Palos Verdes High Holds Final Homecoming : Farewells: More than 6,000 alumni, teachers and friends gathered and shared memories at 30-year-old school that will become an intermediate school in the fall.


When Judy Stoner, Class of '62, spied fellow classmate John Blandford, the first thing she noticed was his deep California tan. That hadn't changed.

But his hair had.

"You're grayer," she said.

A short distance away, Chris Rodenfels and David Shull, both Class of '77, chatted for awhile before the light of recognition blinked on. "I know you from marching band," Rodenfels exclaimed.

For his part, Rick Page, Class of '68, remarked that time had improved the women in his class. "They're 40 years old, but they look pretty good," he said.

At Palos Verdes High School on Saturday, the mood was decidedly nostalgic as old grads bridged the years with hugs of recognition and recalled the hard-as-nails teachers who expected them to do college-level work. A few former golden surfers--with paunches and thinning hair--conjured waves gone by at Torrance Beach.

"Fond memories is what it's all about," said Dee Cook Keese, Class of '64.

Scheduled to close this June because of declining enrollment, the high school threw a "Final Homecoming" celebration for three decades of graduates, faculty and staff. Alumni spent weeks contacting people across the country.

"An awful lot of us hate to leave, and we wanted to have a great conclusion to 30 really super, super years," said James Kinney, the campus activities director who came to the school as a history teacher when it opened in 1961, with formation of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District.

And there probably couldn't have been a better conclusion, Kinney said, as more than 6,000 people came and went during the six-hour, sun-splashed bash.

Balloons in the school's red, black and white colors festooned the large grassy senior park, where every graduating class had a sign-in table. There was rock music, international food, carnival games and sports from baseball to three-legged races on the athletic field.

Graduates brought their families; some introduced teen-age children to their old friends, others pushed youngsters in strollers.

A row of memorabilia tables did a lively business as former Sea Kings snapped up back copies of yearbooks and bought such souvenirs as mugs, key chains and teddy bears wearing miniature high school jerseys. A 60-minute video of the homecoming, taped as it happened, also could be purchased for later delivery.

Two graduates came from Europe. And beneath a special pavilion for returning faculty, Lucile Crain--the school's first principal, who now lives in Florida, greeted a stream of former students and teachers.

"It's wonderful seeing all the great young people I worked with," she said. When the school opened, Crain recalled, students "were enthusiastic, in their own school and their own school district."

In contrast to today's declining enrollment--which has prompted the peninsula district to combine its three high schools into one next fall--Palos Verdes opened during the baby boom and was immediately overcrowded with 2,300 students.

The school's present enrollment is about 1,300, Kinney said.

Graduates from the 1960s and '70s dominated the homecoming, and many recalled a school that combined demanding academic standards with an easy-going social atmosphere.

Sports were popular and boys headed to the surfing beaches after school. A dress code during the '60s banned shorts and sandals, but Crain, who was principal until 1970, admitted that she had finally given up on stemming that tide.

Among those who had placid recollections of the tame '60s, there was at least one who was remembered as a rebel. Sepp Donahower, Class of '62, acknowledged the stories, a self-confessed "outlaw on the fringe." Famous for wild parties at his Portuguese Bend house, he said: "They were nothing anyone's parents appreciated."

In the era of the '70s, Michael McCandless, Class of '77, said some of his fondest memories are of singing in the chorale and its European trip. "We went to the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and cut a record," recalled the Torrance resident, adding that his brother and sister also went to the high school. "It's good to see the old campus again."

Shull said Palos Verdes was "a great place to go to high school" and remembers the peninsula as a homey community. "It was neat," he said. "You'd go to school, then see your teacher at church or at the supermarket."

If the homecoming was an exuberant few hours of laughter and memories, there was an underlying sadness.

Jack Williams, Class of '68, said news of the school's closing "broke me up when I heard it. It's like giving up an old friend."

Said Jay Loughrin, Class of '62, "We're celebrating the death of Camelot. Most of us grew up in this idyllic peninsula and this gaiety masks a very sad occasion. There is no more Palos Verdes High School."

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