Forty years ago, the first students to graduate from Yosemite High School (YHS) received their diplomas, and teacher Ellen (Jackson) Peterson addressed that group of graduates.
“They’re anxious to contribute to society,” she said. “They’re feeling the success, but at the same time they realize they have to take that success with them into another world.”
Those words, heard by more than 900 people at the school’s first graduation June 11, 1977, will certainly apply when the next YHS graduates accept their diplomas June 8 at Badger Stadium, ready to build on the work, and memories, of their school’s pioneer class.
In the June 11, 1977, the Sierra Star reported there were 85 graduates with 68 attending the ceremonies.
Robin Conway was first valedictorian
Robin Conway was the class valedictorian and he and Barbara Goldman delivered the student co-speech that evening focusing on new beginnings and change. Following a career with General Electric, Conway has retired for medical reasons as a senior vice president with Kaiser Permanente. Today, in a lot of pain at times, he is awaiting a kidney and liver transplant in Florida.
Conway was actively involved as a member of a small committee that chose the school colors, the badger as the YHS mascot and set up the mechanics for how student government would function. “Stepping up and working together to try to make things work,” is how he described that first 1976-77 school year.
With the opening of YHS, he no longer had the two-hour bus ride each day to Sierra High School in Fresno County, and instead was able to drive his own car to school in just 15 minutes. He did ride the bus to YHS on his first day there, and remembers Superintendent Ken Savage, Jr., boarding the bus and announcing that smoking was allowed any place on campus except in the buildings.
Conway said that the learning environment that first year was not ideal but that some very good teachers made it work, including Peterson, David Read, Bill Rees and Dennis Otterson.
Conway attended Stanford University after graduation and was named to the “1,200 Club,” which included the top graduating seniors in the nation, according to the June 16, 1977 story in the Sierra Star. His SAT scores placed him in the top 1% in the United States.
Jim Barnett was also a member of that 1977 graduating class. This year, his son Josiah is graduating from Jim’s alma mater. Barnett did not attend the 1977 graduation ceremonies since he had enough credits to graduate at the end of the first semester. Wood shop and welding were the classes he enjoyed most.
After attending Wasuma Elementary School, Barnett rode the bus to Sierra High School for the first three years of high school.
“Work experience was a great program,” he said, since he could not only get class credits but also hands-on experience that gave him the skills to work at the Oakhurst sawmill (where Vons now stands) until it closed in 1980-81. He went on to a 33-year career with the Bass Lake School District, retiring as director of maintenance, operations and transportation last year.
Sandy (Brand) Adair participated in the commencement ceremonies. She attended Wasuma Elementary School then Mariposa High School before transferring to YHS her senior year. She was a standout player on the volleyball and basketball teams coached by Valinda Clevenger and Peterson, respectively. She attended Fresno City College and went on to a career with Liberty House and Macy’s as a manager. She recently retired after 25 years with Macy’s. Her two children, Chelsea and Bryan Adair both graduated from their mom’s alma mater.
She remembers being assigned an adviser and basically awarding herself her own grades.
Johnny Herr and Rachelle (Guillemin) Erickson were part of that 1977 graduating class. Both attended Raymond-Knowles Elementary School and Sierra High School before transferring to YHS as seniors.
“It was nice graduating with your friends from a close-knit community,” said Herr. “We were taught how to handle everyday challenges. It was a good feeling being part of the first graduating class of YHS.”
Herr was hired by Sierra Telephone in 1993 where he is now the Supervisor for Facilities Services. He has two sons, Joshua and Jeremy, who graduated in 2004 and 2008 from YHS, respectively.
Erickson also has two children who graduated from YHS. Casie Fairbanks (1999) and Dakota Marler (2005) kept Erickson involved in YHS activities, especially Future Farmers of America as Fairbanks was a four-year member and Marler played softball for four years.
Erickson began working at Raley’s in 1984 and is currently employed there as a pharmacy technician.
“The best part of (attending YHS) was not having to take a two-hour bus ride to Sierra any longer,” Erickson said. “It sure has changed. I feel proud of being in the first graduating class of YHS.”
“I only went to Yosemite for four months, three days a week from September-December,” said 1977 graduate Steve Bates. “I had enough credits to graduate early. I promptly went to work and they sent me my diploma in the mail.”
Bates and wife, Christine, own Mountain Aire Heating and Air Conditioning, Inc., in Coarsegold and have two children who graduated from YHS. Next fall, a granddaughter will enter the high school as a freshman.
Bates attended Oakhurst and Coarsegold Elementary Schools and, like so many others, took the long bus ride to Sierra High School for three years before finishing his high school career at YHS. He lists Mike Cole, Sue (Wright) Livesey, and Peterson as the teachers he remembers the most that first year.
A 33-year-old Badger grad
Not all of the 1977 class were 17 and 18 years old. Walking across the stage with that first graduating class was also 33-year-old Martha Hess who had gone through ninth grade in Reedley, dropped out of school, married and then decided she “wanted the actual book learning rather than just enough to get a high school equivalency diploma.”
Hess began attending night school classes in Selma and later in the Bay Area. When she moved to Oakhurst in 1973, there was no high school.
“When the new Yosemite High School was ready to open in 1976, I called the school to ask if they will have adult classes,” Hess said. “They said ‘no,’ not at this time, but I was welcome to attend regular day classes.”
Barry Bartlett, the senior class counselor at the time, sent for her transcripts and advised her on what classes she still needed.
“I remember I needed U.S. history taught by Peterson,” said Hess. “She was the best teacher, but since I was older and had lived through more history than the other students in my class, she would ask me to answer the questions from my personal perspective. It made for an interesting class.”
Her daughter, Gwen (Lopez) Dunn was a sophomore that year.
“We had a few of the same classes like history, art and social studies,” Hess said.
She also remembers receiving a scholarship from the Soroptimists to further her education. And like so many other 1977 graduates, her children, Lopez (1979) and Martin Hess (1983) also graduated from YHS.
From academics to Tenaya Lodge
Sandy Stanphill (Wood) doesn’t remember much of graduation day. She played on the varsity volleyball team, and was a member of the Future Business Leaders of America, as well as the “S” (Soroptimist) Club.
It was because of her work experience while a high school senior for Dr. Robert Buckler in Oakhurst that she decided to pursue a career in the medical field.
After earning her AS degree, she worked as a medical assistant in Portland for 10 years, returning to the Mountain Area in 1989 to raise her two children, who also graduated from YHS.
In school, Stanphill also enjoyed business classes, and Norma Brandt was one of her favorite business teachers.
“She was positive, helpful, and really took an interest in her students,” Stanphill said. “She married Darrell Cordova during my senior year, and I was fortunate to attend their wedding, which is a special memory.”
Two other campus favorites were Barry Bartlett and Valinda Clevenger.
Stanphill calls herself fortunate to have grown up in the Mountain Area, and in 1990, went to work Tenaya Lodge as Senior Sales Manager.
40th commencement ceremony June 8
There will be two 40-year anniversaries recognized when the class of 2016 walks across the stage at Badger Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 8. They will be the 40th group of seniors to graduate from YHS, but it also marks the 40th YHS graduation attended by retiring teacher Peterson, a coach and mentor at the school.
Yosemite High School 1977 graduating class
Susan Abrams, Thomas L. Adams, Timothy Roy Allison, Jr., Susan Janet Appling, Richard Gene Ayala, Ronald Charles Baker, James Edward Barnett, Stephen Bates, Douglas Paul Becker, Cynthia Lee Bennett, Jari Baxter, Mary Elizabeth Box, Victor Lee Bradley, Sandra Ann Brand, Vernon R. Brooks, and Lori Kathleen Brown.
Kevin Roy Cable, George Randall Callahan, Christopher C. Carter, William Paul Clenney, James Robert Clinton, Robin Allen Conway, Sherrie Michelle Conway, John R. Chandler, Jr., Renee Ann Cooper, Leiss Kay Davis, David Jonathan Dunbar, Jewel Fay Dunn, Jonathan E. England, Robert Arthur Flanagan, and Jeffrey Scott Flowers.
Sheri Lynn Gilliland, Barbara Ann Goldman, Sheryl Lee Gorsage, Deborah Ann Grainger, Lester Lyle Green, Denise Eilene Guillemin, Rachelle Guillemin, Gary Edward Harlow, Vickey Lynn Heflin, D’Arey Ward Hensley, Johnny Herr, Laurie Jean Hall, Joel C. Henson, Martha Jane Hess, Martha Grace Hornor, Gregory Scott Jines, Amy Diane Johnson, Russell David Kliewer, Debra Kay Kilner, Karen Lynn Knight, Michelle Annette King, Alvina Jane Kiser, and Randall James Langley.
Steve Anthony Mahoney, Terri Manor, Christine Marie McGinty, Della May Milburn, Laura Lee Miller, William Mills, Marvin C. Moore II, Lori Denise Morris, Charles Robert Muller, Tracie Ann NorthAmer, Nancy Ann Quarnberg, Mike W. Ramirez, Dale Alan Rigney, George S. Robertson, Kimberly Kay Ross, and Audun Skoe Runde.
Lynda Scoggins, Stephanie Ann Sidman, Allen Curtis Simms, David Sinclair Spear, Diane Lynn Skillman, Preston Tee Sanders, Darrell Ray St. John, Kaden Rene Thomas, Helena Elisabeth Tornqvist, Tricia Anne Van Klaveren, Russell J. Wadstein, Mark S. Wagner, Tommy Roy Walker, Mary Catherine Wenzinger, Karen Ann Wiley, Kelly R. Williams, Sandra Lea Wood, Linda Beth Wright, and Valerie Yvonne Wright.