Remembering Woodside, circa 1966 | January 15, 2020 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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Cover Story - January 15, 2020

Remembering Woodside, circa 1966

Classmates of old collaborate on an anecdotal memoir about their long-ago school years

by Rick Radin

Years after an idyllic experience at Woodside Elementary School, 35 members of the class of 1966 have written about their time there after experiencing the real world of adulthood.

Their stories are chronicled in a recently released book "This is Where I Live: The Legacy Project," that was self-published by four of the class members.

Woodside Elementary has some similarities to an old-fashioned prep school, holding a May Day pageant and picnic, and crowning a king and queen every year.

The May 1 event is an old-fashioned ritual that for those who are about to graduate is a prelude to moving on to a private school or a more typical public school experience at Woodside High School.

Fred Brousseau, Mary Jean Eckhardt Risheim, Stuart Johnson and Adrian Krauss served as editors of the book after Krauss came up with the original idea in 2016.

"The look of the town, its trees and roads ... seem timeless," Brousseau wrote by way of an introduction. "The highs and lows of childhood contain some universal stories, I believe. But I do think the uniqueness of the town in the 1950s and 1960s also comes through."

The May Day festivities still go on with "an old-fashioned parade that celebrates the coming of spring," in the words of Becky Ballentine Preimesberger.

"The May Day dance is still girls in pastel skirts and white blouses, although boys have been added to the event now," Preimesberger wrote in her contribution to the book.

Some class members shared fond, Norman Rockwell-like memories of growing up in a small town on the outskirts of the Peninsula's urban core.

"My joys in Woodside were BEING in Woodside," wrote Steve Des Georges. "Being in a small town where you could find a job bagging groceries at Roberts of Woodside or busing dishes from the Stage Stop or selling mistletoe from a Ryder wagon."

Some classmates stayed in Woodside and have been active in town life, including Bob Susk, who became an attorney and served as a mayor in the 1990s.

Susk remembered "the magical time of the summer days when the sun just started to go down and the color and lighting of the trees was just beautiful."

He was also old enough to remember when Roberts Market was Caldwell's General Store and "the long journey to Stanford Shopping Center, which was much smaller than now."

Engineer John Maroney still lives in Woodside and remembers taking part in the Fourth of July Junior Rodeo, with a pig scramble that, in recent years, has created an uproar with animal rights activists and others.

Horses were often a part of growing up in certain neighborhoods in Woodside, as they still are today. Kim Walker wrote about riding her first horse, "Bubbles," in parades.

"Horses were a freedom pass, and I rode mine all over Woodside," wrote Walker, who continues to ride at home in South Carolina. "There were many horse shows to participate in, mostly at the Mounted Patrol Grounds."

Risheim also reminisced about riding —"Settling in with the drumbeat of hooves and the bobbling meditation of pricked ears before me."

Some families were a bit different from the Woodside norm.

Chris Thompson remembered being "not your typical kid." His family shared a house in the Glens neighborhood with another family, and a Stanford professor introduced his father "to members of the Menlo Park Foundation who experimented with LSD."

The family eventually moved to Redwood City, but Thompson kept in touch with some of his Woodside Elementary classmates, including Bob Susk, and remembers hanging out and drinking iced tea with him and other friends at the coffee shop across from Roberts Market.

A couple of the contributors developed a certain degree of fame as authors and had involved stories to tell.

Barnaby Conrad III is the son of a writer and followed in his father's footsteps, becoming a literary figure.

Conrad remembered his experience in Woodside as brief and bittersweet. His parents divorced in 1962 and his mother moved him and his two siblings to Woodside for a year before moving on to Palm Beach, Florida.

"I hated (Palm Beach) and always wanted to move back to Woodside, but it wasn't to be," Conrad wrote. "The good news is that my mother married my stepfather in 1967, and we moved back to the Bay Area."

After graduating from Yale, Conrad went on to publish 15 books about art and drinking, among other topics, including a illustrative book on California artist Richard Diebenkorn.

Conrad's books on absinthe, the martini and cigar smoking hearken back to favorite subjects of his father, Barnaby Conrad Jr., who founded the El Matador nightclub in San Francisco's North Beach in 1953 and was a ubiquitous presence in the columns of Herb Caen in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Conrad recalls honing his writing chops in the sixth grade at Woodside Elementary under Mr. Willett, who "drilled us on homonyms and antonyms and corrected our grammar ... most fortunate for my later career as a writer," Conrad wrote.

Unfortunately, it was also in Mr. Willett's class that the phone rang in the classroom in November 1963 with the news of the Kennedy assassination that "eroded our innocence," he remembered.

Author, teacher and editor Jane Ganahl, then known as Jane Buelteman, wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle for a time and went on to be a co-founder and current artistic director of the Litquake literary festival in San Francisco.

Ganahl wrote that she remembers Woodside as a pastoral landscape and that every time she visits she wonders "if it were really possible that I lived here."

She remarked about the contrast between her upbringing and that of her ex-husband, who grew up in Long Beach, a city next to a freeway dotted with oil derricks.

"I've often wondered if such a childhood spoiled me for the realities of life," she wrote. "No other place I've lived quite approached the Woodside gold standard."

Ganahl also credits Woodside Elementary with having an impact on her choice of career.

She remembered that Mr. Mueller, an English teacher, was so impressed with her ability to write haiku that he had her teach the class about it.

Mr. Mueller later recommended that she bypass eighth grade English at Woodside Elementary to jump to "AS English" at Woodside High School because of her precocity with words.

"I always credit my writing career to this," she wrote.

"This is Where I Live: The Legacy Project" is available on Amazon in hard copy and electronic forms.

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