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School legend makes rare visit to campus
• School namesake Sam Vaughn greets students on his birthday
Sam Vaughn visits
Sam Vaughn visited the Ceres school named after him and posed with fifth-grader Brianna Chavez who wanted a photo with him during Friday’s Giant Jamboree assembly. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Sam Vaughn stood before the students of the school named in his honor as they sang “Happy Birthday” to mark his 87th on Friday. Vaughn drew grins as he rose from his chair and with one hand humorously began to pretend to be a conductor for the choir of young voices.

Vaughn appeared to enjoy every minute of his appearance at the Giant Jamboree assembly and so did the students, some who view him as a local celebrity and wanted to take photos with him.

Such appearances are rare these days. Since being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, he and Cathee, his wife of 63 years, have been living a low-key life in a Samaritan Village’s assisted living unit for nearly eight years. They gave up driving so have to be chaperoned by their daughters.

Also attending the assembly were twin daughters Judy and Janice “Jan.” Two other daughters, Margiee and Robynn, were not present.

Principal Kristin Lilly-Porter invited the Vaughns to visit the campus following a May 13 visit made by select students at his home in Hughson, hometown since he was 8 years old.

The school opened its doors in 1994. Cathee remembered that when Sam heard the news at a 1995 school board meeting he quipped, “Don’t they usually name these after dead people?”

“It’s still overwhelming to think about this being Sam Vaughn School,” said Cathee. “It was a big deal at the time. It was just a total shock.”

Sam Vaughn was born in Oakland on Oct. 14, 1935, and moved to Hughson in 1944. He and Cathee married and lived 52 years in a home on Pine Street at Seventh Street near Hughson High School. Cathee called Hughson a “very nurturing and easy community to live in. It’s great, I like it.”

Sam was also nurturing to the students he served in Ceres during his 34-year tenure with the Ceres Unified School District. He was first hired in 1961 as a teacher. Before his retirement in 1995, Vaughn was Supervisor of Child Welfare and Attendance. Cathee remembers how he would look after families.

“I remember him going to get kids out of bed and helping the mom – especially the single moms – and taking them to McDonald’s for breakfast before he brought them to school because he wanted them to be in school.”

A program from the Samuel Vaughn Elementary dedication ceremony held Sept. 24, 1994, noted that: “Sam Vaughn was chosen from among several names submitted for consideration and reflects approximately three decades of community service,” including involvement with Lions Club, United Way, Salvation Army, Big Brothers, Big Sisters and other service organizations.

“He was a big influence in our community, so just hearing first-hand why our school was named after him was awesome to be able to share with the students,” said Lilly-Porter.

Daughter Jan told the students that while the Vaughn are relatively short in stature, her dad “is a giant at heart.”

The school mascot is the Giants.

“He’s with all of you every day,” she told the students. “We are just excited to be here and thank you so much for having us and for celebrating his birthday with us.” 

Samuel Vaughn Elementary, located in the Eastgate area of Ceres, serves roughly 600 students in grades TK-6. About half of the schools in the Ceres Unified School District were named after locals who made an impact on Ceres, including the Carroll Fowler, Mae Hensley, Virginia “Betty” Parks, M. Robert Adkison, Grant and Mildred Lucas, Walt Hanline, Patricia “Kay” Beaver and the Caswell, Sinclear, LaRosa, Hidahl and Berryhill families. 

In 2009 the School Board broke tradition of naming schools after neighborhoods or local people and chose the name of controversial farm labor union leader Cesar Chavez for the new junior high school.