By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Class of 63 looks back 50 years
Ceres High School class reunites
IMG 3353
Still friends today after graduating from Ceres High School 50 years ago, Carolyn Whaley Davis of Ripon, Linda Earnest Seivert of Ripon, Gay Sperry of Riverbank and Sonja Lathim Vinson of Modesto attended their class reunion on Saturday at Vintage Garden in Modesto. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

Their bodies may bear more wrinkles and greyer and sparser hair and memories may have faded a bit but the youthful spirits of members of the Ceres High School class of 1963 were evident during Saturday's 50th anniversary class reunion.

Approximately 78 showed up for the party -- including 45 graduates -- held at Vintage Gardens on Dale Road in Modesto. Classmates spent their time poring over old yearbooks and photos, reacquainting old friendships and reminiscing about good times.

"A lot of the kids nowadays say they didn't enjoy high school but I had a great time," gushed Linda Earnest Sievert of Ripon. "We went to school with the same people. We made lifelong friendships that you can't compare to anything."

Common experience a half century ago continue to bond the class together, as evidenced by reunions of the combined classes of 1961, 1962, and 1963 held every four years. Many of the classmates grew up together and many were neighbors in rural areas around Ceres.

The senior class in 1963 - the year that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated - was comprised of about 100-120 members. The class was small because, well, so was Ceres.

"When I lived there, I think there were only 7,500 living in Ceres," said Sievert. "It was a small little farm town."

The actual records indicate Ceres had a population of 4,406 in 1960.

Gay Sperry, now a Riverbank resident, remembers the friendships forged in tiny Ceres from kindergarten through 12th grade.

"We're still friends," said Sperry. "That's rare because high schools are so big now you don't even know the people that are there. A lot of farm kids there then. It was a very small intimate community and the school dances and everything, nobody was left out. Everybody participated who wanted to participate. Everybody got along."

She also remembers Ceres being so small and close-knit that it was hard to get away with anything.

"Everybody knew everybody else," said Sperry. "It was the kind of a town where if you went to a certain movie it would get back to your parents before you ever got home. I got in trouble for going to a drive-in theater ... It was that kind of community to grow up in. Everybody took care of everybody else."

Many students of that day lived in the country and enjoyed a slower pace of life. One of Sievert's neighbors was classmate Susan Brown, daughter of the late Ceres egg producer and Ceres School Board trustee Earl Brown. Susan spent her life in banking and retired as Modesto bank president.

Senior class president in 1963 Dick Chong made a name for himself in Ceres for operating the family owned Sequoia Market with his brother Frank for decades until the business sold in 2005.

Sievert herself attended junior college after leaving the hallowed halls of CHS, worked part time and married and raised a family. She then worked for 15 years in the legal field, then went into the medical insurance field and became a human resources manager for two big companies.

Besides the friendships, members of the class of 1963 still brag about their school band's invitation to play in the opening ceremonies of the 1960 winter Olympics at Squaw Valley. Sievert was a freshman in the 100-member band and Burt Stevens was the band director. Only 10 high school bands in California were invited.

"That was an incredible experience. (Burt Stevens) was an incredible man. There was no other band in the state of California that could beat us. We always got the highest marks in any competition. He could get more out of a roomful of kids more than anyone I have seen. He taught us an appreciation for all types of music whereas today the kids only listen to what's played on the radio."

Mary Ann Ross Inderbitzen played clarinet in the band and remembers the entire CHS band spending the night at the University of California campus.

Four Ceres High track standouts also had the privilege to help carry the Olympic torch up Highway 99 from Los Angeles to Squaw Valley. They included Sal Cannella, Art Ross and Larry Berryhill.

Inderbitzen said she remembers the senior class Homecoming float, which had dry ice to simulate a stove, getting first place.

Like most of the teachers and coaches from that era, Stevens died about two or three years ago. Few staff members remain. Art McRae enjoyed making his rounds at the reunion but former coach Harry Swanson was unable because his wife is ill. Other staff members still living but unable to attend were Neil Robinson of Oregon (who taught English), Ernie Myers of Ceres, and Fran Coslett.

The special occasion drew foreign exchange student Guttorm "Tom" Vennesland, who flew in with wife Solveig from Norway. The Venneslands also had a chance to stop by and visit Ronald and Gloria Berryhill, who hosted him during the 1962-63 school year while he studied at Ceres High. The Berryhills now live in Samaritan Village in Hughson.

"They were so wonderful to me," recalled Vennesland of the Berryhills. "I was so well taken care of that I wouldn't say homesickness was anything. I liked it here. That was the best and most important year of my life."

The Berryhills had a son who was a member of the class as well. Larry Wayne Berryhill, a former pole vault coach for Brigham Young University died in 2009 in Argentina.

Sievert, Inderbitzen, Sperry, Chong and Carolyn Whaley Davis were the five classmates who worked the past 10 months on pinning down the whereabouts of classmates, sending out invitations and planning the event's program. The committee tracked down about 60 classmates but was unable to determine where 40 are living.

"I was surprised at how many have died," said Sievert. "We have confirmed that 38 have passed away. It makes us glad to realize you can wake up in the morning and live life and do things."

She may have mastered her field but she was unable to answer the biggest question of the night: "Where have all the years gone?"

Inderbitzen agreed, saying, "It goes so fast."