Blast from the Past

Catching Up with the Original Graduating Class

Sehome High School has a long and storied history, having first opened for classes in the 1966-1967 school year. Although this was its first year of classes, Sehome didn’t have a graduating class of seniors until the 1967-1968 school year. As the first graduating class, the class of 1968 has a lot of fascinating tales to tell of the earliest days of Sehome.

Cary Feldmann, like everyone else in his graduating class, didn’t start off at Sehome. “Most of the people in my graduating class, except for those who moved into the district as juniors or seniors, were sophomores at Bellingham High School first,” Feldmann said. “We were all part of a large sophomore class combined of students from Whatcom, Shuksan, and Fairhaven Junior Highs. There were no middle schools until the new high school and Bellingham added the Freshman classes.”

“[I was at] Bellingham High School,” Darrell Cowan, another senior, said. “It was our class that got split up, half stayed at Bellingham and the other half went to Sehome. And it was all mapped out according to school district, and so that’s how I wound up going to Sehome. Which was a lot of fun because we were the top dog for two years. There were no seniors when we over there [in the 1966-1967 school year].”

Julian McCallister and Carol Gwinner, other 1968 seniors, also attended Bellingham High School before Sehome. Carol Gwinner went by the name of Carol Bowers when she was in school.

“Sehome was a different school, I think than a country school, Mt. Baker High School,” Randy Agnew said, another 1968 senior. “I lived in the city but I drove out to Mt. Baker [before going to Sehome].”

Describing the transition, Feldmann described a schedule similar to what current juniors and seniors would have experienced in their freshman or sophomore years. “School was straight forward, though it may be different today. Classes started at 8 am as I recall and dismissed at 3:30 or 4. We had, as I recall, six periods in a seven period day, two different lunch periods: early and late. Classes at BHS were virtually the same as Sehome to preserve integrity of the educational process.”

Feldmann also described what it was like to be the son of Bellingham High School’s principal. “I got along well with my teachers. I needed to, my father was the principal at BHS (my sophomore year only). So I followed instructions or there would be the devil to pay at home. It didn’t really influence me or the teachers for that matter, as I tried to be a good student anyway.”

Feldmann went into great detail describing the process of coming to the new school, how the school developed its themes and traditions, and some of the original ideas that went into Sehome’s founding. “Some of us had been selected to participate in the development of school colors, mascot, themes, etc. while still students at Bellingham. I remember going to meetings and casting votes for traditions, as well as taking a trip to see a relatively new school in Seattle to see how they developed their traditions. We were also taken over to see the construction at Sehome while that was occuring. I think this was all to begin the process of orientation to the new and separate school. Those were interesting days, never to be repeated by any class at Sehome.”

“In the fall of course everything at Sehome was new, and several parts were not yet completed when we started school. Equipment and books were still arriving and some facilities were incomplete. The football field and track were not completed yet. PE classes had to go out and collect buckets of rocks off the field. That literally killed two birds with one stone, students got exercise and the school district didn’t have to pay for the stone removal to prepare the fields for seeding. It took a couple years before the field was available.”

“The spring of my senior year was the first time we were able to practice on Sehome’s field for track and field and I guess thereafter for football.”

“As a school facility, designers had try to copy the open campus concept popularized in California. I don’t know how much of that concept has been retained in the new facility, but you can compare.”

“There was initial disorientation, and because the campus was so spread out getting to classes, even if you were familiar with the layout it could be tight, those darned bells (or were they buzzers?). I just remember being trained to watch the clock for the moment of release so I could run to the next one. The central student lounge at Sehome was unique to us, so it was a great gathering place for groups of friends.”

“I was from Whatcom [Middle School, at the time Junior High] and had very few friends that went to Sehome. Gary Hatch and I had gone to Junior High together and there were a few others, but it seemed most of the kids had come from Fairhaven and had grown up together and therefore were comfortable with their group. Most of Whatcom (most of my childhood friends) and all of Shuksan (with some of my friends) attended Bellingham. As time passed, through classes, sports, etc. I made new friends from the Southside as well. I was a bit of a nerd, so being socially awkward was a rule I followed to perfection, so that no doubt influenced my integration into this new foreign culture.”

“My junior year they selected me for a photo essay ‘a typical day in the life…’ for our annual. The photos captured me in various poses from the first thing in the morning, through classes, lunch, labs, etc., even while doing homework (but the pictures were always from behind so you wouldn’t know who it was).”

When asked about which classes he enjoyed, Feldmann expressed a particular affinity for the sciences. “I was always interested in Biology and from the sixth grade wanted to be a marine biologist. Elbert Milburn had been my biology teacher my Sophomore year at Bellingham but made the transfer, like several other good teachers, to Sehome. He offered a Marine Biology course and I took that as well. Those classes were instrumental in shaping and sharpening my career goals (I eventually received a BS and MS in Fisheries Science at the University of Washington) and worked in that field for 40 years. I had other classes that I enjoyed and a number of teachers who were excellent motivators with a demonstrated love of their subjects, but Milburn was so likable, relatable, and knowledgeable, that he notably stood out for me.”

Gwinner’s favorite class was math, saying, “I just enjoyed going to that class, and the people in it, and the teacher.” McCallister also enjoyed math, as well as history.

“As far as classes go, the only one I was any good at was wrestling, and music of all things, if you believe it or not” Agnew said. “Had a good time in those classes. As far as the education goes, and the classes, I didn’t care for that too much, never did.”

Cowan enjoyed taking art classes such as graphic design. “That was a fun class I really enjoyed because I got to be one of the teacher’s assistants for that equipment, and help the other kids with whatever problems they ran into, so it was a lot of fun,” Cowan said.

When asked if her life after high school went the way she expected it would, Gwinner replied, “Yes, because I just wanted to be married and be a stay at home mom.”

By contrast, Cowan’s life did not go the way he expected it to. “Life has so many curve balls thrown at you, and you got so many choices, what path or road to take,” Cowan said. “You just never know where you’ll end up. Looking back, you see lots of crossroads and wonder what would happen if you had made a different decision. But yeah, I had no great expectations as to exactly what I wanted to be or go on to college for a degree of any sort. Being more of the artistic type, I was more interested in art things, you know, pottery and painting and sculpting and those kinds of things.”

McCallister simply expected to find a job after high school, which he did, having found a job with Georgia Pacific in 1970, and working there for 38 years.

In addition to being interested in biology, Feldmann was also heavily involved in extracurriculars. “I was involved as I mentioned earlier in sports but also student government. I played football as an offensive end and a defensive back (we didn’t two platoon in those days). As the record shows we were quite successful winning all but one game my senior year, were conference champions and finished either third or fifth in the state rankings that year.”

“I was also on the track team, throwing the javelin my junior year, and doing the high jump, discus, occasionally sprinting and throwing the javelin my senior year.”

“I was also elected our senior year to be the Student Body Vice President with Gary Hatch as President. I remember we got out of classes for meetings, had an office off the lounge for the Steering Committee and, I suppose, enjoyed some societal distinction for being a ‘student leader.’ It also enabled me to interact with more of the popular people I had not grown up with. That was a side benefit for a struggling nerd. While not really part of it, being a jock and a student leader made me appear to be part of the ‘in-crowd.’ (Nerd is a tough label to dodge). It was good experience, though I don’t think I availed myself of the real leadership opportunities that privileged position afforded. But retaining nerd status was also a benefit because I had necessarily cultivated friendships with some who were not socially ‘popular’ but were genuinely nice people.”

Cowan was also involved in extracurriculars. “I was on the newspaper staff [at the time called the Northern Light], because we started that and designed the logo, and designing and putting the advertising together for the paper,” Cowan said. “Also was on the annual staff so I designed the yearbook cover for 67 to 68 and also the artwork in those annuals and worked on collecting the advertising to help pay for the cost of the publishing. I was into sports for a little bit, but not for very long, because just got interested in other things outside of school. But it was fun because we were the first ones, we got to set up the traditions and school songs and all those kind of things.”

Having come of age in 1968, that year’s graduating class spent much of their lives living through perhaps one of the busiest periods of history, with Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, the moon landing in 1969, counterculture, the Watergate Scandal, the Vietnam War, the Reagan Administration, and the start of the War on Terror. Feldmann described some of the events he remembered most vividly from his firsthand experience. “The Vietnam war was expanding through high school so there were discussions about the legitimacy of the war,” Feldmann said. “The ‘Domino Principle’ was prevalent (you must stop communist expansion or it will continue to grow, one fallen nation at a time). We had a number of discussions in history classes to debate the issue. It wasn’t until I got to college that the student riots protesting the war began to dominate campuses.”

Agnew had firsthand experience in Vietnam, enlisting just after high school. “I was a little rowdy [in high school], so the only thing that straightened me out in high school was I enlisted the day I graduated into the service, and I went overseas to Vietnam,” Agnew said.

Cowan himself narrowly avoided being drafted into Vietnam. “I was the last number called for the draft in Whatcom County, and went down to the Induction Center and all that, but got sent back home before that because of a lower back issue,” said Cowan. “I luckily got to avoid that whole situation. And then I just came back home and found a job, and just started working. Went back to school at Western for a few quarters. Found a girlfriend, and we got married, and got a job at the refinery, [Ferndale Refinery] and I put in 41 years there, and now I’m retired for four.”

“Also at that time the drug culture was emerging, though Bellingham was still fairly remote as compared to Seattle’s environment,” Feldmann said. “The Hippie ‘nation’ was building in California, and the ‘turn in, tune it, drop it’ of psychedelic drugs began to emerge. Pot was used by a few students but I don’t know if any were using LSD or other hard drugs. We did lose one teacher to the movement, who went to San Francisco, the summer of my junior year to get into that drug culture and did not return the same. He either dropped out or was fired. But drug usage was limited. The big thing was keggers.”

Feldmann said that he was surprised when he heard Sehome was being rebuilt. “I was surprised when I heard that the building was being demolished. It seemed just yesterday it was new. Then I remembered it had been 50 years (the scheduled life of such facilities these days). I don’t have a strong attachment to the facility so I hope they are able to learn from experience and make a facility that is well suited to student needs. I was disappointed to learn they had planned to discard the wood carving Dan Anderson had made of the Mariner crest and mascot. It was a remarkable contribution by one of the members of the first graduating class and a significant legacy to tie the past to the future. But like the building maybe it’s time for change.”

“I had really grown up at Bellingham High, as my father had been in the administration there for many years. I had attended many events there in my childhood years, theatrical productions, sporting events, I often visited his office, went there with him on weekends for his work, and walked to BHS to get a ride home from Whatcom Junior High. So I had more attachment to the Bellingham High School building.”

Gwinner was sad to hear that the old school was being demolished, but noted that the new building looks very nice.

McCallister, on the other hand, said simply “It was time for it,” when asked about the construction of the new school and demolition of the old one.

“I just heard about that a little while ago, it’s hard to believe that they’re tearing it down, but I’m glad they are,” Agnew said about the destruction of the old school. “Quite honestly, I haven’t driven by Sehome High School since the day I graduated.”

Cowan didn’t have a strong opinion about the demolishment of the old building. “I don’t have any strong feelings one way or the other, I understand the need for a newer facility, and so hearing the old one go, that’s life and progress,” Cowan said. “You know, as long as you took some of the stuff with you over to the new school, you know, like the Mariner that was out front, some sentimental stuff like that you’d want to keep at the school, I would think.”

Agnew’s final advice to current Mariners was this: “Live life to the fullest, every day is a great day, live it to the most. Don’t stop living. Enjoy life, you only got one.”

Cowan’s final words echoed those of Agnew: “Enjoy every moment you can, because you never know when you’re going to get another chance, so just live life to the fullest.”

And finally, Feldmann had these parting words to leave behind for the current generation of Mariners: “Sehome has great traditions and Bellingham is a wonderful town. I’m grateful of the generously significant contribution the school made to my development. And if I had to do it over again, I would make extra efforts to encourage those who were otherwise overlooked, discarded, or ignored at school. I missed so many opportunities to enhance lives and instead focused on my own pursuits and acceptance. But high school is a time to learn many of the life lessons that will carry into adulthood. Those who keep their eyes open, listen carefully, and do the right thing regardless of the cost will yield a lifelong benefit.”