Gathered around the flagpole, the students of Riverbank High School watched an honor guard representing all four branches of the military raise the flag on Sept. 18, 1967, the first day of the school year and the first day of the town’s new high school.
It had been a long struggle as the big day arrived. Still, there would be difficulties to overcome – from the lack of books to a tiny gymnasium.
For years, students of high school age who lived in Riverbank had taken the bus to Oakdale High, making extracurricular activities difficult with the long drive between the two towns. With Riverbank’s growth in the post-war period, talk already had begun about building a high school in town. Finally, in 1966, a bond was passed and the money was available.
Built on one square mile of land – the same amount as Modesto Junior College’s main campus – the new campus at the corner of Claus and Patterson roads took up only about a quarter of the property. Riverbank High was built to expand and currently fills most of the site.
Like anything new, there were issues to overcome. No books for classes, a near-empty library, the lack of microscopes for science classes and a gym that, according to the school’s longtime basketball coach and Athletic Director Ron Peterson, lacked showers and already was too small for the number of students.
Some of the teachers working through all the challenges were Elio Guerrini and Francis O’Brien. O’Brien, a World War II veteran, had already spent time at Oakdale High, where he taught my father and later myself at Riverbank. By the early 1980s, both Guerrini and O’Brien were beloved figures at the school.
Another instructor was first-year teacher Larry Hockenberry. While attending Humboldt State, he was recruited by Principal Ray Fauria. He, along with Guerrini, were both science/biology teachers without microscopes, books and sometimes chairs for the classrooms.
In lieu of normal teaching, Hockenberry took his students outside and they talked about anything they wanted to during the first weeks of school.
Another difficulty was the shock for some students who had spent a year at Oakdale High and now found themselves without their friends and familiar teachers. Hockenberry recalled “a significant number of sophomores who were very unhappy with being transferred from Oakdale High to Riverbank High.”
Once the kinks were worked out, the school began to run smoothly. By the end of the school year, it was stocked with books and microscopes, and the gym’s showers were running. Funding for a new gym took decades until finally ground was broken for a new bigger gym in 2008, replacing the last relic of the school’s 1967 opening.
Sources: Riverbank News, Sept. 22, 1967, Sept. 3, 1980, Feb. 20, 2008, and interview with Larry Hockenberry
McAndrews is a docent at the Great Valley Museum and a community columnist. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.