While covering the Occupational Olympics event in Turlock, I met a Ceres High School student by the name of Brittany Turnbow. Her last name stopped me in my tracks.
"Are you related to the Turnbows in Oakdale where I attended school?" I asked her.
She said she was and that her dad was Walter G. Turnbow. He was a member of my 1979 graduating class of Oakdale High School. I gave her my condolences since I learned of his death in 2010. Walter died of electrocution on the job.
I remember my high school graduation like it was yesterday. Only it was 36 years ago. All my years of attending schools in Modesto and Oakdale led up to June 8, 1979 when the class of 1979 took the field in caps and gowns of red and white. It was one of those cool, early June days when the Delta breeze sweeps breezily across the greying landscape.
There were lots of speeches that night but because my grades slipped in science and math - two subjects that were my absolute worst - I wasn't even close to the top to be tapped for a valedictorian or salutatorian speech. I think my GPA was a dismal 3.35.
For sure, I knew, I'd never ever be with this group of people again. It was the last time all of us graduates were in one place at one time for the last time.
We were ushered into the world, many of us uncertain about what we would do in life.
Sadly, some died right out of the starting gate. The first death came 44 days after graduation. A deadly grinding crash - the most deadly in Tuolumne County history - whereby eight were killed also claimed our first graduate. Brian Irvine, a standout golfer in high school, died in that head-on collision as did a girl who rode my bus, Delana Lara. Another Oakdale girl, Debbie Looper, died, while the drunk driver, the son of Oakdale rodeo star Harley May, lived. A family of five in the other car was wiped out.
Danny Albright, another graduate, died in a horrific fiery crash of his Mustang on Highway 108 on Nov. 10, 1986 somewhere near Langworth Road.
Cystic fibrosis took the life of the very sweet Becky Rose, whose persistent cough I remember in class.
Word has it that a disease - some say AIDS - took the life of flamboyant classmate Garry Billa-Shannon in 1991.
They all died way too young and were the exception rather than the rule.
My best friend in high school, Robert Feemster, went into computers and owns his own computer store in Modesto.
Mark Nelson is an attorney in Modesto.
Mitchell Bailey was immediately swept into his family's Bailey's Air Conditioning Service based in Empire.
Dennis Carlson is a TV news reporter for KXLH TV in Helena, Mont.
Rowe Barney recently retired as a agricultural dairy inspector in Stanislaus County. He and his wife, 1979 graduate Linda Ketcham Barney, lost their son in a tragic solo crash in Merced County in 2011. The entire Hughson High School community suffered the loss too.
Coni Ward Bloomingcamp is an optometrist who owns Bloomingcamp Optometry in Livermore.
There is one graduate who worked at a pharmacy and another who was an eye doctor.
Another good friend of mine from the class, Ronnie Davis, is a Salvation Army pastor in Alaska, doing the Lord's work there.
Three of us are in Ceres.
Ron Collins is a Ceres Police officer and has been fighting crime here for decades.
I've been writing the news in the Courier since 1987.
There is somebody else who recently came on scene here. I think I should mention Tom Hallinan, who is now your interim city attorney. Tom served on the Yosemite Community College District board of trustees. Tom was destined to go into law; his dad was the Oakdale city attorney for years.
But I know Tom in a more personal way. We go back to junior high school together.
The memories came like a flood when in my recent move I discovered an old Polaroid photo taken the day in June 1975 when we were to celebrate our eighth grade departure. Before we loaded up onto the buses to celebrate at Kerr Park outside of Oakdale, Tom and another classmate mugged for my camera. They made numbers on card and headed outside so they could pretend to be thugs posing for mugshots as they held up the "prison" numbers.
The other guy in the photo I only know as a wilder kid going by the nickname of "Honke" (pronounced Honky). I don't know what happened to him but he very well could have been prognosticating his own future with that mugshot.
I could cry for all the others who didn't go very far in life because nobody believed in them or showed them the way.
Greg Bibbins was strung out high on drugs when I last saw him milling around Graceada Park one day in Modesto. He died not long after that of a drug overdose.
It's easy to think, going through the very controlled education system, that when you leave somebody will be taking care of you. It's just not true. Life is what you make it.
I fear that a number of kids today don't understand that very important fact. It appears there is a trend of young people to take the easy way and elect not to enter the work force and live off mommy and daddy.
Heritage Foundation economist Stephen Moore says the "labor-force participation rate is falling fastest among workers under 30," noting "negative attitudes toward blue-collar work" and young people graduating college without "basic" and "useful" skills. There are plenty of jobs for "skilled and reliable mechanics, welders, engineers, electricians, plumbers, computer technicians and nurses," says Moore, but young people are not taking those jobs. Apparently, because they don't want to.
Our education system seems to be missing the mark, generally speaking, in this country. I say we need to bring back home economics, teach the values of hard work and resourcefulness and parents need to quit giving their kids everything. We need to quit selling this notion that things come easy for those who wait. Things come to those who bust their butts to work for it.
The class of 1979 didn't produce any presidents, actors or famous people. But we weren't supposed to be. We were just supposed to come into the world to make the world a better place.
I trust that before the game is over that we can say we did.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org