Photo Essay, Ann Bassette
Members of the Richmond Union High School class of 1959 celebrated their 55-year reunion at a two day event at the Hilton in Concord last August. It was a chance for old friends to reconnect and share memories of their youth in what is now a much different Richmond.
The former classmates laughed and smiled as they looked over photos that captured their youth. They told stories of palling around with friends. Still identifying as “Oilers,” they posed for photos in front of a four-foot tall red and blue oil can, a symbol of what was once a booming gas industry on the San Francisco Bay. It was a time they said they’d always share.
During dinner and dancing on the second night the class sang their school song in unison:
“The Navy Blue and Red
Waves high over head;
Our hearts are true to Navy Blue, and
Reds the nerve to dare and do.
Whenever Richmond calls,
You’ll find the boosters there,
To fight and win for Richmond High…
The gallant Navy Blue and Red!”
They were a playful bunch, laughing and cracking jokes during dinner. They’re also a diverse crowd. Among them are doctors, restaurant owners, dog breeders boxers, baseball players and a former Richmond Chief of Police.
For some, like Joyce Tarbet it was the first time they’d made it to a reunion. Tarbet said she flew all the way from Louisiana to attend, Don Ciucci on the other hand, said he is one of the few from the class who hasn’t missed any reunions.
In his early 70s, former high school and college basketball player William La Nere said he is still into basketball. After graduating from Richmond High, he said he went on to play in a professional league in New Zealand for nine years. Now though, he can mostly be found on the sidelines—coaching. Over the years, he said he’s coached for the College of Marin as well as the girls’ team at Hercules High School and is now coaching his granddaughter at De Anza. “I consider myself one of the lucky people,” La Nere said. “I had the chance to do what I always wanted to do since I was a small kid, which was play and coach.”
But he added with a laugh that his granddaughter is the last one he’ll coach. “I promised myself, as soon as she’s done, I’m done!”
Old friends, Mary Chavez-Grey and Sandra Hendrixson-Vilariga have known each other since third grade. “One time we were seniors at Richmond High, and right now, we are seniors,” said Hendrixson-Vilariga with a chuckle as they enjoyed the festivities.
Even Sigfried Helming, a foreign exchange student from the class of 59’, attended the celebration. He said he left Argentina to make a home in El Cerrito because of the warm welcome the community gave him during his time studying here.
During the dance, Sock Hop music played and the former students, now in their 70s, showed off their moves on the dance floor. Golden oldies group, Contraband, provided live music as well, and had everyone dancing and singing along to the music of the 50s.
Between the dancing and celebrations, former classmates reminisced about their youth in Richmond, when the place to cruise was 23rd Avenue and they had a choice of movie theaters to attend. It was a time when it was normal to enter the military, go to college or get married straight out of high school.
Over fifty years, they’ve seen a lot change in Richmond. They’ve watched the city evolve, decline and now begin to rise again.[flagallery gid=24]