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Pretty Lively for 100 : Fullerton Union High Celebrates Its Birthday as Fall Classes Convene

September 08, 1993|JODI WILGOREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FULLERTON — In the parking lot at Fullerton Union High School on Tuesday sat a pair of classic 1960s Mustangs with matching messages inscribed in white paint on their windshield: " '94 Rules."

Nearby, on a brick wall at the school's main entrance, a handmade banner in English and Spanish advertised a weekend carwash with proceeds "por la fiesta de graduacion."

And on the occasion of the school's 100th birthday, students who gathered in the auditorium for a celebration met each hint of the number "94"--as in, the soon-to-graduate Class of 1994-- with wild cheers while every mention of the new Class of '97 was drowned out by boos and howls.

Thus began Fullerton Union High's first day back to class and its celebration of the 100th school year. The new first-year students at the county's second-oldest high school were thrilled to have finally arrived Tuesday, but terrified at what they might find. Seniors swaggered around campus as if they owned the place.

"One more year and we're out of here!" cheered Joe Juarez, a wide receiver and defensive back on the varsity football squad.

"I'm a senior now; isn't that scary?" cheerleader Kristin Ruzzi confided to a friend, hugging her sparkling red, silver and white pompon to her chest. "It's funny, because all of the seniors used to look so big--and now, I'm not that big!"

"We are the leaders now," student body president Gina Merino announced at the assembly. "Let's commit ourselves to making this the best year ever. "

As in Fullerton, students are returning to school throughout Orange County this week. Tuesday was the first day of classes for six other high schools in the Fullerton Union district and for elementary schools in Anaheim, Stanton and Westminster. Most other Orange County public schools open today or Thursday.

The Centralia and Savannah elementary school districts, which serve students in Anaheim, Buena Park and La Palma, start classes Monday. Brea-Olinda Unified, a small district on the northern edge of the county, started last Thursday.

At Fullerton Union, home of the Indians, Tuesday was a 100th birthday party: The school choir did a historical revue, old-timers visited the campus and junior Erin Wilson won $100 in a student version of the television game show "Let's Make a Deal."

Student Kiki McAulay opted for what was behind the curtain and ended up with a baby pig. A second contestant selected the wrapping-paper covered box and got a handful of school regalia. Then Wilson was crowned with a school cap as a consolation prize, but hidden under the brim was an envelope containing a dollar for every year the school has been in session.

"This is definitely the best," Wilson grinned as she counted the bills. "Actually, I didn't want to come to school. Now I'm glad--extremely. I'm glad to be back."

When Fullerton Union opened in 1893, eight students and one teacher rode on horseback to the rented room that was the school. The school had 32 books and a budget of $1,484.34.

In 1896, the first graduating class had two students. The 1994 graduating class is expected to total about 325.

George Jeffrey, a 1934 graduate known as "Mr. Alumni," was on hand for Tuesday's centennial kickoff. He was clad in school colors from his vintage Indians cap to red-and-white tube socks and sneakers.

On a walk through the school grounds, Jeffrey recalled some of the early days. He complained about new buildings that don't match the classic Spanish architecture and told the story about the steer that got stuck one day in the clock tower.

The 78-year-old Jeffrey lifted his cap to greet students passing by, exposing his shiny bald head and pointing to the yearbook photo pinned on his chest. "Quite a difference, eh?" he said with a chuckle.

"Twenty-four hours a day didn't seem to be long enough," Jeffrey said, as he remembered his days as a student. "I miss it, but then, on the other hand, I've enjoyed life."

The students at Fullerton High were enjoying life too as they reunited with friends, laughed out loud and cheered for the athletes.

"We're just glad not to be freshmen," said sophomore Melanie Beamer, 15, giving a thumbs-up sign.

"I was really excited, just looking forward to seeing everybody," added her companion, fellow sophomore Natalie Allen.

"And we're not freshmen," repeated Beamer, still giving the thumbs-up. "That's my big thing."

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