grace.
The hit film "Peggy Sue Got Married" was filmed there, "Scream," famously, was not. The facade has been used in movies and political ads and remains largely unchanged since it was built in 1924.
"When the kids go there, I think they feel like, 'This is what a high school should look like,'" Grace said.
Molly Latta Barnum, class of 1967, will travel down from Chico to attend the event Sunday with six of her high school friends dubbed "Pandy Pals." They'll even sleep over at Donna Dennes Peterson's mom house, just like in high school.
"I want to do the tour, see the changes," Barnum said.
Student body president Melissa Lopez said appreciation for the school's longevity is apparent among current students, not just alums.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here