A lot of water has gone under the bridge since members of the Cloverdale High School Class of 1965 received their diplomas.
Of the 56 Eagles who walked across the stage that warm June evening, 44 returned to town on Sunday for their 50-year class reunion.
Citrus Fair Manager Bonnie Wlodarczyk and her staff helped welcome them home by ensuring that all 44 names scrolled continuously across the Fair’s marquee throughout the weekend. “That’s the largest message we’ve ever posted, and we weren’t sure how it was going to work out,” she says.
While a 50-year class reunion may not be that unusual, the one that took place recently in Cloverdale might best be described as a Turducken (turkey stuffed with chicken and duck). Three groups shared the reunion spotlight.
The Class of ‘65, named the “Golden Eagles” because of its 50th anniversary, joined with the 11 “Senior Golden Eagles” who graduated 75 or more years ago and the 13 alumni who also had ties to Builders Lumber, a saw mill located in Yorkville during the 1950s. Unfortunately, health concerns kept many of the Senior Golden Eagles from actually attending.
Special guests included parents of two Golden Eagles — Doris Wilkinson, 90, mother of Dennis Wilkinson; and Harold Peters, 96, father of Dave Peters.
Festivities took place in the banquet room at the La Hacienda Mexican Restaurant, previously known as The Lockhorn, so named for the two deer on display with their horns locked in combat.
A large eagle photograph welcomed classmates to “Golden Eagle Country,” while a carved eagle named Goldie stood nearby on a wooden pedestal that guests were encouraged to sign.
This class graduated at the height of the Vietnam War. Some went off to college, but at least 30 enlisted in the military. Steve Weigt was killed in action. Arnold Mendoza was left a paraplegic after a parachute accident that occurred 17 years into his military career as a Green Beret.
In 1964, the Golden Eagles lost one of their classmates in a traffic accident just north of town. Charles Wright Greppi was killed along with upperclassmen Mike Hatfield and Ricky Stevenson, both of whom were supposed to graduate that night.
The following year, Greppi’s younger sister Kathy was asked to escort the Class of ’65 onto the football field for the graduation ceremony in his memory. She also attended the reunion.
Several classmates still live in Cloverdale, and more than half are still in Sonoma County. The two who traveled the furthest were from New Hampshire and North Carolina. Another came from Utah. Five of the couples were high school sweethearts. Two of the Senior Golden Eagles — Alma (Cavallo) and Jack Caldwell — have been married for 72 years.
Over the past five years, five — Merle Reuser, Ron Bandiera, Sharon Carlton, Rhonda Wright Smart and Bill Walton — have spent countless hours sorting and gathering information, locating and contacting former classmates and generally finalizing reunion plans.
Reuser, 68, reviewed reels of microfilm from 1922 to 1972, looking for interesting news tidbits about the town, school activities, his classmates and their families. Along with a running narrative and copies of class photos dating back to kindergarten, he compiled these stories into a 108-page yearbook and presented one to each Golden Eagle at the reunion.
“What originally started as an attempt to gather 26 elementary school class photos evolved into a 50-year history of our class,” he said.
Since many of the Golden Eagles were born in Cloverdale, Reuser was able to locate a number of their newspaper birth announcements, which he mounted on a display board along with current information about each one.
The class has had prior reunions in 1991 and 2010. Both years, classmates Bandiera, Larry Wolfe and Ron Peterson tried to replicate a 1965 photo taken of them standing in front of a bar. The three 16x20 glossy photos were on display last night as the three men reenacted the pose for yet another photo, keeping the tradition alive.
Reuser fondly recalls another tradition, his dad’s 1954 Chevy, which had signatures of more than 100 of his classmates on the headliner before it ended up in the junkyard.
“My dad died when I was 14, so I drove that car all through high school and junior college,” he said. “It took me until my 60th birthday to get another one, so I’m hoping my classmates will agree to sign this one for me, too.”
Contact Cloverdale Towns Correspondent Mary Jo Winter at firstname.lastname@example.org.