Gloria Garza stopped mid-sentence as the intro to “Hand Jive” filled up Balli’s ballroom Saturday night.
“Sorry, but she’s been so excited about this,” Garza said, pointing to Ella Bautista Bone, who already was on the dance floor and bouncing in rhythm to the song.
The two were the first ones to get the party started, slapping their thighs, clapping and shimmying to the song. A handful more women had joined them by the time Chubby Checker started singing, “The Twist.”
It’s been 50 years since Garza, Bautista and about 150 others graduated from Mission High School, but they don’t appear to have missed a beat. The class of 1965 was the first graduating class to walk the halls of what was then the new Mission High School.
Now in their late 60s, they gathered Homecoming weekend to reminisce, compare grandbabies and do quite a bit of dancing. Friday night before the game, they filled the banquet room at El Patio, joined by their former English teacher, 97-year-old Dorothy Suter.
“Oh, Mrs. Suter, you haven’t changed,” one student exclaimed. “You haven’t; we have.”
Suter, who taught 25 years at Mission High School, said each of her students were precious. And one-by-one as they came to greet her, she took their faces in her hands and told them how good it was to see them.
“They were all my kids,” said Suter, who moved to Concan nine months ago after living 70 years in Mission.
“The best times of my life were at Mission High School,” said state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, a ’65 alum. “It was the innocence of life.”
In the ’60s, the class, which now boasts not only the veteran senator, but also well-known doctors and attorneys, attended a high school with creaking wooden floors and no air conditioning. Linda Treviño Rodriguez remembered big noisy fans were used for circulation. Her freshmen English class was in the same room she was assigned in first grade.
Jenny Cummings, who helps keep the class organized, said the old high school had been on its last legs. She later learned through an interview with then-Principal Kenneth White that there was a very tight budget and a lot of things came through Army surplus. The school was so overcrowded, classes were staggered and students had off periods, Cummings said.
So when students moved into the new school just before Thanksgiving in 1964, Martha Smiley said, “We were very proud, and we were sure we deserved it.”
And, as Mary K. Griffin said in a student newspaper published in December, “It’s nice to have warm rooms and a roof that doesn’t leak.”
For many, memories of construction of the new school are connected to the day President John F. Kennedy was shot. On that date, Nov. 22, 1963, the school district had scheduled the groundbreaking for the new school. At the ceremony, officials found out about the tragedy in North Texas.
The new school had air conditioning and nice lockers, and it was modern, Treviño Rodriguez said. It boasted a library with a spiral staircase, but it didn’t have a cafeteria as the campus was open and students went home to eat lunch. A garden of the Eagles was planted and cheerleaders made a mosaic Eagle.
It was billed as the “million-dollar school,” Cummings said, adding that that was considered a lot of money at the time.
“It was a lot of pride going to the new school and being the first group of seniors to go into it,” Cummings said. “We thought we were very special, and we’ve carried that since then.”
Over the years, the school has been expanded, and Treviño Rodriguez said even when they moved in, the gym had a capacity of 900 and already was too small for the number of students. The enrollment capacity was 1,200.
Cummings said nothing looks the same any more. Even their library, which they thought was massive at the time, has been turned into a study hall, she said.
Smiley recalled a video Cummings had put together and shown earlier in the evening that paid tribute to the classmates who have died since their last reunion.
“For all the pride we had in the building, as I looked at the pictures of our deceased classmates, what I was reminded about was the great personal connections that we made throughout the years,” Smiley said. “To be able to remember that many people over this many years, you know that you had a good connection with them.”
Gloria Garza remembered her friend Chuy helping her run a campaign for senior class representative on the student council.
“He got people to vote who had never voted before,” Garza said. “And that’s how we got involved in politics.”
Both Garza and Hinojosa said they were a part of one of the first classes to integrate, crediting the mixture of Anglo and Hispanic teachers at the school who helped them all see past the color of their skin.
Hinojosa remembered Hispanic students exchanging tacos with papas con huevos with their counterparts who had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They danced together at dances, which Garza remembered being held outside in the school parking lot.
“It was quite a change that was taking place in our society. The Class of 1965 really paved the way in the way we treated each other with respect and dignity, but we also liked each other,” Hinojosa said. “It really reminds me of our foundation. I am who I am, and we are who we are based on what we learned in high school and how we were raised.”
Garza, who joked that she never let her studies interfere with her social work, went into education and retired to San Antonio two years ago. It seems now, she said, the class is closer than it was when they graduated. Cummings agreed, adding that technology like the Internet and cell phones make it a lot easier to stay in touch.
“When we were 20, we were never going to be 30, and when we were 30, we were never going to be 40. All of a sudden 50 is the new 20, and then all of a sudden I’m 67, and I’m looking around going how did that happen?” Garza said. “I just thank God I was born in that era.”