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High school class regroups after 50 years

Oak Harbor Class of 1959 classmates Betty Lang Moore (center) and Jerry Storey peruse a copy of the Oak Harbor News from the year they graduated. At left is their third-grade teacher, Maxine Hansen. All three plan to attend 50th reunion activities next weekend. - Jim Larsen/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor Class of 1959 classmates Betty Lang Moore (center) and Jerry Storey peruse a copy of the Oak Harbor News from the year they graduated. At left is their third-grade teacher, Maxine Hansen. All three plan to attend 50th reunion activities next weekend.
— image credit: Jim Larsen/Whidbey News-Times

Half a century after graduating from Oak Harbor High School, the Class of 1959 is reassembling to renew friendships and, no doubt, talk about how much the town has changed.

Two graduates, Betty Lang Moore and Jerry Storey, recently reminisced about what life was like before Oak Harbor grew into a city of more than 20,000 people complete with the requisite variety of chain stores, fast food joints and asphalt.

“It was a small town,” Storey said, searching his mind for a similar town that exists today. “Go to Concrete. Everybody knows everybody.”

Moore remembers that the entire Oak Harbor School District was served by exactly two school buses, and the Class of 1959 graduated 83 students. She and Storey were among 22 students that started first grade together and made it all the way through. Ten of them are still living on Whidbey.

Night life in those days was centered in the Roller Barn, which still exists but not in its former glory as the youth hotspot of North Whidbey.

“Friday and Saturday nights, that was the place to be,” Storey said.

Teens would also hang out at the Big Dipper, a soda fountain in the building that now houses Zorba’s restaurant.

There weren’t any drugs, use of alcohol was minimal, and only a few smoked cigarettes, as they remember it. All the parents knew one another, so kids couldn’t get away with anything serious.

“Of course, we pulled shenanigans,” Moore said.

Moore, whose name was Lang then, recalls the small town politics of the day, when Coupeville and Oak Harbor were fighting over school district boundaries. Oak Harbor won one round. “We got the Smith kids, the Bishop kids and the Sherman kid ... and the prosecutor’s kid,” she said, a glint of victory in her eyes.

Although still a small town, Oak Harbor in 1959 had grown considerably since the Navy appeared more than a decade before, and change was occurring quickly. In their senior year, Moore and Storey watched the popular Kow-Korner drive-in restaurant open, Pay-Less was the big, new grocery store in town and the Blue Fox Drive-In theater opened.

Storey’s mother owned and operated Zelma’s Beauty Shop across from Si’s Corner, at Midway and Pioneer. He went into the hair business after high school, running “Jerry’s Hair Fashions” for 15 years. Later, he switched to commercial fishing, construction and then real estate.

“I went through four mid-life crises in 50 years,” he laughed.

Moore became an elementary school teacher, working in Anacortes and Coupeville before setting down in South Whidbey schools for 26 years.

Oak Harbor was growing up with the students in the Class of 1959. They entered first grade in what is now an old building next to the abandoned football stadium on Midway. In the second grade, they were marched across the street to the new Oak Harbor Elementary School.

In the sixth grade, Clover Valley Elementary was built next to the Navy base. “The country kids had to go there,” Moore said. “The city kids stayed in Oak Harbor.”

Moore remembers a long, hot chug up the hill to the Chiefs Club where the Clover Valley students watched the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on TV.

A new high school opened in 1956, later to be torn down to make way for North Whidbey Middle School. “We were the first class in the new high school,” Moore said.

A special guest at next weekend’s 50th reunion will be Maxine Hansen, who most of the Class of 1959 had in third grade. Still a live-wire after having retired in 1966 after 33 years of teaching, she explained her reason for stepping down. “I was getting gray hairs and I didn’t want any of the kids saying ‘I’ve got that OLD Mrs. Hansen’,” she said, as she reminisced with Moore and Storey.

Moore marveled that Mrs. Hansen can still recall where her former students sat in her classroom.

Other past teachers expected to attend reunion festivities are Bill Garrison and Jean Burrows, and the classes of 1958 and 1960 are also invited.

The class will celebrate Friday, Aug. 7, at 5 p.m. with a social at the home of Bob and Sue Fakkema, 2499 SW Pete’s Lane. Saturday night, Aug. 8, they will meet in Freeland Hall on South Whidbey for an old-fashioned sock hop. And Sunday, Aug. 9, there will be a picnic barbecue at the Admirals Cove Clubhouse. For information, call Betty Lang Moore, 360-331-6341, or 360-888-5365.

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