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Viking alums celebrate 85 years of history

Vikings old and new got reacquainted while marking 85 years of history at La Jolla High School’s day-long 85th anniversary celebration held Saturday, April 28, 2007.

Widely known for its enduring academic excellence, La Jolla High school (LJHS), built in 1922, is the second oldest high school in the city of San Diego, second only to San Diego High built in 1882. Grossmont High in La Mesa was also built in 1922, followed by Point Loma in 1925 and Hoover High in 1930.

Among La Jolla High’s approximately 22,324 alumni are: two movie stars, Cliff Robertson and Raquel Welch (Tejada); philanthropists Harle Garth Montgomery and Sandy Coggan Erickson; a number of authors, including native son Harry Crosby, who’s written extensively about Baja, California and Native American cave art; long-distance swimmer Anne Cleveland, new La Jolla Town Council president who’s swum the English Channel, including a double-crossing; a Superior Court judge, Bob Coates; Tom Blair, editor of San Diego Magazine; UCSD professor Ray Weiss; La Jolla Realtor Joe Klatt; physician Jan Fronek; and several pro athletes including former San Diego Chargers field goal kicker Rolf Benirschke.

Former La Jolla baseball player Brent Woodall was one of the victims of 9/11. The new baseball clubhouse is named after him. The La Jolla Playhouse, founded by Gregory Peck, began in the La Jolla High auditorium after he’d already established himself as a movie star in the 1940s. Academy Award-winning actor Cliff Robertson is a graduate and although he recently sold his La Jolla home, is still a frequent visitor to town.

Rusty Preisendorfer founded Rusty Surfboards and is one of a long line of LJHS grads that carry on the proud surfing tradition of the high school. Other alums include board maker Carl Ekstrom, and surfing legend Butch VanArtsdalen.

Of the 22,324 alumni believed to be living, 9,131 live in San Diego County and, 3,294 still have a La Jolla mailing address according to alumni office records. In addition, at least one alumnus lives in every San Diego zip code except 91934 (Jacumba).

At noon on April 28th, a number of distinguished La Jolla alumni representing classes from 1934 to 1991 gathered on the school’s campus to be recognized for their accomplishments by alumni Carl Nettleton, class of ’68.

Among others, Nettleton lauded the efforts of Rick Tullis, Class of ’62.

“Rick Tullis made a short video of 330 historical photos of yearbook pages and put them to music on video which is running in the library,” said Nettleton. “You’re watching history go by, and, all of a sudden, you recognize the names and faces of people you know, songs that you remember ... it’s quite a touching thing to watch.”

Cliff Resch, class of ’66, retired chief of police in La Mesa, was in attendance to savor the nostalgia of the homecoming event. He noted his family history at the school goes way back. “My parents graduated here in ’39,” Resch said. “Besides myself, I had three brothers and a sister who graduated in the ‘60s and ‘70s.”

Much of La Jolla High’s campus has stayed the same, but much has changed. “They gym hasn’t (changed),” said Resch. “The library has. The Administration Building has. They went to an earthquake-proof facility a long time ago. It’s all encapsulated in such a small area.”

Resch said he was enjoying the spirit of the day. “It’s nice to be back here and see a few of the people you asociated with,” he said, though he admitted he’s kept in touch with only a handful of his classmates over the years.

As a police officer, Resch, unfortunately, had the opportunity to run into a few of his old classmates. “I arrested them,” he said, without furnishing any details.

Resch, who grew up in Bird Rock, was assigned to cover La Jolla and Pacific Beach the first and last jobs he held for the Police Department.

Waxing nostaligic, Resch recalled he and his buddies got access to a master key back in the day that afforded them entry into the school’s gym after-hours. “On the weekends, we’d play basketball,” he said. “We got caught after we got greedy and stole some ice cream from the cafeteria.”

Class of ’60 grad Ray Weiss, now a UCSD professor and also a La Jolla Town Councilman, recalled times were less complicated back in his day. “It was the ‘50s,” Weiss noted, “though I think kids tend not to be aware of things when they’re going through them as they are after when they look back.”

Though it may have been a simpler time then, Weiss nonetheless noted there was turbulence and uncertainty, considering the post-World War II atomic age and the Cold War with Russia. “I remember the Soviet nuclear threat and duck and cover,” he said, “the McCarthy era. There was plenty of turmoil.”

When Weiss was in high school, it was before Ardath Road/La Jolla Parkway existed. “You got here by coming up through Pacific Beach,” he said, “or down through what is now the university. Those were the two ways into La Jolla.”

Weiss recalls from his high school years that the number one thing for youth to do after school was to surf.

“The beach culture was here before it was a national thing,” he noted. “It was all longboards then, and they were heavy. The redwoods were on the way out and balsa wood was in.”

The 85th anniversary event was hosted and orchestrated by La Jolla High School Alumni Association, which was founded in 1991 to help promote communication among Viking alumni and preserve the history of La Jolla High School. It is an affiliate of the Foundation of La Jolla HIgh School, a non-profit 501(c)3 corporation that raises funds to benefit the school. The association maintains a database with more than 24,000 people who’ve attended the school and maintains a Web site, www.ljhsalumni.org, to share this information.

For more information, to register or to give contact information so they can be reached in the future, LJHS alumni can call (858) 551-9871.