High school reunions always come packed with surprises. Teenage sweethearts reunite. The jocks and class clowns reveal their true career paths, and an overachiever can't attend because he or she has hit it big.

The chatter at Ashland High School's 118th reunion on July 28 probably will start with theories on why Ann Curry (class of 1974) left the "Today Show."

Maybe there will be a few other moments of name-dropping about famous classmates, such as director David Fincher (class of 1980), whose movie "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" received five Academy Award nominations this year. Or that pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (class of 1997) was traded by the Baltimore Orioles and accepted an $8.2 million contract with the Colorado Rockies.

But over the day, as with past gatherings held on the last Saturday of July, the less public memories also will have time to emerge.

Ellen Elizabeth Setchell Barker Gatter (class of 1938) has attended the All Class Reunion Coffee at the high school for 70 years and has heard a lot of "Whatever happened to?" and has asked countless "Do you remember?" questions.

What never gets old for her is seeing who else shows up. "I enjoyed getting to know my classmates, my husband's classmates and many from other classes at the coffees," says the 94-year-old, who lives in nearby Phoenix and was one of the first female real estate agents in Ashland in 1955. She and her late husband, Ray Barker (class of 1936), also raised and showed Tennessee walking horses and won several state trophies.

Vic Lively (class of 1957) will attend the reunion with his wife, Claudia. He's best remembered by classmates as the guy least likely to become Ashland's police chief, which he was from 1978 to 1991.

"At reunions, people would say, 'You're chief of what?'" recalls Lively, 73, who confesses that he was "a typical guy who pulled tricks and had a lot of fun" when he was in high school.

He was in charge of the alumni association in 1964, the year he started in the police department. The reunion was held at the Elks Lodge, which was the largest building around. "Our reunions have always included the whole school," he says.

The alumni association hosts an All Classes Coffee followed by a campus tour and, later in the day, an All Classes Banquet, where classes are introduced by decade. Individual classes organize other activities. Lively invited his entire class to celebrate the 50th reunion at his ranch in Talent. He enjoys seeing familiar faces, but jokes, "Everyone is getting old but me."

This year's reunion will be held on campus and is being organized by current alumni chair Gary Bowles, who will join his class of 1962 celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Bowles retired after working 30 years as a senior telecommunication manager at the CIA and touring more than 40 countries. Now, Bowles corresponds with thousands of AHS grads via emails, Facebook postings and old-fashioned mail. He has a database of all the high school graduates since the first graduating class in 1891.

Ashland's first high school classes were conducted in 1889 at the North School located between Coolidge and Nursery streets. The Ashland Academy on the current Briscoe ArtWing site housed the high school from 1890 to 1904.

In 1904, the West Side School (later Washington Grade School) was used to teach high school and primary grades on the old Academy site. In 1911, a high school was built in the Alamo mission architecture style on Iowa Street and Mountain Avenue and the campus has been modernized over the decades.

The alumni association started in 1894 after 34 students had received diplomas over three years.

For those doing the math, the reason this year isn't the 119th time the alumni have gathered is because there was no graduating class in 1903 when an additional year — a fourth year — was required to graduate.

Debuting at this year's reunion will be Ashland High School Alumni Association Spiritwear. Splattered across T-shirts, hats, mugs, mouse pads, water bottles and tote bags is the association's first-ever logo, printed in white or black against a background of … what else? Grizzly red.

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

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