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CHS class of 1954 relives 60-year-old memories
Bill Fukui
Bill Fukui came from Saratoga to be with classmates. He was ripped away from Ceres during World War II when all Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps. He returned in 1945 to rejoin his friends. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Beverly Western Forbis and her classmates left Ceres High School in June 1954. Dwight Eisenhower was president, Disneyland was a month from the start of construction and the American flag bore only 48 stars.

She and other members of the Ceres High School class of 1954 reunited Thursday after 60 years had passed. Approximately 25 of the 136 graduating seniors from that year showed up at the home of Dick and Deanna Salter of Modesto.

"We've lost a lot to death," noted Forbis, who now lives in Modesto after a 34-year teaching career that included 18 years at Davis High School and 14 years at Downey High School. A photo board paid tribute to the confirmed 47 deaths in the class. One of the deceased classmates was Anne Hensley, daughter of beloved school teacher and later truant officer Mae Hensley.

Although the class meets every five years, this milestone reunion was special and brought classmate Paul Wilhite from Colombia in South America and Anita Dabbs Dalrymple from Anthem, Ariz.

Wilhite remembers Ceres as a small sleepy town when he lived on Fifth Street next door to Ceres school principal Walter White. His father, Gus Wilhite, worked at Carl Miner's grocery store and he remembers David Berg's dad owned a Levi clothing store.

"My father was the first one to the fire department when the siren went off because he was a volunteer fireman," said Wilhite. "Every time Dad heard that siren we said, ‘There goes Dad!' He immediately started up the truck and then the other guys came and away they went."

In those days the fire station was located where the Ceres Chamber office is today. The police station was what is now the Sole Saver Shoe Repair shop building.

Dalrymple's mother, Wilma Dabbs, taught school in Ceres 32 years.

Both Wilhite and Dalrymple remember spending afternoons watching matinee features at the Ceres movie theater on Fourth Street, which is now the Echoes of Praise church across the street from Wells Fargo Bank. Anita recalls the lean-to made of corrugated metal attached to the Ceres Fire Station which served as the Ceres jail. One day she got brave during a roller skate she peeked into a nail hole and saw a prisoner who growled, "Hey get out of here." Anita took off like a scared jackrabbit.

Mae Hensley treated Ceres kids "really good," recalled Wilhire, and would often send Anne to school with a bag of bubble gum or candy to pass out to her classmates on the way to school.

The event also drew Arlene Intorf of Oakdale who was an in-home caregiver who was married 45 years until her husband Duane (class of 1953) passed away. She said the class of 1954 started out as freshman with Principal Nicholas Koshell and ended with Fleming Haas. Forbis was active in Future Homemakers of America (FHA) and served as president of the club for one year. She later taught home economics in Modesto and believes it's sad that most schools don't offer the course to prepare young people for life.

"Most of us have gone from kindergarten together to now," said Dick Salter, 78, who was a business teacher at Davis High School until he retired in 1994. The cousin of Wayne Salter of Ceres now says he enjoys golfing three days a week. "We changed together."

Salter said the classmates stay in touch and see each other every five years. A group of ladies from the class, including Delores King Machado and Carol Clifton Long of Ceres, meet once per month.

"This is a happy occasion," said Long during the reunion. She noted that "in the 50's it was wonderful in Ceres. Just the greatest life. Everything was safe. We were all the same. Nobody knew anybody else had more money than they did. No peer pressure at all."

Her husband, Sid Long, notes that the era was the "best time this country will ever see."

"Our class really keeps tabs on each other," noted classmate Val Butler Wilson. "A lot of us get together every year. A lot of us girls married the class of 1953 so we have those people here with us. They were always cuter."

Nobody in the class could think of anybody who stood out in life accomplishments.

"We didn't have anybody who blew the world away or anything like that," said Salter, "but just good steady hard-working people."

Many became farmers, including Bill Fukui (pronounced fa-coo-ee). His family was uprooted from their strawberry farm and relocated to an internment camp against their wishes as ordered by President Franklin Roosevelt after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Many of his classmates were too young to understand why Fukui left Ceres after the outbreak of World War II.

Bill was a first-grader in 1942 when internment began. His entire family was sent to the Amache, Colorado camp after it opened on Aug. 24, 1942. It closed in 1945 at the end of the war.

"For us little kids, we just went where our parents went," said Fukui. "If you were junior high school and up, I think it really affected those people. They lost a lot because of their age. That's a real big hit for them. All of a sudden you end up in the desert someplace living in a barracks. They got pulled away from their class at home. We made the best of it."

When the Fukuis - he had eight siblings - returned to Ceres three years later, the house and farm "was a total mess," he said. "The fields were weeds."

Fukui, now a Saratoga home construction contractor, agrees with historians that Roosevelt's action "was the wrong thing to do."