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Willow Creek composite 50th reunion takes different shape

Willow Creek Composite high school is celebrating two 50th anniversaries this year — the 50th anniversary of its opening and the first graduating class, of 1970.

The first grad class at Willow Creek Composite high school in Claresholm. Back row: Linda Ferguson, Midge Gatenby, Bonnie Wright, Jim Wilson, Murray Paulson, Larry Allison, Duncan Fleming, Bernie Johnson, Craig Whitehead, Edwin Anderson, Dale Travis, Glenn Parker, Elizabeth Hart, Janet Rice and Susan Cornish. Second row: Mike Lindsay, Murray Seitz, Jim Byer, Ted Menzies, Gary Taitinger, Ron Mackay, Randy Milnes, Rick Burton, Albert Florence, Bob Lynch, Cecil Thornwell, Tom Erdman, Jack Matheson, Bill Minor and Dyce Bolduc. Third row: Betty Jean Murray, Connie Pestel, Mary Lou Williams, Myrna Halpin, Sandra Symonds, Marietta DeWit, Pat Johnson, Betty Kuhl, Jane Uhl, Roberta Barber, Karen Kane, Donna Schuler, Marg Olson, Joyce Hall, Patty MacDonald, Marion Vandervalk, Judy Smith and Colleen Copeland. Front row: Linda Bakos, Bev Anderson, Connie Cox, Glenda Clark, Ann Pierce, Sheri Derochie, Amy Irene Seward, Barbara Kapty, Carol Symonds, Brenda Whitehead, Jackie Olsen, Pam Gustman, Lynda Ceasar, Vicki Heyland and Donna Anderson. Missing from the photo is Garry Wannop.

Two members of that class, Jackie Olsen and Betty Hoare, started planning a 50th anniversary reunion back in January.

A July get-together was planned but will be postponed as necessary given the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, classmates have joined in for weekly e-mails covering everything from the history of Claresholm schools, to finding elementary class pictures and identifying their mates, to thinking about a legacy, such as a tree to be planted in town on their behalf.

Olsen said typically non reunion-goers, her classmates have jumped on board and successfully networked for more than four months via word of mouth, and e-mail in particular, to locate 80 per cent of a possible 86 people, although sadly, a number of classmates have passed away.

Olsen noted there are two reasons to re-connect for this reunion: a 50-year anniversary since their class completed high school in 1970 and a 50-year anniversary for their newly built school,  Willow Creek Composite High, which offered academic plus vocational classes for the first time ever including automotives, drafting, welding and beauty culture, drawing students from Nanton, Fort Macleod and other towns nearby.

Olsen said the history of schools in Claresholm has been a topic of much interest to the class and reference is made to the Willow Creek Historical Society’s book and Orrin Hart’s 1994 article on this subject. Note that their Grade 1 class attended the elementary school, which was just demolished, in 1958, a year or so after it first opened. 

Their class was also the first grad class out of the newly-built high school.

Claresholm’s dedication to schooling is noted from the early days on and in particular, noted for the handful of residents who formed a school board and built the 1907 brick school  with its bell tower and bell that sounded several miles around the countryside; a bell that now resides in front of West Meadow elementary school.

In addition to the reunion, there are two other initiatives being worked on.

One is locating, connecting with and inviting any and all of their teachers from Grade 1 onward.

Patty MacDonald has spearheaded this and out of more than 30 teachers, more than a third have been contacted and many of those may indeed attend a reunion.

Olsen said this is an opportunity to express their appreciation for their diligent and no doubt patient work over the years 1958 to 1970.

The second initiative, initiated by Tom Erdman, has been to complete a book of classmate updates, each class member briefly setting out what they have been up to for 50 years as many have not re-connected since 1970.

Any student graduating from Willow Creek Composite High in 1970 and not yet contacted is invited to join the 50th anniversary reunion.

Anyone interested in more information can contact Jackie Olsen at jso@shaw.ca.

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