Dave Newhouse, a longtime sportswriter and columnist for the Oakland Tribune and a member of the Menlo-Atherton High School class of 1956, writes about his class members in a new book, "Old Bears: The Class of 1956 Reaches its Fiftieth Reunion, Reflecting on the Happy Days and the Unhappy Days." Mr. Newhouse, who grew up in Menlo Park, will make three Peninsula book-signing appearances: Kepler's Books in Menlo Park on Thursday, Aug. 9, at 7:30 p.m.; the Oasis in Menlo Park, Wednesday, Aug. 22, at 5:30 p.m.; and Border's Books in Palo Alto, Saturday, Aug. 25, at 4 p.m.
By Dave Newhouse
Summertime is reunion time, a season to recapture what we've lost, or gained, many years ago, with people we've mostly lost contact with or hardly knew.
A 50th high school reunion takes on a different magnitude than those alumni gatherings of a much shorter duration. That's because the 50th signifies senior citizenship, a gentler way of saying old age, and a full life lived.
I graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School in 1956, the second class to complete a four-year cycle at the school. When our 50th reunion was approaching in 2006, I, the journalist, wondered about my classmates.
We were described later on as the ''Happy Days'' kids, but did our lives turn out happily? So I began a three-year search in 2004 to track down certain classmates, looking for diversity.
And — wow! — did I find diversity. The end result is ''Old Bears'' (we were the Menlo-Atherton Bears), a book published by North Atlantic Books in Berkeley that contains 30 first-person interviews with classmates, a faculty member (there aren't many left) and a 2006 M-A graduate to see how the school has changed (immensely) in 50 years.
One of my classmates was Jim Henson's first hire on ''The Muppets.'' Another is the nephew of the man who invented television. A third worked for farm labor organizer Cesar Chavez and wrote a book about that experience. A fourth, our senior class president, was the younger brother of 49ers quarterback John Brodie.
A fifth is the bishop in Fresno who has caused a firestorm both within and outside the Episcopal church with his opposition to the ordinations of a gay bishop in New Hampshire and the woman who now runs the national church.
There are inspiring interviews with the female classmate who passed the bar at 63 and began practicing law; the pompon girl who was institutionalized; the class clown whose humor was a defense mechanism to the physical abuse suffered almost daily by his parents.
I wrote my own chapter — the hardest thing I've ever had to write — about my own insecurities and frustrations as a high school student of no great promise.
I've been a working journalist for 48 years, most of that time at the Oakland Tribune, where I'm now employed as a news-side columnist after shifting from a lifetime of sportswriting in January.
I grew up in Menlo Park, my 95-year-old mother is in a Woodside rest home currently, and my sister, Phyllis, M-A class of 1953, now owns a popular boutique in Palo Alto under her first name.
''Old Bears'' is my seventh published book, and the first in a non-sports capacity. I've written the autobiographies of football greats Jim Plunkett and Jim Otto.
''Old Bears'' also explains how the 1950s are misrepresented as an insignificant decade, when the popularity of television and rock 'n' roll, not to mention the birth of civil rights and the space program, occurred in this decade along with the invention of the Salk polio vaccine, and the coronations of Queen Elizabeth and Elvis Presley.
The answer to the classmates' happy lives question: Some yes, some no, some both. Divorce, drink, drugs, death and disappointment infiltrated classmates' lives, including family suicides, extramarital affairs and one classmate stalking another. Three ''old bears'' died before the book was published. The Class of 1956 experienced life to the fullest.