EL CERRITO -- The first graduating class from El Cerrito High School will hold a 70th reunion from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. May 21 in the Atlantic Room at Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto, 1919 Fourth St. in Berkeley.

Students from the time share a special bond not only as the first class to go through the new campus, which opened in September 1941 as a combination junior and senior high school, but also the conditions under which they attended.

Three months after the school opened, the United States entered World War II and the new shipyards in Richmond were operating around the clock building cargo ships. The area's population swelled and El Cerrito's new school became the headquarters for the local chapter of the American Red Cross. Shipyard basketball leagues used the new gymnasium at ECHS after hours.

"What was good about it in one way is that there was plenty of work for everybody," said Howard Mackey, 88, who was a member of the first class and later returned to ECHS for a 30-year teaching career. "Every summer I worked for the Southern Pacific."

Because of the labor shortage, students from El Cerrito, Berkeley and Albany were also enlisted to pick fruit at area farms during the summer.

At the time, Ashbury Avenue in front of the school still wasn't paved and the football field had not been built. The first football teams to represent the Gauchos, the name selected by students at the new school, played their home games at the former greyhound racing track where El Cerrito Plaza is today.


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Students also selected the school's green and white colors and named the newspaper and yearbook.

The school had an early graduation in February 1944, when nine students received diplomas, and a second that June, when 80 students completed there studies. Many of the young men in those classes went straight into the military.

Organizers of the reunion hope to have a dozen people in attendance, including a teacher Mary McVittie, now in her 90s.

Any class members who didn't receive a notice about the reunion and want to attend can contact Mackey at 510-233-4954. Other members of the reunion planning committee are Ray Morrison, Lewis Figone and Jacqueline Clements Heath.

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