Memories pour forth at San Juan High School centennial in Citrus Heights

It was 1948, the interlude between World War II and the Korean War, when Carl Hencken graduated from San Juan Union High School.

“We were all raised in families that went through the Depression,” said Hencken, now 83. “We had old cars.” Instead of suburbs and traffic, the rural area east of Sacramento was populated with fruit trees and unpaved roads.

On Saturday , hundreds of alumni and their family members along with many of today’s high school students came together to mark the 100-year anniversary of what is now San Juan High School in Citrus Heights.

Scores of visitors mingled in the cafeteria to look at old yearbooks or to gather around tables marked by graduation decades. Others attended the vintage car show or tried the pizza or hot dogs or listened to recorded music staged by students.

Everywhere, the memories came easily.

More than a half-century ago, students living miles distant attended classes. Hencken recalled that when he stayed late for football practice he walked miles from the campus on Greenback Lane to his home near Garfield and Marconi avenues in Carmichael.

Some were lucky enough to ride to or from school with friends who had jalopies.

“When I was growing up, I lived in a house on the corner of Sunrise Boulevard and Watson Way,” said Barbara Lawson, class of 1951. She later married Emil Giusti, class of 1945.

Lawson-Giusti said she could catch a bus or walk to school. But there were times when classmates with cars would pick up hikers along the route. There were no seat belts in those days. “We’d have about 10 people in the car,” she said.

Her classes, among others, included shorthand and a “life’s problems” class in which she gave a talk on divorce. “My mother had been divorced twice,” Lawson-Giusti said. “I knew the subject and how it affects the family.”

Emil Giusti left school before his 1945 graduation ceremony and headed to the Pacific as part of the liberating forces for the Philippines. One day, he was notified of his impending graduation ceremony. He remembered telling his sergeant he was supposed to graduate that day – June 15, 1945. The sergeant answered, he said, “If we live through the night, you graduated.”

Other memories came from women who recalled sewing classes in which they used a treadle to run the machines instead of electricity.

Olly May Dotson, class of 1951, married Emil’s brother, John Giusti, in 1952. She sewed something beautiful in her sewing class, she recalled, “but with a treadle machine.”

Charlie Duncan and Shirley Dale started their freshman year in 1944 as the war blazed on. The two later married. Duncan one day would become Cap’n Delta, host of a kids show in the late 1960s on KOVR-TV Channel 13. Dale-Duncan eventually would work for Jean Moorhead, who spent eight years representing Sacramento in the Assembly, first as a Republican but later switching parties to become a Democrat.

Perry Padrta, 69, toured the campus as part of his visit.

“I was up in Oregon and came down here for a reunion and couldn’t believe how much I loved it here,” said Padrta, who graduated in 1961. He said he decided to move back to the area.

Nelson Perez, 18, this year’s senior class president, said he believes the event helped bring the community together.

“I think the school is going to be here for much, much longer than this,” he said.