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WLHS reunion picnic brings people together

West Linn High School graduating classes prior to 1965 to reunite

TIDINGS PHOTO: ANDREW KILSTROM - A picture of the West Linn High School 1923 graduating class hangs in the school's library.For the 43rd year in a row the West Linn High School All-Alumni Forever Picnic will take place at Hamerlee Park. The reunion celebrates West Linn High School classes that graduated at least 50 years ago, making the class of 1965 the newest member of the annual event.

The potluck-style picnic, which has drawn between 300-500 people in the past, has grown with each passing year.

Dorothy “Dottie” Larson, chairman of the event committee, has been tasked with organizing the event for the past few years, since her 1960 graduating class was the newest members five years ago.The number of alumni Larson and her crew of volunteers are tasked with reaching has grown so high that bringing everyone together for one event has become quite a challenge.

“We used to send out hundreds and hundreds of invitations, but the cost got to be so high that we stopped two years ago,” she said. “Now we do it by flyers, email, phone calling, letters, media and the newspaper. A lot of these people are older and don’t use email, so we have hundreds of phone numbers and start calling throughout the year. Sometimes I even have to drive to people’s houses to make sure they know about the picnic.”

Despite having graduated from West Linn more than 50 years ago, people come from all across the United States to reconnect with old classmates. While people venture all across the world over the course of their lives, it seems as though the allure of West Linn is enough to bring them back at least once a year.

“There are always a good number of people from your graduating class there,” said Jim Thornburg, Class of 1951. “We had 91 people in our class and those of us that are still alive all live back here in Oregon. We’ve all lived all over the world, but we all came back.”

Larson attributes the large turnouts to the unique environment West Linn High School and the West Linn community provided. “We have people traveling from other states and even other countries,” she added.

Year after year, the reunion brings people together that haven’t seen one another sometimes since their graduation so many years ago.

“It’s so important to me because it brings these people together and makes so many people happy,” Larson said. “Some of these people haven’t seen each other for 50, 60 years and to see them together and hugging and smiling is great.”

While the picnic is always a hit, it requires a lot of help and preparation to plan and carry it out. Larson and a small group of volunteers arrive at the site sometimes as early as 7 a.m. to get ready for the hundreds of West Linn alumni.

The process of setting up has become smoother over the years with practice, but Larson says the group could always use extra help from those wanting to volunteer. The picnic will enjoy new and improved tables this year, thanks to West Linn alumnus Craig Nickles, who constructed and donated seven large tables for the picnic portion of the event.

“Every year we’ve had to borrow tables for the food because we need at least seven long, long tables,” Larson said. “It’s cost a lot to rent them and a hassle to try to borrow them. (Nickles) built seven tables and 14 saw horses to put all this food on. We had people over and painted them green, and now we have tables every year.”

And while it’s a lot of work, Larson says the end result is always worth the effort. The chance to reconnect with forgotten friends is something she looks forward to every year.

“It’s really important to get all these people together,” she said. “It’s really clear once everyone is together just how proud they are of where they came from and of the people they grew up with.”

The picnic always tries to remind people of what their high school days looked like, decking out Hamerlee Park in green and gold decorations. Larson said a photographer will be roaming the festivities to document the different classes reuniting in hopes of preserving the group’s memories — something Thornburg knows something about.

The alumni committee has put a greater emphasis on taking pictures with one another since nearly losing their original class photos during West Linn High School’s remodel in 2000.

Thornburg discovered the problem at his class’ 50th anniversary. He and a few friends went to the library in search of their class photo and discovered that it, along with all the other previous class photos, had been piled in the old swimming pool underneath heavy old football equipment.

Most of the pictures were either lost completely or badly damaged, causing Thornburg to jump into action.

“What we did was set up a shop in my garage,” Thornburg said. “We restored everything from 1922 through 1994. The ones that were in the pool had broken frames and glass, and many of them had no picture at all, so we replicated them from yearbooks wherever we could. They’re up to date and hanging in the library now.”

Thornburg also encourages alumni to bring any past WLHS memorobilia to donate to the school, where he hopes to have it hanging in the library alongside the fully-restored class pictures.

Those wishing to volunteer for the reunion picnic can arrive at Hamerlee Park at 8 a.m. for help with setup.