EHS Alumni Georgia Hillebrecht Prior & Jacquelin Balogh
The True Origin of the Golden Reunion
By Jacquelin Cullens Balogh, Class of 1963...
In the fall of 1946, when Lois Ross Raines (Class of 1898) wished that she and the Escondido High School girls who lived in the Los Angeles area could get together, it is doubtful that she foresaw the legacy that they would create.
Traveling by train to Los Angeles on October 26, 1946, four San Diego County ladies, Nettie Strong Moses, Ethel Thomas Turrentine, Mary Rockwood Peet, and Floy Fleetwood Fulton, met at the home of Miss Minnie Whims. They were joined by Neva Clark Theis, Eva Legore Tubbs, Nora Van Fleet Van der Veer and the Welty sisters, Edna Hamilton and Lula Reece.
The ladies enjoyed themselves so much that day they decided to meet again the following spring in Escondido. That reunion was held at the home of Mrs. Ethel Turrentine on June 21, 1947, and attended by 20 former Escondido High graduates.
By the spring of 1948, the guys had gotten wind of this fun affair and wanted to be included; all alumni who had completed their education at Escondido High were invited. By this time, interest had grown so much that the reunion was moved to a larger venue: the Congregational Church at the corner of Third and Maple Streets in Escondido.
Being that June 17, 1948, was the 50th anniversary of the first Escondido High graduating class - to the day - this date was selected as the third annual reunion. It was then decided that, hereafter, this annual event would honor each 50th graduating class and that wives and husbands of alumni would be welcomed. The date of subsequent events was the second Saturday in June but was moved to the Saturday after Mother’s Day in the mid-1960s.
As the event matured, official committees were formed; sometimes, the same members carrying over from the previous year. The list of chairmen of this reunion reads like a “Who’s Who” in Escondido: Doris Heard, Mary Rockwood Peet, Lucy Turrentine, and Dick Lievers. One alumni, Bill Ross (‘39) served for several years in a row, as did Thera Smith (‘26). In some years, there was a formal “election” to decide who would chair the event.
It was established, almost from the beginning, that the committee would consist of members of three classes: the honored “baby class” plus the two preceding classes, with the senior class being in charge. Thusly, each class had two years of “training” before taking the reins of responsibility.
By the third year of this event, it was necessary to seek larger quarters; the Women’s Parlor at the Old Congregational Church at Third & Maple became the venue for several years. In the mid-1950s, needing larger space again, the reunion started being held in Plymouth Hall on the high school campus at Fourth & Hickory Streets. The City Campus was sold to the Congregational Church in 1959 after all EUHS students had been moved to “Valley Campus”. The Golden Reunion crowd had found a comfortable home there on familiar grounds- “Old High School Hill,” and it would serve them until the building was demolished in 1979.
During the 1980s, the party bounced around from the Elks Lodge to Lawrence Welk’s, the Serbian Orthodox Church (90-91), Rancho Bernardo Inn, & Castle Creek Country Club. From 1995 to 2000, its location was the California Center for the Arts in Escondido.
When planning the 2001 Golden Reunion honoring the Class of 1951, co-chairmen Dick Lievers & Harry Sherman decide to change the atmosphere of the “50+” Reunion.
They realized that alumni just wanted to visit and swap memories, so a major adjustment was made: gone were the fancy, expensive meals, long-winded speeches, and time limits to the fun. In 2001, the format was changed to an informal picnic with a BBQ lunch and moved to a more nostalgic and historic venue, Felicita Park.
At Felicita Park, the alumni were able to relax, spread out more, enjoy the open air, and use the little stage for their program and introduction of next year’s committee. It was believed that this more relaxed venue would attract more attendees, which it did- there were more than 500 guests that year. The reunion was held at Felicita Park until 2008 when it was moved to Grape Day Park in Central Escondido, where it stayed until 2019. The Covid Pandemic caused the event to be closed in 2020 & 2021.
In 2001, the Escondido High School Junior Class was looking for a way to raise funds for their Junior/Senior Prom, so they were “hired” by the Golden Reunion committee to assist at the 56th Annual Golden Reunion. The tradition of the students helping has continued, but now includes participation from the entire school including staff. Around 80 kids help each year. They are no longer “paid,” but a generous donation is made to certain student funds in their honor. Since 2022 the AVID students have been the primary helpers. Their help is invaluable- they do everything from setting up chairs and handing out programs to serving meals and bussing tables.
What started as a group of 10 ladies getting together for lunch in 1946, has grown into a massive event that takes months of planning and has a budget of over $35,000. It has become less formal, but at the same time grander in scale. In the early ’50s when attendance was around 40 or so people, there was a structured program with piano playing, singing, and speeches by the mayor. Corsages were presented to the ladies, boutonnieres to the gentlemen, and the “baby class” was introduced to the tune of beating drums.
Though having the reunion at an outdoor location allows for more flexibility, the formula is basically the same: the “Baby Class or Cougar Cubs” is welcomed, senior members are in charge, a short program is offered, and lunch is served. A good time is had by all. There are now huge rented tents, scores of tables and chairs, sound systems, a mailing list of some 3000, and mountains of food, usually from the Wrangler restaurant. Dozens of volunteers, besides committee members, are needed to put this reunion together.
By 1959, attendance had grown to more than 60 alumni; in 1970, the 25th anniversary of the Golden Reunion, there were almost 90 guests. By 1983’s event at the Elk’s Lodge, the size of the group was approaching 300. The attendance in 2015 was well over 700 and that does not include the volunteers, which numbered nearly 100.
The program has been shortened to 15 minutes- no formal speeches, cheerleaders, or glee club. The Alma Mater is a must, as is the Pledge of Allegiance and an invocation. Honored guests are introduced and a couple of songs may be sung. This leaves plenty of time for the Cougar Faithful to enjoy each other.
A special and precious addition to this event are the dozens of “Memory Boards” that line Memory Lane as you come into the venue.
Almost from the beginning, each class was required to construct a display of mementos from their high school days. Many of them have been lost to history’s dustbin, but of the ones remaining, the oldest dates to 1929.
These are a wonderful record of the history of Escondido High - images of smiling teens from bygone eras, pictures of the “High School on the Hill;” articles from “The Cougar” newspaper...from sepia tones and construction paper to today’s slick digital images, they are a Cougar timeline to be enjoyed.
They are precious indeed, and irreplaceable. Yet, the Memory Boards had fallen into terrible condition because of the way they had been stored.
Realizing the significant value of these boards, the 2015 committee decided to take on the task of restoring and preserving them. It was a huge undertaking...many of the boards were in dismal shape. Each board was lovingly assessed; pictures and items were carefully removed. Care was taken to make sure that each item and photograph was placed in the exact same spot onto a new Foam-core board. Some of the photos were scanned and reprinted; all the boards were then laminated and the edges sealed. The boards were finished in time for the 70th Annual Golden Reunion on May 16, 2015.
Along with the Memory board preservation task, was the dilemma of how to store them so that they could not be damaged and how to better display them at the reunion. On to phases 2 and 3 of the restoration projects.
The manly men of the 2015 committee built two beautiful wooden storage boxes for these unique boards - in a size large enough so that they can be stored flat and would be well protected. The boxes are also large enough to accommodate several more years of class Memory Boards.
Not only did these men from the 2015 committee build storage boxes, but they also constructed new display racks for the boards. They are gorgeous Cougar Orange & Black; they are sturdy and they fold flat for storage.
These treasured mementos from the past are now stored properly so that they may be displayed for many Golden Reunions to come. Part of our responsibility as members of this committee is to not only honor the past but to preserve it for future Golden Reunion honorees.
Golden Reunion or 50+?
Over the years, this event has gone by several different names. Early on, it was called simply the Escondido High School Annual Reunion or the 50-Year Reunion.
In the ’70s, it became the Golden Anniversary Reunion or Golden Reunion. In 1983, the invitation called it the Golden Plus Reunion. This name carried over through the 2000 meeting.
In 2001, when it was moved to Felicita Park, the name was changed to the 50+ Reunion. That has stuck for several years. In 2015, after I had uncovered several name variations, I began calling it the “Golden Reunion”. I believe that this is such a special occasion that it deserves to be forever called “The Escondido High School Golden Reunion.”
Most of the information I collected for this history is from articles in the Daily Times Advocate dating from June 1956 to May 1987 and from the North County Times from May 1998 to May 2012.
Also, I found copies of meeting notes and several invitations to the Golden Reunion that were helpful in piecing together this information.
If you know of any other resources that I may use to fill in some of the blanks, please contact me or the Golden Reunion Committee at email@example.com.
I am grateful to Mrs. Georgia Hillebrecht Prior (Class of ‘43) for graciously allowing me into her home and for her patience in answering my questions.
I also thank Mr. Dick Lievers, (Class of ‘49) for his good memory and helpfulness.
- Jacquelin Cullens Balogh
An article was published about the Golden Reunion by the San Diego Union-Tribune’s
Adrian Vore on May 8, 2015. You can read that article by clicking here…