Talk of the Towne
A Lot of Class
Old memories were revived and new memories made at the Orange High 68th class reunion held this past September. Class of 1950 attendees were (back row from left) Don Barber (turquoise shirt), Harriet (Lampert) Friis, Robert (Bob) Steele, Don Pargee, Marlene (Lembke) Virus, Ted Glasener, Nancy (Ames) Nieblas Sampo (blue floral dress), Robert (Bob) Meehan and Gilbert Stern. (Front row from left) are Pearl (Lierman) Kruusi (seated), Sara Phoebe (Sweet) Barber, Mary Lou (Meadows) Sipherd, Virginia (Frick) Labahn, Marilyn (Evans) Wagoner (sitting in chair) and Barbara (McAulay) Frevert (sitting on steps).
Try to picture the City of Orange without freeways, without shopping centers, without tract housing.  Try to imagine a little country town of 10,000 people surrounded by orange groves, avocado orchards and chicken ranches.
 
Some people don’t have to imagine this rural past, because they knew and loved that town in the years gone by.  Like the 20 or so members of the Class of 1950 from Orange Union High School, who gathered for their 68th high school reunion on September 22.  The event took place at Ruta’s Old Town Inn, within sight of the old Orange High campus (now a part of Chapman University).
 
Growing up in Orange in the 1930s and 1940s, the classmates who gathered remember a little town of sunshine and orange blossoms.  Some graduates also came from the surrounding communities—all separate little towns then—including Olive, El Modena, Villa Park, West Orange and Orange Park Acres.
 
As the old friends gathered, nicknames were revived and familiar personalities surfaced. Who were the sports stars, who were the artists?  Who had a crush on whom?  Who got away with what, and who didn’t? It was an afternoon of inside jokes and warm recollections.
 
Much of the talk was about people and personalities, family and friends, spouses, parents long gone and the latest grandchildren (and even great grandchildren).  Everywhere were connections to old Orange.
 
Bob Meehan (his father was one of Orange County’s first Highway Patrol captains), Mary Lou Sipherd (her father, Rueben Meadows, was caretaker at Hart Park) and Harriet Lampert Friis (her father ran the Western Auto department store downtown) were among the organizers of the reunion.  Other alumni’s parents were pastors, auto mechanics, ranchers and community leaders.  But for pioneer families, Nancy (Ames) Nieblas beats them all.  Her eighth great grandfather was Juan Pablo Grijalva, the first Spanish ranchero in the area.
 
As old friends caught up, warm letters were read aloud from classmates unable to attend.  Quiet nods marked the names of those who had passed away since their last reunion.  Old photos were passed around and new ones taken.  Pages were turned in treasured yearbooks and tattered high school newspapers.
 
Classmates recalled with pride that fellow alumnus Mary Jane Glasbrenner was Orange Union High’s first elected female student body president.  She is gone now, but her husband came in her place.
 
Not everything came from the past.  Notes from many of the absent classmates were sent in by email.  Photos were taken (and shared) by cell phone cameras. Still, nostalgia remained the heart of the afternoon.
 
Amidst the reminiscing, Rutabegorz Restaurant next door generously catered the event with General Manager Veronica Comeau and Liz Talone serving up a delicious lunch.
 
As the afternoon wound down, one by one the old friends departed.  Some lingered on, clinging to every last moment.  No one seemed quite sure when their next reunion would be.  But if this event was any indication, the Class of 1950 will likely gather again to mark the times they shared in old Orange.

Published in the Nov/Dec 2018 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Phil Brigandi, Photograph by Jeanine Hill

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