Celebration is in the air for Amador Valley Dons young and old as the high school commemorates its 100th year of existence with an array of special events scheduled for the week ahead.
And while many are looking forward to what's to come in the next couple of decades -- including new gyms, a new theater space and other facility improvements -- several alumni from the past took some time to reflect on what the school has meant for them, their families and the overall Pleasanton community given that it was the city's first real high school campus.
"Back in that day ... that school nurtured a lot of really good people and there's a proud tradition there," Tom Orloff, former Alameda County district attorney and Amador alum, told the Weekly.
Founded in 1923, Amador was a result of an almost-grassroots effort by Pleasanton parents and students who, before then, were tired of having to travel all the way to Livermore High School.
Donna Kamp McMillion, a former director at Hope Hospice and longtime author, shared the story of how her great-grandfather Henry Mohr, one of the founders of the city, had to take his five daughters on a horse and buggy to Livermore for classes.
"That was when he and some other leaders of the community were going to start Amador," McMillion said. "Pleasanton really wanted a high school."
That then led to the formation of the Amador Valley Joint Union High School District, which spurred the efforts to build Amador High. At the time, the classes were very small -- when the second year started, the student body was only about 90 kids, according to Museum on Main curator Ken MacLennan.
McMillion said that Mohr ended up being on the first school board for that district, as well as her own father later down the line.
The school soon began to grow and even began taking in students from surrounding towns such as Dublin, Sunol and other areas in the Tri-Valley. Then, in 1988, a ballot measure passed which allowed the Amador high school district to merge with the Pleasanton Joint School District in order to form the Pleasanton Unified School District.
Current PUSD Superintendent David Haglund told the Weekly that he sees the 100th year milestone as a monumental one that resonates with the educators, families, students and alumni who have all contributed to the legacy of excellence that the school continues to uphold to this day.
"It's inspiring to me that so many generations of families are so proud to be part of Amador Valley's history and others will continue to build into the future," Haglund said.
It was during those early years of their lives that McMillion and Orloff said they made some of their favorite memories and met some of their closest friends that they still keep in touch with to this day.
"It was the total opposite of some high-end private high school," Orloff said of Amador when he attended. "It was just a wonderful mix of kids and by large everybody got along, everybody knew everybody."
Orloff, who graduated from Amador in 1961, said one thing that contributed to that strong sense of community was the fact that his class was only made up of 85 students who all knew each other since elementary school.
"It was very different. Very tight-knit, very close," he said. "Maybe it still is, to a degree, but I'm sure it's different because it's so large."
Orloff did have a point, given that his class of 85 is just a mere fraction of the nearly 700 seniors who graduated this past June.
But, according to current Amador senior Anita Ratna Gautam, that sense of community is still very much alive today -- even if there are a lot more students at the school now.
"I think it is hard to keep all 600 and 700 students connected at all times ... but it's not like we all don't know each other," she told the Weekly.
Gautam was born in Russia before moving to the Tri-Valley five years ago, attended Amador all four years and said that as she gets set to continue pursuing her passion -- which is journalism -- after high school, she is proud to be a part of the school's historic centennial celebration.
"It is great knowing that you're living through something that everybody's gonna talk about maybe five, 10, 20 years later," she said. "It's crazy to imagine that it's actually happening ... It is weird to imagine the fact that we are making history. We are living through it."
She also said that with the centennial -- and the rivalry football game on Sept. 23 against crosstown Foothill High School, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year – Amador has been filled with school pride and has been making everyone feel that much more connected with each other.
"We are making Pleasanton bleed purple, at least for that weekend," Gautam said. "Everybody is trying to be more connected and more spirited this year."
Current Amador principal Jonathan Fey told the Weekly that as a relatively new member of the Amador legacy, he wants to continue fostering an environment where students can pursue their academic potentials, just like the school has done for its students and families over the years.
"It has been an honor to be the principal at Amador Valley High School as we celebrate 100 years of history. It has been an awesome experience to immerse myself in all the stories that define what it means to be a Don in this great community of ours," said Fey, who just started his second year at the school.
"What has been most significant is what this school means to our former students and staff. There is so much pride in everything this institution stands for, and I am blessed to be able to continue the legacies that have preceded me; ensuring a school that the residents of Pleasanton can be proud of," he added.
To McMillion, the past memories of watching Orloff play basketball, friends cruising down Main Street, riding their horses around town are what made Amador special -- which are all stories that she helped tell in the book "Cruising Down Memory Lane: Stories of Pleasanton in the 1950s."
That's why she and other former alumni are excited for the celebration events coming up next week. It gives them a place to reconnect with longtime friends and a chance to relive some of those old memories.
The four-day program will kick off next Thursday (Sept. 14) with a "Wine and Cheese Opening Reception" at the Museum on Main, which also recently opened a special exhibit commemorating the school's centennial.
"The Don Century: Amador Valley High School 1923-2023" features everything from old cheerleader uniforms to building fragments from the original Amador classroom building, which was torn down in 1968, to a report card from Amador's first year of instruction and much more.
"I look forward to celebrating with members of the Amador Valley community -- both past and present -- during events that include a pancake breakfast, a parade down Main Street and the homecoming game," Haglund said regarding the four-day celebration. "I encourage everyone who has played a part in Amador Valley's history to come out and join us as we celebrate during these special events."
There will also be a panel of speakers next Saturday (Sept. 16) whom McMillion said will put stories to those artifacts given that they all -- but one -- graduated from Amador in the 1950s and grew up with all of those things currently in the museum.
One of the panelists, Gayle Cairo Lund, told the Weekly that she actually remembers one time when she recently visited the museum with a friend and they both saw their names and senior photos in one of the old yearbooks.
"Somebody was there from a newspaper that asked us if we knew those people, we said we are those people," Lund said.
As a 1956 graduate, Lund said she is not only excited about the parade and all of the other festive celebrations -- she is particularly looking forward to touring the school to see just how much it has changed since the days she was a cheerleader there in the '50s.
She also said that as someone who was part of the small classes and small community that was Amador in the early days of the school's history, it will be nice to see old friends who she can reminisce with and other graduates from later years that she knew.
Especially given that her class doesn't have many reunions anymore.
"I just think it's wonderful that they are putting on something and celebrating in the way they are and to be able to spread it out over a few days so that everyone can come to town and reconnect," Lund said. "I'm looking forward to seeing old friends and seeing other graduates from Amador that I babysat for over the years."
Another person who is also excited for the festivities -- including the parade, which will feature his business float -- is Meadowlark Dairy owner Bruce Takens, who is a proud Amador alumnus.
Takens graduated from the school in 1974 along with his wife, Patti, before they took over the dairy from his parents in the '80s. His brother and sister also graduated from the school just a few years before then, which meant his love and appreciation for the school and the memories that came with it runs strong.
And the fact that his own kids are graduates who plan on sending their kids to Amador just makes him that much more excited to call himself an Amador Don.
"It's pretty good, if you can make it work, right," Takens told the Weekly. "A lot of times your kids will move out of state and then you might follow your kids or whatever."
He also said that despite all the changes the school has gone through since the years he graduated, it is going to be nice to celebrate things like the championships that the school won during his time and all the other things that made his experience at Amador a positive one.
Like Orloff, McMillion and Lund, Takens wanted to make sure that the teachers from over the years are also celebrated because they were the people who were really responsible for molding him and other students into who they are today.
"The teachers would really make the difference because they weren't there just to teach you; they were there for a life experience or a lifetime friend," Takens said.
And, according to Gautam, that connection is something that hasn't changed much over the decades.
"I think Amador succeeds in making relationships between students and teachers," she said. "There's a lot of teachers I met, even from my freshman year which was online, where I still know what's going on and they still know about me."
To view the full list of events during the centennial celebration weekend, visit www.amadorvalleycentennial.com.
* Wine and Cheese Opening Reception: Sept. 14, 5-7:30 p.m. at Museum on Main. Tickets are $50 per person, available through the museum's website.
* Amador Valley High School tours: Sept. 15, 9 a.m. to noon.
* Centennial Parade on Main Street: Sept. 15, at 2:30 p.m. The parade will begin at Veterans Memorial Building and proceed north on Main Street toward Amador.
* Pigskin Festival and Football Game event: Sept. 15, 4:30 p.m. in the quad area of the school. Tickets are not required for the pigskin game but will be needed for the football game versus Monte Vista High School later that night at 7 p.m.
* Centennial Pancake Breakfast: Sept. 16, 8:30-11 a.m. outside of the school's multipurpose room.
* Cruising Down Memory Lane Panel Presentation: Sept. 16, 11:30 a.m. in the school's library. No reservations will be required.
* Meet Up in the Park: All weekend at Lions Wayside and Delucchi parks. Reunions, in general, will be encouraged throughout the celebration. Alumni can find more information about whether or not their graduating classes will be meeting for reunions at the centennial's website under the reunions tab.