Friday, February 19, 2010

Airlee's BHS 50th Year Reunion Speech

Photo Courtesy Of Airlee Owens

Hi Friends,

As some of you may know my high school class held its 50 year reunion in August. I had been selected to deliver the keynote speech at the Saturday night dinner; unfortunately I had had surgery three days before that event and missed the reunion altogether. However, since I had written my speech I sent it to Pat Cagley, one of my classmates and she had someone read my speech to my classmates at the dinner.

I am going to share my speech with you just for the hell of it.

Love, Airlee


Good evening classmates, Class of 1959, and friends, family, and teachers.

At one of our planning meetings in April of this year it was suggested that I should be a speaker at our 50th year class reunion. I asked why in the world would you think I would do that? A couple of people said, “Well, you spoke at our 40th year class reunion and you did a pretty good job.” Quite frankly folks, I have no recollection of speaking at our 40th year class reunion and if I did speak I cannot imagine why I did it.

I have no training in speaking before groups of people and, if you want to know the truth, it scares the hell out of me. I took Speech during my Senior year. Mrs. Tressider was the teacher. By the end of the first semester I was such a nervous wreck that I dropped Speech and took Senior English with Mrs. Glasscock. And later on, after I got out of the Air Force I attended Eastern Kentucky University for one year. In English we had to make some kind of short speech speech. My teacher said she could tell I was scared to death because she could see my knee cap jerking through my pant leg while I was speaking. I was very, very nervous. So let me tell you something: I am very honored to be able to speak to you but the analogy is somewhat akin to a guy who was being tarred and feathered. He said that if it were not for the honor of the thing he would just as soon pass it up.

It truly is an honor to speak to you, my fellow classmates of 1959.

The Bandon High School Class of 1959 is a unique class. I suspect all classes are unique in some respects but ours was special. A group or class takes on a unique personality which is sort of a composite of the individuals in that group. And our class had some very, very special people.

Any of us can immediately think of special people in our class or special friends and each of us had different experiences and surely each one of us would name different people who impacted our lives to some degree. Let me name just a few of people whom I remember with a great degree of fondness.

My first recollection is Roger Cox. Roger and I took Freshman Algebra and we used to do our homework and then call each other and check the answers. If we got a different answer on a homework question we would both do the problem over until we both came up with the same answer. I really appreciated Roger being there and helping me get started in advanced mathematics.

Dayton Turner was one of my best friends in high school. I was a hillbilly kid from Kentucky who started in 6th grade in Bandon over at the old Quonset huts across town. I didn’t get to know Dayton until we were in Junior High because he had gone to Ocean Crest in the 6th grade. If you recall, we all attended Bandon High School during our Junior High years. There was no Middle School back then.

One time, after Dayton and I had been friends for quite some time, he pointed out to me that my vocabulary was really lacking. He said he never heard me speak in more than two-syllable words. Well, rather than getting upset at Dayton I took that as a challenge and by the time we graduated I had a fairly decent vocabulary . I competed with Dayton in English and I did really well which probably helped me when I went into the Air Force because three months after I joined the Air Force I was on the campus of Syracuse University studying Russian. I studied nothing but Russian for eight hours a day for nine months. By the end of those nine months I could understand, speak, read, and type in Russian. It was total immersion into the Russian language. I believe a good knowledge of my own language, which I learned at Bandon High School, was very beneficial in studying another language.

And, of course, when I got out of the Air Force and went on to college, my English background and the Russian background really helped me to excel in Freshman English at Eastern Kentucky University. I was the only one in my small classroom of about 15 students who got an “A”.

Who else can I remember? Well, we all remember Linda Sutherland. I believe Linda was the first female student body president at Bandon High School. Linda was beautiful, extremely talented, loved by everyone, and stands out as one of the best remembered members of our class. To some of us Linda was the epitome of the perfect female. She had it all.

And we remember Mike Dahl. Mike was so smart. Many of us envied his brain and wished we were as smart as Mike was.

And we guys remember special girls in the class. I remember Carlleen Metzger. I probably had a lot of fantasies about Carlleen.

But we all lusted after some of our classmates didn’t we? I know that the guys in our class had their favorites whom they secretly dreamed about. And you ladies probably would not have admitted it back then but I bet you will now. You lusted after some of the guys, didn’t you?

We were much less worldly back then than kids are now. For us guys our knowledge of the female anatomy came straight from Playboy magazine and, for many years, I thought all girls had staples in their belly buttons. And do you know something, that really was a forecast of things to come because in today’s world I often see beautiful young ladies with staples in their belly buttons.

My social life really left a lot to be desired in high school. I had two dates in four years of high school and both of them were with girls I would have been ashamed to have been seen with in the daylight. It wasn’t that they were unattractive but their reputations really left something to be desired. And back then we were concerned about our reputations. I hope we still are.

We remember the good athletes, like Bob Bowman. We remember Nelson Pederson for being such a nice guy. And Ron Knox, Bob Ellis, Danny Palmer, Mike Dahl, all really nice guys.

I tried to think of some especially nice girls in our class that stood out but, you know something? They all seemed nice to me. I really tried to think of girls in our class that maybe I had some bad vibes about and, as God is my witness, I could not think of any.

I did not have a close or intimate friendship with any girls in our class but when I was writing my speech for tonight I wanted to single out some special girls in our class. Well, I came to the conclusion that they were all special, every one of you.

Let’s see now, who else can I single out? We remember Ken Butler for always challenging the teachers. The teachers always said that they liked questions but Ken really tested some of the teachers. I think Ken might have caused some teachers to rethink that part about how great it was for students to ask questions.

I can imagine this scenario: A teacher goes to summer school to get more training perhaps to work towards his Masters Degree and he is listening to the college professor tell these young teachers that they need to encourage their students to ask questions and this young teacher from Bandon would stand up and say something like, “Sir, I have been teaching at the high school level for a year now and I implemented that policy where I told my students that I wanted to hear their questions. Well, Sir, I am not sure you have ever heard of Ken Butler at Bandon High School. If you did you might want to rethink this policy of encouraging students to ask questions. I know I have. Can you picture that?

Anyway, the point is that all of us can look back on our class and have very special memories of many of our classmates, friends who were there for us, friends who inspired us, and teachers who were the best and who also inspired and challenged us. I hope that we will always keep those fond memories and that we remember them as long as we live. We will.

Our class was very special and it was made up of some very special people. All of the classmates here tonight are very special. We are the survivors of 50 years of sometimes hard living. We have lost some of our best, Carlleen, Don Wold, Pat Olson, Steve Bowman, Beverly Freeman, Danny Palmer, Larry Hopkins, Larry Martin, and about eight others who are no longer with us. But we still remember them and we will always remember them as being part of our lives.

But let’s get back to the Class of 1959. The uniqueness of our class was that we started in 1956, which was sort of the real beginning of Rock and Roll. With Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and many, many more we were the first of that era. Quite frankly, I still enjoy 1950’s Rock and Roll and play it quite often when I am cruising around.

In 1957 Sputnik was launched by the Soviet Union, the first satellite to orbit our Earth. That woke up America and the push was on for more math and science after that. I had the good fortune to be in the first Trigonometry class taught at Bandon High School. There were seven of us who had survived Freshman Algebra, Geometry, and Advanced Algebra. Mr. Wright was our teacher. We even learned to use a slide rule. Ask any high school kid today what a slide rule is and you are going to get some strange looks or a weird answer.

Dayton, my brother, and I designed and built our own rockets. We could even go down to the local drug store and buy the ingredients to make black powder and we made our own rocket fuel. Try going down and buying those ingredients today. We did not even need a note from our parents to buy that stuff back in the 50’s.

We never successfully launched a rocket. Every one we tried burned on the launch pad. But it was really fun to dream about being able to launch a rocket.

In 1959, the last year of high school for us, Fidel Castro marched into Havana, Cuba with thousands of people following him. Even though none of us was very political back in those days some of us admired Castro and we viewed him as a liberator against the rotten Batista regime. Some of us actually fantasized how great it would be to join Castro in his fight against Batista and to liberate the poor people in Cuba. And then we found out that Castro, who had initially called himself an agrarian reformer, was a communist. Since none of us liked communists our adoration of Fidel Castro died. Another temporary hero was gone from our lives.

But we rocked on through four years of high school from 1956 to 1959 and I think most of us enjoyed our high school years and look back on them with a certain degree of fondness. I have never ever felt like I got a second class education. In fact, from all the people I have met in my life I have never considered that my education at Bandon High School was second to any of the people I have known. We had good teachers and, for the most part, we pretty much got out of Bandon High School what we put into it.

The other thing I remember about our four years in high school was that we always had a championship football team. But when we would get to the playoffs we always seemed to get beat by some Catholic team in Eugene or Portland. I am still not really fond of Catholics for that reason.

By the way, there is one thing which I did not put into my bio for the book. I got thrown into jail once back many years ago. But I think you will be proud that I was thrown into jail for getting into a fight over our football team. A friend and I went to Florence to see Bandon play Siuslaw. There were not a lot of Bandon fans on the sideline so my friend and I decided we were going to make up for the small number of Bandon fans there. So we got really noisy and loud and irritated some Siuslaw fans and by the end of the first half we had gotten into a good fight and my buddy and I were handcuffed and hauled off to jail. It took our friends over four hours to get enough money together to bail us out. Do you know that jails do not take credit cards or out of town checks? I wonder why.

But I did want you to know that I was jailed for trying to uphold the honor of Bandon High School. The fact that I was about half drunk might have had something to do with it but I would like to think I was fighting for good ole Bandon High.

Well, I do not want to bore you much longer. I think all of us here tonight are obviously proud of our high school, our high school class, and the many wonderful classmates and teachers we had the good fortune to spend some of the best years of our lives with. I encourage each of you to look and around and interact with your classmates. If we have a 60 year reunion it is highly likely that some of us here tonight will not be here ten years from now. So do not miss this opportunity to enjoy your classmates, perhaps for the last time.

I thank you for letting me speak and I am very proud to be part of this class. God has really blessed me over my lifetime and the opportunity to speak to you this evening is just one more of His blessings. I love all of you.

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