El Molino High School will celebrate its golden anniversary Saturday with a community birthday party commemorating its establishment in 1964.

The school started with classes in trailers on the campus of Analy High School in the fall of 1963 before moving to Covey Road in Forestville the following spring.

Larry Lefor, whose name for many is synonymous with the El Molino Lions, was a sophomore that first transitional year and was a junior when the Forestville campus was opened for business. He was elected student body president that year.

"It was a very exciting time," he recalled.

A member of El Molino's first graduating class in 1966, Lefor eventually returned to become a long-standing math teacher and coach. Lefor said Saturday's fete will be a time to celebrate El Molino's history and for different generations of Lions to connect.

"I taught and coached 39 years at El Molino," he said. "El Mo has been my calling and my life."

The party comes at a time when the school is at a crossroads.

El Molino, a four-time winner of the California Distinguished School designation, has approximately 600 students, down from 1,200 in 1998-1999. Officials have struggled with how to respond to declining enrollment, taking on transfer policies and addressing academic offerings and extra curricular options.

Saturday's party will give people — both those connected to El Molino and those who are not — a chance to see what the school has to offer, said Glenn Fricker, a class of 1980 alumnus who next year will have two sons at El Molino.

"I think it's a great way for the community to get back behind El Molino and start providing the support that the school needs. I think that waned over time and I think that was part, maybe, of El Mo's falling off a little bit," he said. "I think it also shows the community that El Molino is healthy, it's fine, it's here, it's not going anywhere."

"We are a close-knit community," said Principal Doria Trombetta, who will retire this year after 24 years as either co-principal or principal. The event is acknowledging the school's history but it's also celebrating what is to come, she said.

"We are also celebrating the beginning of the next 50 years," she said.

The party, which will feature entertainment from current El Molino students, desserts and appetizers from the school's culinary department, and a dinner and auctions, also will serve as a major fundraiser.

Carrie Buratto, who was in the class of 1976 and has sent three children to El Molino, is co-coordinator of the event she hopes will support the school's agriculture program, as well as culinary, athletics and other programs. Her youngest child graduated in 2011, but Buratto still cheerleads for the Lions' programs.

"I see the need," she said. "I can't walk away from that campus. It means so much to me. That school is part of who I am."

Staff Writer Kerry Benefield writes an education blog at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. She can be reached at 526-8671, kerry.benefield@press democrat.com or on Twitter @benefield.