By DONNA BETH WEILENMAN
MARTINEZ, Calif. – During a lunch in 2002, Mary Perez told her friends Char Youngman and then-Martinez City Manager June Catalano that Mount Diablo High School in Concord was celebrating its 100th year.
The Martinez trio thought Alhambra High School deserved a similar celebration.
Four days later, they had 30 volunteers willing to help.
Their inaugural reunion celebration brought in 1,000 people.
That first event was named “The 100-Year Reunion,” Perez said. Its success prompted them to do it again the next year. Organizers chose to call it “The Decade of the ‘60s,” rather than the 101st reunion, she said.
Rather than seek out all the high school’s classes, Perez and the other organizers focused only on the graduates from that one decade.
The group planned what Perez called “a mini reunion,” saying, “We thought if we had 500, we’d be lucky.” But attendance was just as strong that year – again, more than a thousand showed up.
By then, the organizers were ready for a break. Their hiatus lasted five years.
But they resumed the reunions this year, honoring five decades – the 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s “and beginning of the ‘70s,” Perez said.
She had a group of 60 helping her, with a core of organizers made up of Barbara Kapsalis, Cindi Erickson, Richard Jordan, Robert Perry, Dorothy Buffington and Kathryn Garms.
This year’s Five Decades celebration was also a fundraiser, a chance for the Alhambra High School alumni to give back to their school’s community.
At the Dec. 2 Martinez City Council meeting, the alumni did just that. They handed a $10,000 check to the Boys & Girls Club in appreciation of the organization allowing the group the use of its building, and $5,000 to the Martinez Police Department that will help pay for another police dog.
“We bought the front half of the dog,” Perez joked.
This year’s event attracted more than 2,000 attendees, she said. Each paid $72 to participate in the meals and activities. Perez also secured sponsorships from Les Schwab, Republic Services and the City of Martinez.
She sought smaller contributions, too.
“Because we had so many people, a dollar from you and a dollar from you add up. I see how money multiplies,” she said.
The reunion started Aug. 12 with a party for early arrivals, Perez, a 1963 graduate, said. “They took over the John Muir Hotel,” she said. They also went to her home for music and dinner.
They came from all over, she said. “Some came from Africa, Australia and Europe, and all over the United States,” she said. “We had the chief of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.” That’s Herschel Hobough, from the Class of 1966.
The official event started Aug. 13 and continued through Aug. 15. Participants ate dinner at the Boys & Girls Club, then had a picnic, a street cruise, dance and a breakfast throughout the weekend. They also went past their old high school, and those from the early to the mid-1960s noticed the main building they remembered is gone.
“They had to dynamite it out of the ground,” Perez said. The alumni also described their life stories and provided recollections of attending Alhambra High School to members of the Martinez Historical Museum.
“Everybody loves coming home,” she said.