AHS graduates reflect on 50 years of change

Which Southern Oregon town of 6,000 &

with its cannery and lumber mills, and conservative, tight-knit community &

has no tourism and no I-5?

Welcome to the vanished land of Ashland, 1958.

The Ashland High School class of '58 had 119 seniors. Eighty-eight still live today. They met over the weekend at the Masonic Lodge for their 50th reunion.

Several said it felt, more than anything, like a family reunion. Everyone agreed that the place they grew up no longer exists.

"What has changed is everything, and what has stayed the same are my classmates," said Gary Troxel.

Today's Bi-Mart replaced a lumber mill. The food Co-op was the site of Twin Plunges, the local swimming pool hangout. Omar's marked the edge of the business center.

When asked what has changed &

and what has stayed the same &

the '58 Grizzlies alumni paint the picture of a safe and caring world long gone.

"When I grew up it felt like Mayberry R.F.D." said Laurel Ann Streiby, 68.

Ruth Clegg, 68, agreed.

"There was a place called the Sweet Shop that could have been in American Graffiti," she said. "We actually wore poodle skirts and saddle shoes with rolled-up socks."

Troxel recalls growing up as one of Ashland's carefree kids &

replaced by today's safety-conscious travelers.

"I could hitchhike to Medford and I would not be standing on the curb for one minute before someone picked me up." Troxel said.

Beryl Neumann, 67, described the usual Friday night entertainment, called 'dragging the gut.'

"We used to roll the windows down in our cars and turn the music loud and drive around," she said. "You'd see five or six cars driving back and forth in a kind of parade. You'd see all your friends and wave at them. Gas didn't cost a lot in those days."

Alumni recalled how the entire city had an overall environment of safety in the 50 years ago.

"I'm not sure we ever locked our doors." Clegg said.

Ashland was once a close-knit community.

"You could never buy cigarettes because the store clerk, Patty Brewer's mother, knew how old you were," wrote Shirley Jackson Meithof, 67, in the alumni memory book. "And if you were old enough, she'd tell your parents anyhow."

No babysitters were needed because every adult watched out for every child. Kids spent all weekend alone in the park and no one worried. Children grew up in the bowling alley and the skating rink, visiting shops owned by their friends' parents, drinking sodas at the drive-in. When the streetlamps came on, it was time to head home.

Alumni lamented that today the community-wide family atmosphere is gone.

"Today I would not let my grandkids go down to the park and play alone all day like we did," said Barbara Guisler, 67.

Keith Mobley, an 81-year-old woodworking teacher said, "A lot of counter-culture has moved in and I don't feel comfortable here anymore. I used to enjoy walking through the park. Now you're not sure what you might see."

Changes for the better

Some differences drew praise.

"I remember that all 'colored' people had to be outside the city limits by sunset." said Ardith Chapman Wilson, 69. "When I look back and think of how prejudiced we probably were, it's sad, but I'm glad that changed."

Wilson's classmates agreed that a number of cultural changes were good for Ashland.

"Since our day many barriers have gone down for women," Meithof said.

Guisler said she does not miss the lumber mill smokestacks and the orchard smudge pots.

"We had thick black smoke hanging over the valley when we woke up," she said.

Ivan Collver, 67, agreed.

"Now we don't have the smell of burnt wood in the valley all the time," he said.

Mia Raaphorst Wijsen, 69, enjoys the shopping now available in town. Like many of her classmates, she said the beauty of Ashland has not changed.

Also unchanged is the affection everyone has for everyone else, she said.

"We're the closest thing to each other's siblings you can find." said Charlie Neumann, 67.

Charlie's wife, Beryl Neumann, agreed.

"It's a real close-knit group &

we all love each other still." she said.

The couple was reunited after 45 years at the last reunion and got married three months later.

Gary Troxel summed it up with regard to the differences between his and the present-day generations.

"We get together every five years and in five minutes we've never been apart," he said. "If I were to e-mail everyone and say, 'I need you here tomorrow,' there would be 20 people here tomorrow. You guys don't have that. That's a tragedy."

On the changes, he said, "It's like that poem, 'You can never return home.'" He paused, then went to ask the class valedictorian, Linda Wright, 67, who the writer was.

"Thomas Wolfe" Troxel confirmed moments later.

"We've been married 45 years, and every one of those years she's reminded me she was valedictorian." said Wright's husband.

Watching these friends of 50 years, and seeing the camaraderie and care that filled the room, it is easy to believe, for this weekend at least, that everyone had found their vanished home &

in each other.

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