Editor’s note: With 2014 marking the Homer News’ 50th anniversary, it’s the perfect time to look at Homer’s past.
If it’s May, it’s graduation season, a time to celebrate what’s been accomplished and a time to begin something new.
“Homer High School has prepared us to go on to bigger, better things: It has given us our start in life, and for this we will always be grateful,” said the HHS class of 1964 in their yearbook, the Mariner Log, half a century ago.
Preparing students for “bigger, better things” has been going on in Homer since the first school, Kachemak Bay School, opened its doors in 1920. Teacher Nellie Jean McCullough taught her nine students in a one-room log schoolhouse. Its furnishings were a far-cry from classrooms of today: no desks, homemade benches for chairs, a pot-bellied coal stove, kerosene lanterns and buckets holding drinking water.
In 1952, the first-grade class began its journey through Homer schools.
“At last, in September 1963, the young, eager students who just 11 years before were first-graders, had achieved the station of seniors in Homer High School. The year brought for them the excitement which comes to all senior classes, all activities aiming at graduation,” according to the 1964 yearbook.
The Good Friday earthquake provided plenty of material from which Kathy Tillman Corp and Ron Rozak crafted their graduation speeches.
“It was less than two months after the earthquake and I think my speech had to do with rebuilding,” said Corp, the valedictorian, who lives in Homer and operates Lazer Print.
“I think my speech had liberal comparisons to the earthquake and changes,” said Rozak, who operates Rozak Engineering in Kenai.
Graduation took place at the Homer Family Theatre, chrysanthemums transforming it from a movie-showing venue to a celebratory setting.
“I gave my dad my diploma and said, ‘I’ll see you in three days,’ and went off and did some crazy things like floating down the Anchor River. Then I moved out and went on to work construction,” said Lee Martin, who now lives in Homer.
Val McLay also remembered the “excitement of looking forward to starting a new life.” He developed an auto repair shop that served the Homer area for more than 40 years. McLay also served on the Homer City Council. He currently resides in Arizona, but plans to return to Homer and reenter politics.
“I’ve always been a man that speaks his mind. … We need more politicians like that, that speak their mind and say what they mean,” he said. “So, yeah, I’ll be back in Homer.”
Following graduation, Pam Middleton Hooker earned a master’s degree in social work. She lived in Homer while raising her family, moved away and then, three years ago, came back to the area, where she has been active in developing the local caregiver support group.
Having an impact doesn’t always mean waiting until after high school. Rozak is a good example. He attended part of his junior year in Wisconsin and had an opportunity to participate in high school wrestling. After returning to Homer, he told HHS Principal Don Ronda he wanted to continue wrestling.
“He said, ‘Ron, I don’t know anything about wrestling, but if you can find a coach, let’s talk about it,’” said Rozak.
Recruiting efforts attracted one person: Tad Harrington, who became the coach. The Harrington family has continued to be active in Homer High wrestling, including 1987 graduate Shane Scott Harrington, who died in 2008 and was since inducted into the HHS hall of fame.
Five students, including Rozak and freshman Steven Wolfe, were on the 1963-1964 wrestling team. Wolfe later began the Popeye Wrestling Club, led HHS to state championships three years, produced numerous state and borough champions, received multiple honors for his contributions to the sport including being inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame prior to his death in 2013.
As a final entry in the 1964 Mariner Log, the senior class wrote, “We will always keep Homer in our hearts — a memory to be treasured and cherished above all others.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Five members of the Class of 1964 offered this advice for 2014 graduates:
“The advice I was given was to save my money for when I got old. I would not recommend that for today because it’s devaluating so fast you don’t have anything if you try to save. Actual inflation rate is 7-9 percent per year. In 10 years, a dollar you earn today will be gone if you put it in the bank. So, I would recommend people put their money in gold or silver immediately after earning it. And keep your eyes on the Lord.” Lee Martin, Homer
“If you want to go off and become somebody important some place, pay attention to what people are telling you. If you want to stay around and represent people in your local area, listen to people. Where
ever you go, whatever you do, listen to people and you’ll be successful.”
Val McLay, Arizona
“Have confidence and go experience the world. There’s a lot to see.”
Pam Middleton Hooker, Homer
“If you find there are things you want to do, but don’t feel properly equipped to pursue — maybe it’s engineering, but you didn’t do too well in math or maybe got bored or didn’t have the best teacher —whatever the reason is, if you find there’s something you’d like to do, get started doing it. It might mean taking classes at a junior college to bring you to the level where you need to be or volunteering or finding an associated entry-level job. Just get started.” Ron Rozak, Kenai
“If this generation is different from my generation, it is that they are a little more self-assured, which is what it takes to go out and getting something accomplished. I don’t think they need advice.” Kathy Tillman Corp, Homer