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Happy days or unhappy? Stories from M-A High's class of 1956

Original post made by Susan Samuels Drake, Menlo-Atherton High School, on Aug 14, 2007

Think you might not care about a bunch of "Old Bears" who graduated from Menlo-Atherton High School? Wouldn't you like to know what it was like to be '49er QB John Brodie's younger brother? Did you know that Jim Henson's first employee, the puppeteer his classmates thought was "unusual," developed the Muppets and was an Old Bear?
What did one grad (me) think of Cesar Chavez, inspiration to farmworkers and thousands of other Latinos, when she was his secretary?
Sports columnist, radio talk show host, feature writer and M-A Class of '56 grad Dave Newhouse became curious about his classmates.
His book, "Old Bears," released by North Atlantic Books in June, revives poignant memories, solves some mysteries you may have had about your parents' generation, and gives a sharp snapshot contrasting the difference that half a century can make in someone's life.
"The Class of 1956 reaches its 50th reunion, reflecting on the Happy Days and the unhappy days" is the front cover quote, along with a picture of M-A grad Nina Carson getting kissed by Elvis Presley when she won an essay contest about him.
Roberta Gard Argendeli, now of Lincoln Hills, California, says it all: "At first I looked at the classmates interviewed and thought, oh, a further testimony to those who were 'so perfect.' In spite of my first reaction, I went ahead to read each story. Some things I knew; others were quite surprising. But, most importantly, the touching human events in each person's life astonished me. The book was written with a sincere and honest effort to tell the stories of those 'most likely' not to have such pain and anguish in their lives."
At Kepler's on Aug. 9, between 60 and 70 gathered with Newhouse, who had earlier attended Coach Bill Walsh's invitation-only memorial at Stanford. Joining supportive classmates from all over Northern California were sports fans and Kepler's shoppers who stayed to hear Dave say why he wrote the book: curiosity.
Given Newhouse's friendly inquisitiveness, classmate Lynne Kramer McCallum piped up, during Q&A, "If you have any secrets you're hiding, don't let Dave ask you any questions."
Curiosity turned into a "gift," attorney Gerrie Keely Miller of Los Altos said when Dave proudly introduced her to the crowd. Diverted from law school as a young woman, because a scholarship program thought she'd "waste" the money on becoming a mother, Gerrie raised her kids and then went to law school, passing the California Bar at age 63.
Former Atherton police officer George Carr thanked the author for the interview process itself. "It came just after my wife died. I needed to look at my life, and I might not have if Dave hadn't asked for an interview. I was not as happy at M-A as I should have been. I couldn't wait to graduate and join the Navy. It wasn't until October of 1967, during the first riots, as a young rookie police officer, that I realized how much I loved M-A, and how much the school had done for me. This was our school, and I was very upset seeing it damaged, and witnessing students being injured, and taken to the hospital."
Local faces at Kepler's that evening included Don Moore, Pinkie Chan, Jim Lyons, Duane Starnes, Jackie Cook Geist, Joe Parodi, George Carr, Susan Erstrom Thomas, Bill Wood, Bob Frey, Joan Stickney, Eugene Boklund, and Judy Terhune.
You can join one of the friendliest people you'll ever meet when Dave has another book-signing at the Oasis, 241 El Camino Real, between Partridge & Cambridge in Menlo Park, on Wednesday, Aug. 22, from 5-8 p.m.
"Old Bears," North Atlantic Books (Berkeley, CA) soft cover, 346 pgs., $18.95. Available at Kepler's in Menlo Park.

About the author of this post: Susan Samuels Drake is the author of "Fields of Courage: Remembering Cesar Chavez & the People Whose Labor Feeds Us" as well as poems, columns, and features published internationally. Welcome to comment at sdrake2@cruzio.com

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