Modesto High School Class of 1938 still in touch 75 years later

mrowland@modbee.comSeptember 8, 2013 

    alternate textMarijke Rowland
    Title: Arts & Entertainment Writer
    Coverage areas: Fine arts, pop culture and other entertainment throughout the Central Valley and foothills.
    Bio: Marijke Rowland has been a reporter at The Bee for 15 years. She grew up in the Midwest and has a degree in journalism from Indiana University. She has covered several beats at The Bee from education to entertainment to employment.
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— Keeping in touch with high school friends before Facebook, before email, before the Internet and before all the simple point-and-click ways of staying connected involved old-fashioned determination and plenty of postage stamps.

For 75 years, the Modesto High School Class of 1938 has been keeping in touch and getting together to celebrate at regular reunions.

This year, 10 of the surviving graduates gathered at the Spring Creek Golf and Country Club in Ripon on Sunday afternoon for their 75th reunion. The former classmates, now in their early 90s, shared food and memories while catching up on more than seven decades together.

"We've known each other for so long it is fun to see what we're all doing and how we're doing," said 93-year-old Scott Wilson, who has chaired the reunion for the past several years. "Some of us have known each other since the first grade. We're a good group and we all enjoy each other's company."

In 1938, when the class graduated with 285 students, Modesto High had been at its "new" First and H street location for 20 years. It would remain the city's only high school for another 13 years, before making way for Downey High School and the five others that followed.

The group began having reunions — though no one can remember exactly when — at normal five-year intervals early on. Then about 15 years ago, the class decided to make their get-togethers an annual event because of the increasing age of its attendees.

Wilson estimates there are about 20 members of the class still living. Of those who attended the reunion, most live in or around Modesto. A handful live farther north in California, and Georgette Tingle made it all the way from Oregon.

Of the group, only two, Wilson and Fran Harkey, use computers. Communication about reunions happens by telephone, but mostly via the U.S. Postal Service and good old-fashioned letters.

Harkey (maiden name Hudson, for old classmates to remember) traveled from Gridley, north of Marysville, to attend. The 93-year-old moved out of Modesto some 70 years ago, but she still comes back each year.

"When I left here, the population was 17,000," she remembered. "I don't recognize a lot of (the city) anymore."

Graduates in difficult time

Indeed, Modesto was a different place 75 years ago. The Class of 1938 graduated into uncertain times. The United States was still in the Great Depression. World War II started a year later. America joined the war three years later.

Classmates such as Sam Satariano, Steve Nelson and others enlisted in the military. Nelson, 92, was wounded in Okinawa and earned two Purple Hearts in the U.S. Army. Satariano, 95, completed 25 missions as a B-17 bomber pilot during the war and spent 12 years in the U.S. Air Force.

Other Class of 1938 graduates went on to work, raise families, play with grandkids and spoil great-grandkids. Most retired at least 20 years ago. But Modesto Junk Co. President Harvey Highiet still goes in every day to the scrap metal and recycling business his father started in 1920.

The group's reunion celebration this year included a dinner at a classmate's family home on Saturday night and then the luncheon at the country club Sunday. Over the years, they have met at Del Rio Country Club, Sportsmen of Stanislaus Club and American Legion Hall.

Each year, the group poses for photos. In years long past, hundreds would come, classmates and their spouses, to the reunion events.

"Each year, it's gotten a little smaller and a little smaller," said John Allen, 92, who came from Stockton, where he was the longtime co-owner of the H.W. Thompson flooring company. "But we're still here."

The one remaining couple in the bunch is grade-school sweethearts Steve and Virginia Nelson. The Salida couple will be married 72 years this month. They started going steady while in elementary school and dated through high school even though Virginia was two years younger (she went on to graduate with the Modesto High Class of 1940).

The pair has two children, five grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

Rounding out the class in attendance Sunday afternoon were Bernice Britton (maiden name Schon- teich), Virginia Evinger (maiden name Wicking) and Jane Reed (maiden name Reitz).

"I think we're doing OK to have so many of us here still," said Modesto resident Reed, 93. "And if we're still around next year, we might try it again."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at or (209) 578-2284. Follow her at

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