Very Vintage

Yosemite High students excited with the generous donation of vintage clothing from Allan King include, from left, Elizabeth Thorson, Kelly Ravel, Jacob Pitkanen, King, Zoe Bush and Sabrina King (no relation).
Yosemite High students excited with the generous donation of vintage clothing from Allan King include, from left, Elizabeth Thorson, Kelly Ravel, Jacob Pitkanen, King, Zoe Bush and Sabrina King (no relation). Sierra Star

Yosemite High School drama students will be stylin’ during future productions with the addition of more than 100 pieces of vintage clothing donated to the school.

Thanks to longtime Oakhurst resident Allan King, the YHS Drama Department now has a large selection of clothing dating between 1790 and 1960, including lace wedding dresses, furs and military uniforms.

King and his late wife, Barbara, began collection vintage clothing in 1952 when Barbara went to a yard sale in Binton County, Iowa, and came home with two Civil War dresses - dresses she couldn’t pass up for $2 each.

The Kings moved to the Mountain Area in 1957 and continued to collect vintage clothing.

“My wife and I were known as pack rats and when people didn’t want something anymore, they gave it to us,” King said. “Time after time, people would say ‘we have a trunkful of things and you can have them.’”

The Kings, with the help of friends, decided to form a traveling fashion show highlighting the vintage clothing. The shows, held between 1985 and 2002, were held as far away as San Diego and Reno and proceeds from the shows went to purchase more clothing.

Their collection and their passion for historic clothing continued to grow and Barbara’s mother, Naomi Decker Jensen, was a big contributor. Over the years those two dresses grew into a collection of more than 300 vintage dresses and many pairs of shoes, military uniforms, hats, purses, accessories and children’s clothing.

It was in 2002 that the Kings partnered with Toni Lagunoff , then president of the Wild Wonderful Women, and opened the Wild Wonderful King Vintage Museum in Oakhurst on Golden Oak Drive. Barbara designed the first displays, but died on April 30, 2002, after a 20-year battle with cancer, one month before the museum’s grand opening.

The museum moved, for the fourth time, to a larger quarters on Highway 41 in 2006. In 2009, the museum hosted the Lincoln Exhibit that was held in only 40 cities across the country.

Maintained and financed by the Wild Wonderful Women, the museum closed in 2013.

Treasure trove of vintage clothing

Lars Thorson, theater arts teacher at Yosemite High, remembers the day that the front office called him.

“I received a phone call that a man was at the front office and wanted to talk to me about a donation,” Thorson said. “I met Allan King, and he explained that he and his wife had the King Vintage Museum and now he wanted to donate some vintage clothes to the drama department. I told him that we had taken our daughter to his museum when she was about 3 years old, and I would love to see what he had.”

Thorson took his daughter Elizebeth and his friends, YHS art teacher Evan Higgins and his wife Kelly, to King’s house where they found a virtual treasure trove.

“Kelly loves vintage things and you could see her eyes light up when she saw all the clothing - and I saw an extraordinary opportunity to add to the theater department’s costume collection,” Thorson said. “Allan was kind and gracious and explained that his wife had passed away a number of years previously, and he was in the process of downsizing. I could see that this collection was clearly a labor of love between Allan and his wife so I wanted to be sure and be respectful and fair with my offer. After seeing the collection, I told him that the YHS theater arts department would love to take his in-kind donation of clothes. I also suggested that there were some pieces inappropriate for the stage, but we would like to try to sell them using an online retailer as a fundraiser for the theater department.”

Thorson called the donation to the school extraordinary.

“This large amount of vintage clothing is like living history and something that you just don’t encounter every day,” Thorson said.

Thorson got some clothing racks from the music department and he and Kelly proceeded to fill them with the clothing.

“Kelly and I have spent the past two weeks creating an inventory for Allan and his family,” Thorson said. “We built new permanent clothing racks in a climate controlled storage room and figured out what items could actually be sold. We started a virtual shop on Etsy and began to photograph the items and list them. We opened the shop on Feb. 1 and had our first sale that day. We estimate that we will have about 50 pieces to sell. Because it is a fundraiser, we are keeping the prices reasonable.”

The online store can be seen at https://goo.gl/bd5q8j.

Thorson said his drama students have been having a great time trying on the clothes.

“The students have been amazed at how small some of the garments are, and love the styles that range from elegant to funky,” Thorson said. “This gift was truly unexpected, but very very welcome. Allan recently came to a performance we were doing and mentioned that he and his wife had gone to see shows at YHS for many years.

“Allan’s warm smile and sly wit charmed the students,” Thorson continued. “I feel privileged to go through these clothes as they are a symbol of Allan and Barbara King’s love of fashion and love for each other. I cannot fully express my joy over his altruism and generosity. He is a great role model for my students. If a 90-year-old man can continue to work and has such a spirit of giving and zest for life, then maybe some of that will rub off on my students so they will reach out and help others in need. He’s so emblematic of that phrase ‘the greatest generation.’”

The Kings also opened Dayna’s Place, a non-profit youth center in 1985. The center operated for seven years and was named after the King’s daughter Dayna, 18, who was killed in an auto accident on Highway 41 coming home from Fresno. The Kings helped the school establish Sober Grad Night with the first events being held at Dayna’s Place, along with ‘no-alcohol’ New Year’s Eve parties for high school students.

King works for Message of Life, a publishing company that publishes Bible study material in Spanish for church Sunday schools and vacation Bible schools in 26 states and eight countries.

A big sports fan, King has been a big supporter of Yosemite High athletics since the school opened 40 plus years ago, and has missed only a few home football and basketball games.

“It is my hope that members of the community can once again enjoy the vintage clothing from time to time on the Yosemite High stage,” King said.