Foothills

Debbie Croft: Mariposa County High celebrates 100 years

composed@tds.net March 27, 2014 

DEBBIE CROFT

The year of 1914 was a year of “firsts.” The first scheduled American airline flights took place. Ships crossed the newly-constructed Panama Canal. Charlie Chaplin made his silent film debut. Babe Ruth played his first professional baseball game and won, 6-0. Mother’s Day was established. And the First World War began.

In California’s Gold Country in 1914, Mariposa residents voted in a “first”: The county would open a high school.

With $2,500 and permission granted to temporarily use the Presbyterian Church, plans moved forward. Professor L.A. Offield, a former principal from Santa Clara, became the first principal of Mariposa County High School.

Eight eager students assembled for class Oct. 19, 1914: Elvira and Eugene Alarid; Irene, Josephine, Kenneth and Morland Bertken; Calvin Farnsworth; and Edith Gann. George and Henry Garber and Dorothy Rowland joined them by the end of the month.

Offield and a few boys had built the desks, but little else filled the schoolroom.

From1890 to 1918, “secondary education attendance increased” in America by more than 700 percent, according to the History of Literacy website. A high school was typically built by adding a second room to a one-room school. Attendance consisted mainly of girls, since boys that age were needed on family farms.

The spring semester of 1915 drew more interest from the Mariposa community, and more students. The school relocated to the Larew Building, and a second teacher was added.

In the spring of 1916, the building burned. Classes were held in the grammar school and the church. Offield taught chemistry under an oak tree and used a woodshed for the laboratory.

Alice Offield was the first to graduate in 1916. Donald Rowland graduated the following year. About that time construction began on a new high school building.

Over the years more structures, parking lots, landscaping and an athletic field have been added to the campus. The school auditorium was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

Lyle Turpin, a Coulterville rancher and former county supervisor, remembers the new gymnasium in his freshman year, 1955. He played sports and spent four years in FFA.

At the time, the town of Bagby still existed along Highway 49. During his junior and senior years he drove to and from school, and would stop in Bagby for a snack on the way home.

Turpin graduated in 1959. His wife, Suzanne (Blommen), graduated in 1960. They married a few years later.

One of his classmates was Roger Matlock, now a retired Mariposa County sheriff.

“In 2009, we held our 50th class reunion and had a heck of a turnout,” Turpin said.

Bob Bondshu attended Mariposa’s grammar school when Alice Ellingham taught sixth, seventh and eighth grades and filled the role of principal.

“Three grades were taught in the same room,” he said. “First through third were in another room, and fourth through sixth in another.”

He graduated from Mariposa High in 1947. Both his parents graduated from the school in the early 1920s. Two more generations in his family continued the tradition.

Bondshu served as an Air Force jet pilot for six years, about the time the Korean War ended. He returned to Mariposa to work with his dad in the insurance business.

Virgil Mullis, 90, taught science and math at Mariposa High from 1962-67, and served as principal from 1967-75. When asked about his most memorable students, he just laughed.

Dana Walton, a Mariposa Superior Court judge, and former U.S. Rep. George Radanovich were students of his, along with several other prominent county residents.

“I miss the students, but I still see a lot of them,” Mullis said.

Mullis started college in 1944 at California State University, Humboldt; then he served in the Marine Corps.

On Saturday at the Mariposa County High campus, local members of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus will dedicate a plaque to commemorate the school’s anniversary. The public is invited to the unveiling, which will take place at 9 a.m.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at composed@tds.net.

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