Anza alumni go back to school and see reflections of their youth

The former students and teachers who returned to Juan de Anza Elementary School last week discovered that while times have changed, kids are just about the same.

Sure, the students’ clothes and language are flashier than those of the generations before them. But as Anza alumni met at the Hawthorne school’s 40th anniversary party to exchange tales and talk with the current students, it became apparent that today’s youngsters laugh and cry at the same old antics.

Jesting about a bad haircut or an outlandish outfit can still turn on a faucet of tears, just as the class clown can still ignite a round of raucous laughter by flipping his eyelids or making noises that sound distinctly like passing gas.

“Today’s kids are packaged differently, but underneath the wrapping they are basically the same,” said Terry Trefz, a 1955 Anza graduate who now lives in Newbury Park.

“They have different heroes now--I mean, who remembers Monty Montana?--and they probably grow up a little faster now, but they are just as fragile and as rowdy as we were.”


(For those born after 1955, Monty Montana was a television cowboy who often appeared at Southern California schools and carnivals and now lives in Agua Dulce.)

Indeed, one alumnus described the trauma of learning that Daniel Boone star Fess Parker lived in a Hollywood ranch house instead of a log cabin in Boonesborough, Ky. A few feet away, a third-grader was nearly in tears when another student revealed that “Star Wars” superhero Luke Skywalker was an earth dweller who posed as a space voyager only for a substantial acting fee.

“I expected to come here and talk about how times have changed but they really haven’t,” said Michelle Winters--Terry Trefz’s little sister--who graduated from the sixth grade in 1960.

“Little things have changed in step with changes in society, but all in all the kids are no different. They go through the same triumphs and traumas that we did,” said Winters, whose son attends first grade at Anza.

Anza administrators decided to hold the anniversary event to help build community support for the school, which is on 120th Street one block west of the San Diego Freeway. It was built in 1946 when the site was surrounded by bean fields and a large chinchilla ranch. It is one of three schools in the Wiseburn Unified School District, which covers parts of Hawthorne and nearby unincorporated areas, and serves about 1,400 students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“We have a very small and tight-knit district where a lot of our former students have decided to stay in the area so they could send their children here,” said Virginia Meyer, Anza’s school improvement director and coordinator of the anniversary party. “We hope something like this will help our former students remember the positive experiences they had here so they will continue to support us.”

But it was the negative experiences that most alumni remembered, and somehow those pitfalls grew more dramatic over time.

Winters recalled the day her mother made her go to school even though Winters had “butchered” her hair with a pair of miniature craft scissors. The story drew consoling words and expressions of sympathy from her friends.

“I can remember that day as if it were yesterday,” she said wistfully. “Some things just never leave you.”

Trefz, who described himself as “the quiet kid,” remembered the third-grade teacher who “used to break No. 2 pencils over my head.”

“Besides the times when the teacher vented her rage on me, I sort of blended in with the walls,” said Trefz, drawing more laughter than sympathy from his wife Deanna, who graduated from Anza a few years after he did.

The teachers who returned for the celebration had brighter memories. Marieum Tuck, 81, a teacher on the school’s first staff, recalled a time when most students were farm children, some of whom rode horses instead of bicycles to school.

“I remember my first class had 22 kids, one dog and a horse. It’s funny how those kids aren’t all too different from the kids who performed for us today,” Tuck said, referring to a show on the school’s history performed by fifth graders.

Almost everyone who attended the anniversary party said they found comfort in the fact that so little had changed at their alma mater.

“I don’t feel quite so old knowing that I can still relate to the students’ experiences,” said alumna Karen Newkirk, 42, who still lives three blocks from Anza.

“It’s nice to know that all the crazy changes that society goes through really don’t affect the love and laughter that a child can experience.”