In graphic hindsight, the title of The 1968 Review, Sacramento Senior High School’s yearbook, said it all: The Year of the Happening.
Appropriate, given the politics of the times: the April assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the amplified outcry over Vietnam, the ongoing struggle for civil rights and women’s lib.
That year, some 725 seniors graduated from Sac High in Oak Park, the Home of the Dragons and the second-oldest high school west of the Mississippi River. They were among the first of the city’s baby boomers to come of age. But despite their yearbook’s canny subhead, many of them would better grasp the blistering speed of change in the years ahead.
I’d say high school helped me grow up and helped me understand the world, though I felt very sheltered from any outside influences, says legislative consultant Peter Anderson, the school’s student body president at the time.
In Anderson’s day, Sac High drew from Oak Park, East Sacramento and River Park. Today, the school is run by St. HOPE Public Schools, an independent charter school district for kindergarten through 12th grade, founded by Sac High alum and former NBA all-star Kevin Johnson.
About 40 percent of the Class of 1968 was of Asian, Latino or African American descent. And some students felt the need for social change more keenly than others. Gloria Abernethy, who’s African American, says many of her friends were deterred from the college-prep track simply because of race.
This had nothing to do with aptitude, says Abernethy, who was involved in a number of clubs and activities in high school, and joined the Black Panther Party her senior year.
Classmate Bob Wing and his parents are Chinese American, and they met resistance when they became the first nonwhite family to move into River Park. A petition was circulated to keep them out, and his home was marked with graffiti, he says. Still, Wing (who went by Loren instead of Bob back then) thrived in high school as a class president, athlete and scholar.
[Sacramento High] was a reflection of society, says Wing. It wasn’t integrated, but I didn’t feel a lot of tension between the cultural and racial groups.
Gloria Abernethy, Sacramento
Occupation: State of California analyst with a program that helps the frail elderly live on their own
High school high points: Yearbook sports editor (girls), college-prep classes, volleyball, French Club (We regularly sang â€˜La Marseillaise’&emdash;such moving music, she recalls), six-week student trip to the Soviet Union in 1966
The college track: I was usually one of two, maybe three, black students in all of my classes. The â€˜powers that be’ decided which students were college material and the rest were placed into tracks that would not prepare them for a four-year college. I understood the significance of this labeling from an early age, as did my parents.
Socializing: My friends were from Oak Park. Asian bands from the Bay Area covered all the hits at dances held at the Confucius Temple on I Street. The kids at the dances were black and Asian. Other than that, school activities were the only time I remember socializing with students of other races.
World War II: I benefited from my father’s ability to complete his college degree and to purchase our home with the GI Bill. Our childhood was marked by World War II&emdash;veterans like my father carried the war with them until they died.
Becoming a Black Panther: I was more affected by the killing of Bobby Hutton two days after Dr. King’s death than by the assassinations of King and Bobby Kennedy. Li’l Bobby, as he was known, was the youngest member of the Black Panther Party. Many of us decided to join after he was murdered.
Peter Anderson, Carmichael
Occupation: Legislative analyst and chief consultant to the Assembly Republican Office of Policy
Sac High achiever: Student body and sophomore class president, pep club, swim team, student newspaper staff
In the swim: My dad got the pool for Sac High. He found out that money had been appropriated in the 1940s but never spent [on it]. He went before the school board to seek approval. I was proud that he did something for the community.
A rich mosaic: I think [the student mix] was a very good experience for life. You had friends you hung out with from every race, every economic background. It really helped us understand society. [The school drew] from the richest in town to the poorest.
Loss of innocence: Vietnam had a huge impact on our lives. It was so sad. The physics teacher brought in a radio and we listened to [the congressional hearings] on Vietnam. I remember working one night [in June 1968] at the county, counting [primary] election ballots. We heard later that night that Bob Kennedy had been shot.
Boomer concerns: All of your baby boomers are getting older and it’s costing more to take care of them. We’re keeping people alive longer. How do we meet their needs?
Wally Borland, Rancho Cordova
Occupation: Loan consultant, Vitek Mortgage Group
High school highlights: I played sports, mainly baseball, went to class and never missed a dance. It was a good life. I always had money in my jeans. If you had wheels, a pack of smokes, a date and a six-pack, you were hot. You were really living.
First-rate education: It was a great experience to go to school back then. There was a tremendous commitment on the part of the government to get kids educated, especially compared to today’s kids.
Boomer pride: There was a radical change in popular music. Our generation was the first of college students to question the draft, and it was probably the first time when the greatest number of middle-class white people stood up for minorities. We changed the world.
So far, so good: When I was in high school, I had no idea what the future held. I sure didn’t think I would be in mortgage lending for 20 years. But my wife and I have been married for 33 years, mostly happy. We are thankful for the good health we have enjoyed so far and for our friends and for the things we do have. So far, so good, with a lot left to be done.
Jane Bramham, M.D., Asheville, N.C.
Occupation: Oncologist (practiced in Kentucky, 1980â€“2007)
High school rsum: Pep club, tennis club, senior play
Class valedictorian: I gave the graduation speech. It was [inspired by] a song called â€˜Who Will Answer?’ (by Ed Ames). Who’s going to answer for how we’re going to take responsibility, both for the war and for social justice?
Who did answer: I think many people answered in some ways. I think there’s now a renewed emphasis on volunteering.
Diversity celebrated: I’ve shown my yearbook to people and they couldn’t believe that many years ago that I went to a school that was that diverse. It’s definitely had a positive effect. I had already thought I wanted to be in medicine, a helping profession. I went to a smaller place, to a practice where I knew I would end up treating anyone who needed to be treated.
Baby boomer relevance: The term baby boomer&emdash;I don’t tend to think of myself that way. I think of it more as a time of great social justice, and very molding to me in the way I think and in my professional choices.
Stephanie Corchero Seyffert, Auburn
Retired social worker
All about the grades: My goal in high school was to get the best grades I could. It was very important for me to go to college. I joined as many clubs as I could.
Spanish ancestry: Both of my parents were born in Spain. [In grade school], the teachers told them to not speak Spanish to me because it was going to ruin my English. It was a pity; you have to be proud of your heritage. But my parents wanted to follow what the teachers thought was right.
Trailblazing bag girl: When I was right out of high school, there was a Lucky market on Fair Oaks Boulevard. I went in and talked to the manager many times. He said, â€˜You just can’t do the work.’ He finally gave in, and I was the first female bag girl hired there. I carried 50-pound bags of dog food. I wanted to prove I could do it.
Linda Ellison Whitham, Tahoe City and Roseville
Occupation: Mortgage planner
High school activities: Songster/cheerleader, class secretary, pep club. I don’t know that it prepared us for the
future, but we had fun. Most of us went to college, but I think we weren’t that worldly compared to now.
Gender ROLES REVISITED: Even from a woman’s perspective, we really had that conflict: What are we supposed to do? Go to college, work, become a homemaker? My own mother didn’t work. We had many other choices to make. It seems to me that there was a turning point. We knew we had to go to college to be successful, but you didn’t really know what that was going to mean for you.
Career path: I worked at Bank of America for 25 years.
I started that in college [while at Sacramento State]. I waited until I was 30 to have children.
Songster self-esteem: I am so social. Had I looked back to 1968, when I could [already] stand in front of a group, I would have realized then that I was very confident.
Ed Escobar, Sacramento
Occupation: Engine captain, Sacramento City Fire Department
Background: Of Mexican-American heritage and raised in Oak Park. I ran track and cross country at Sac High. I was shy when it came to girls. I was the class cutup.
Vietnam firsthand: After a semester at Sacramento City College, Escobar joined the U.S. Marine Corps. I saw a lot of â€˜ugly Americans’ overseas. But I taught hygiene in the villages [through government-sponsored â€˜civic action’ programs], which made me feel like I was doing some good over there.
The years since: Escobar returned to City College and helped set up a peer counseling program. At UC Davis, he volunteered with the United Farm Workers and graduated with a degree in sociology.
Taking stock: The path I took was not what I imagined. I look back at a broken heart from losing my college sweetheart to another, overcoming alcohol abuse and raising my son as a single parent. But I take pride and find contentment in my Catholic faith, serving my country and being a Marine Corps Vietnam vet, putting myself through college, my career as a firefighter and dedicating lots of years being there for my son.
Mike Meyers, Seattle
Occupation: Political consultant
Sac High CV: Pep club, yearbook sports editor (boys), Future Voters Club
Radio revolution: What I probably remember the most was the music. We came from junior high school where it was the Beach Boys only. All of the sudden, we get to high school and it was very cosmopolitan. We had everything: The Beatles, Gladys, Otis.
A peacemaker’s passing: What I remember from the spring of that year, more than anything, was [King’s assassination]. Especially given the demographics of the school, it had a more profound effect.
Boomer bust: That baby boomer moniker has been translated [as] â€˜This is the Dr. Spock spoiled generation.’ For most of us at Sac High at that time, we weren’t spoiled. We weren’t privileged. I don’t think most of us thought we were special.
Loren “Bob” Wing, Los Angeles
Civil rights and anti-war activist, War Times/Tiempo de Guerras founding editor, public speaker
Ã¼berachiever: Class president, Key Club president, varsity basketball, golf, baseball, national math contest, intergroup relations (the latter was a campus effort to quell racial tensions). I was very busy, but I wasn’t terribly happy. I went on the success track and didn’t find the relationships very rewarding.
Political awakenings: [The summer before my senior year], I was an exchange student to Brazil. No one had told me the country was under a military dictatorship. It just completely altered my world outlook. I also had an extraordinary high school history teacher (Gary Christl). I learned that history is really made by conflict and struggle, that it is filled with change and conflict, not just a series of dates.
Vietnam: Every day, I looked at the television and saw people who looked like me who were getting killed by our country. That really hit me like a ton of bricks.
Berkeley undergrad: Anything that was going on in the world, you could get involved with in Berkeley. By the end of my first year, [political activism] had come to dominate my life and consciousness. I ended up dropping out of college for three years. I went to Cuba. I did work in the community. I went back to [UC] Berkeley three years later and graduated with a degree in history.
Sacramento High School’s Class of 1968 has had its share of notables, such as former Green Bay Packers’ Leland Glass and the late Lorenzo PatiÃ±o, a local municipal judge who died of leukemia in his early 30s and whose name graces Sacramento County’s main jail.
But classmates should have seen big things coming for fellow alum Robert Luke. The two-time class president, now an Elk Grove resident, graduated from the Oak Park campus a semester early, was in and out of UC Davis in three years, and has been blazing trails ever since.
Luke’s rsum is a weighty one, from his work in marketing and brand management for Clorox to his role on the advertising team that coined the Silver Bullet moniker for Coors Light. He also held the Northern California marketing rights to Famous Amos cookies in the early 1980s.
Since then, Luke has helped build and sell a number of companies, hawking rice cakes, cookies and organic beauty products. He is currently a partner with Juice Beauty, whose organic skin care products are carried by Whole Foods Market and Sephora beauty stores, among others.
My kids ask me every now and then, â€˜Dad, what do you do?’ I’m like Mr. Phelps from Mission Impossible, he says. I look at these 30- to 60-month opportunities as assignments. I assemble a team. Then I attack them with a lot of vengeance, a lot of verve.
Luke says his years at Sacramento High School prepared him for the challenges ahead. He grew up in Oak Park, but says that race and politics never got in the way of friendships in those days.
We had a real melting pot of cultures, which made it really nice, says Luke, whose wife died of leukemia in 2005. We all got along and stayed getting along.