Sonoma Stories: The Class of 1968 saw Santa Rosa change hugely long before last October
It didn’t take a historic conflagration to transform Santa Rosa in the eyes of the grandparently ex-classmates who capped their 50th high school reunion Sunday with a picnic near the pony rides at Howarth Park.
Members of Montgomery High School’s Class of 1968 witnessed an epic change to their hometown long before the Tubbs fire.
While they were rooting for their Vikings in the midlands of the 1960s, this bunch also took in double features with cartoons at the doomed California, Tower and Roxy theaters and at their choice of three drive-ins.
The class’s Marlayne (Maddox) Williams said she was the second baby born on the day Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital opened in 1950. As a young child, she said, her town was so small and its trees so few that when she and her family approached by car from the south she could spot the Flamingo Hotel bird tower from just north of what was becoming Rohnert Park.
Classmate Rod Murdock, who traveled to this weekend’s reunion from his longtime home in Alaska, told of growing up in Santa Rosa at a time of trust and innocence.
“The keys were left in cars and front doors were left unlocked,” Murdock said.
Now 68 years old or close to it, members of Monty’s Class of ‘68 felt their hearts break 50-some years ago as they witnessed the demolition of Santa Rosa’s grand, downtown county courthouse and Carnegie Library. Most of them were still in town October of 1969, when devastating twin earthquakes made a clean slate of much of downtown, becoming the demarcation between the old Santa Rosa and the new.
Some of these baby boomers had been chased from their homes at age 13 or 14 by the advance of the warm-up to the 2017 firestorms — the 1964 Hanly fire.
“I got on the roof and put sprinklers there with my dad,” remembered Ron Taylor, a retired college professor who as a senior was Montgomery’s student body president.
As that fire 54 years ago inched closer, Santa Rosa native Linda Lambert and her family trailered their horses to the Sonoma County Fairgrounds from their hillside home off Montecito Avenue.
“It was scary back then, but it happened so fast this time,” Lambert said.
Murdock, who now installs and repairs home appliances in Kodiak, recalls his mother packing him and his siblings into her pristine 1963 VW Beetle to put more distance between them and the ‘64 fire now widely viewed as a precursor to last fall’s deadly, enormously destructive Tubbs fire.
Murdock said running from the Hanly fire as a kid wasn’t much worse than following the news of the recent disaster from 2,000 miles away.
“Because I grew up here, it was palpable,” the Alaskan said at the picnic following Saturday night’s reunion of about 100 Class of ‘68 alums at the Saturday Afternoon Club.
“I felt this huge amount of despair and shock,” he said. “It hurt.”
While Murdock and his ex-classmates caught up, laughed, thumbed through old yearbooks and reminisced, they also shared perceptions of how their town, or former town, was impacted by the Tubbs fire and how its recovery is proceeding. Good and bad, offered Bill Welsh, who served as class president and whose home off Riebli Road fell to the Tubbs fire.