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Alumni will catch up big-time

by: Vern Uyetake, Organizers of the Lake Oswego School District Alumni Bash are, from left, Don Burdick (Class of ’57), Kristi Lechner (Class of ’65), Pete Stidd (Class of ’61), LOSD Foundation Director Mary Puskas and Jena Novotny (Class of ’95). The party will be held Aug. 8 in Millennium Plaza Park and will feature historical items, such as a vintage Pacer cheerleading outfit, shown above.

Dust off those yearbooks and firm up those handshakes.

The Lake Oswego School District Alumni Bash - a party 56 years in the making - could reunite up to 25,000 graduates at the first local event of its kind.

Created by the newly formed LOSD Alumni Association, its goal is to give Pacers and Lakers an opportunity to reconnect and reminisce.

'It's great because you get to see all of the classes around you, not just the class of '72,' said Jennifer Pierce, who graduated from LOHS that year.

All alumni of Lake Oswego and Lakeridge high schools - and their families - are invited to participate Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. in Millennium Park Plaza.

Even those who attended the high schools for a short time are invited. Former and current teachers are also welcome.

'This is not an exclusive club,' Pierce said.

Organizers believe there could be anywhere from 500 to 5,000 or more attendees from multi-generations traveling to the reunion from down the street and countries around the world.

Private schools hold similar celebrations as a way to reconnect their graduates for networking and other purposes. The National Charity League has offered 60 volunteers to run the bash.

'It's going to be really interesting to see what happens,' said Mary Puskas, head of the association.

A team of 10 alumni volunteers met in January to begin organizing the party and encouraging alumni to register in an online database.

Puskas said she imagines the association - part of the Lake Oswego School District Foundation - will continue to grow and hold four special events each year.

Of course, the Alumni Bash will be all about days gone by - from the first class of Lake Oswego High School (1952) to those that graduated in June and the thousands of students who collected diplomas in between.

The admission-free event will feature a looping video with music, no-host food booths, beverages and live music by Big Blind, a blues band comprised of district employees.

The association is also promising a few alumni celebrity guests and decade-themed tents that focus on history of the time - with memorabilia.

'We're really relying on the alumni to drive this program,' Puskas said.

The district's alumni have a long and noteworthy history when it comes to getting together. Several classes have created Web sites and consistently get together every five years.

The Class of '57 will meet for its 50-year reunion the same weekend as the bash. Lake Oswego resident Don Burdick looks forward to getting together with his high school buddies to 'remember when.'

'There's comfort in that,' he said. 'You reflect on the fun you had and the good times and you connect over it.'

He remembers the Lake Oswego of his teen years as a peaceful, close-knit summer home community where he swam in the lake and picked apples to sell at Wizer's grocery store.

The seven-mile drive to Portland to buy a prom suit was always a really big deal, he added.

'People didn't move around that much and we were a very cohesive group,' he said of his graduating class. 'It's a wonderful heritage.'

For many like Burdick, the drive back to their hometown isn't far.

As much as high schoolers yearn to go out into the world, the high quality of life in Lake Oswego and the surrounding Portland area has a way of bringing people back.

Pierce, for example, left the city after graduation, moved to Seattle for several years, then returned to raise her children here. They now attend LOSD schools.

'The city is better now than when we were in high school,' she said. 'It's a great place to bring up kids.'

That's also the case for the majority of individuals who are organizing the Alumni Bash. It's all about pride and re-connecting with those who have left, they said.

Kelly Calabria, Class of '95, believes the new alumni network could offer a way to address the declining enrollment by educating alumni about the community and its schools.

She has been working through MySpace and Classmates.com to broaden the association's reach.

The association could also provide a point of contact between individuals who are going through similar life experiences, such as new mothers, like Calabria.

'Everybody is pretty grateful and appreciative of where they grew up,' Calabria said. '(Graduates) form some long-lasting friendships.'

LOHS and Lakeridge alumni are encouraged to visit www.losdalumni.org and register in the alumni database. Alumni Bash RSVPs are encouraged.

A LOOK BACK:

Before Oswego High School was built and dedicated in 1951, local youth had to choose between attending West Linn (Union) or Lincoln high schools.

Students who lived on both sides of Oswego Lake attended Oswego High once it was built.

At first, Oswego High was a six-year high school and students stayed in the same class from kindergarten through senior year.

The school eventually changed its name to Lake Oswego High School - and its colors from purple and white to blue and white.

Later, when the district built Lake Oswego and Waluga junior high schools, LOHS became a four-year school.

Lakeridge High School was built in 1971.