110317 1917 SM yearbook 01.jpg

Santa Maria Union High School’s first graduates -- Zora DeWitt, left, George Merritt, Kenneth Adam and Ruth Libbey -- are shown on a mural in the school's entry with an old yearbook. The mural was painted by teacher Eric Farnsworth.

Len Wood, Staff

In the spring of 1894, the Santa Maria Union High School’s first graduation took place when four seniors -- Zora DeWitt, George Merritt, Kenneth Adam and Ruth Libbey -- received their diplomas.

As the population grew, so did the enrollment. Twenty three years later, the school awarded diplomas to 23 graduating members of the class of 1917.

According to the 1917 high school Review, six of the 16 graduates of 1916 were already pursuing careers in teaching and attending State Normal schools, while Helen Otis was enrolled in the San Francisco Arts School. Elma Branch was enrolled in nurses training at Sister’s Hospital in Los Angeles and Chester Gibbs was a student at Stanford. The remaining graduates were mostly farmers.

Interest in debating took hold when the semester began in September of 1916 and a debating society was organized with Clifford Davis, a junior, as president.

In November, the school sent one of its teams to Arroyo Grande to debate a team from California Polytechnic School in San Luis Obispo. The subject was “Resolved that Direct Primary should be abolished in California.” Although Allen Patterson and Hubert Jordan came out with flying colors, the two others didn’t do as well.

The school’s sports endeavors fared better.

The boys’ basketball team held its first game in October of 1916 and gave Santa Ynez a trimming by beating them by a score of 61-2. However, the tables were turned for the Santa Maria boys on the following Oct. 21 when the Arroyo Grande team beat them by a score of 23-22. The next five games were sort of toss-ups with the home team winning three games and losing two.

Members of the boys’ basketball team included Samuel Collins, captain, Clifford Davis, Claude Peavy, Tilden Righetti, Dewey Tunnell and Dean Twitchell.

A meeting of all boys interested in track and baseball was held Jan. 10, 1917, when Clifford Davis was elected captain of the track team and Tilden Righetti took over the school's baseball nine.

Although track practice began almost immediately, not much interest in the sport was shown until about two weeks before the interclass track meet was scheduled to be held.

On March 17 at California Polytechnic School grounds and with eight schools competing, Santa Maria’s track team took second place and several records were broken during one of the fastest meets ever held in this part of the country. Ventura High School took first place.

Santa Maria’s team -- Cox, Collins, Toy, Peavy and Davis -- took second place in the relay race. However, when the Ventura team was disqualified, the first place award went to Santa Maria.

Those who competed in track, with C.M. Rogers as coach, were Dudley Brady, Samuel Collins, Stacy Cox, Clifford Davis, Leo Donovan, Samuel Paulson, Claude Peavy, Tilden Righetti, Harry Siler, Carl Toy and Sylvester Zanetti.

With only Tilden Righetti, Carl Toy, Neal Glines and Claude Peavy remaining from the 1916 baseball team, prospects didn’t look good for the upcoming baseball season. However, in practice (held every noon hour) both coach Rogers and captain Righetti were able to develop new material, resulting in prospects looking pretty good.

With The Review raving about the crowds that came out to see the boys' games, girls' sports, although not as flashy as the boys’, were just as popular.

The girls’ basketball team, with Beatrice Maine as coach, “made the school proud.” The players included Lucille Brown, Lucile Drumm, Edith Glines, Melba Locey, Valera McIntosh, Gertrude Oakley, Helen and Lois Oakley.

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The annual senior play, “Anne of Old Salem,” took place at the Gaiety Theatre on May 25 with all of the school’s seniors participating in the production. Since there were not enough parts for everyone, a Colonial Minuet was given by Fern Iliff, Mary Niverth, Gladys Cotter, Careline Barton, Hazel Smith, Eleanor Bobo, Frances Looman and Petrea Parnell.

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The faculty at the high school included Principal Nelson C. Smith, Vice Principal Errett Allen and teachers C.M. Rogers, Beatrice M. Maine, Cora L. Bryson, Mira R. Arms, Ormonde Paulding, Vera Hawkins and Frank M. Buzick.

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Seniors who were ready to step out in the world included Edna Alcorn, Eleanor Bobo, Dudley Brady, Lucille Brown, Samuel Collins, Gladys Cotter, Marion Crandall, Evaline and Laura Dana, Leo and Mary Donovan, Ben Drumm, Fern Iliff, Katheryn Kellogg, Frances Looman, Margaret McKenzie, Mary Niverth, Helen Oakley, Allen Patterson, Eva Reiner, Mary Rutherford, Doris Sherman and Hazel Smith.

More than 100 years have passed since these graduates received their diplomas and all have gone to their great reward. Still, though, the history they created constitutes another important chapter in the annals of Santa Maria Union High School.

Shirley Contreras lives in Orcutt and writes for the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society. She can be contacted at 623-8193 or at shirleycontreras2@yahoo.com. Her book, “The Good Years,” a selection of stories she’s written for the Santa Maria Times since 1991, is on sale at the Santa Maria Valley Historical Society, 616 S. Broadway.