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Alaska resident travels 4,000 miles to see old classmates at reunion

By JJ VELASQUEZ
June 26, 2010 at 1:26 a.m.

From left to right, Roxanne Doyd, LaDelle Shumake and Diane Scott Sabin rejoice as they are reunited at the Victoria High School 40-year reunion at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Saturday.

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About 435 students graduated in Victoria High School's class of 1970. The class' colors were orange and white.

LaDelle Shumake thrust her index finger in the air and shuffled her feet excitedly before jumping out of her chair and embracing an old high school classmate.

"Look at you!" she said as she embraced Diann Scott Sabin, whom she hadn't seen in 20 years, her eyes smiling behind her round tinted sunglasses.

Shumake lives in Anchorage, Alaska and made the 4,400 mile pilgrimage to Victoria for a 40th anniversary reunion of the Victoria High School class of 1970 that took place at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Saturday.

Shumake described her flight here as "dreary, lonely and wretched," but she was excited to see some of the faces she saw regularly as a teenager. What made this reunion especially important for the Alaska resident was hearing that a few of her classmates had passed away recently.

"I think it's so important to come and see those of us who are still alive," she said. "Life is short, and we want to smell the flowers before they wilt."

Hobby Pruett left to California for college. She was back in Texas on Saturday for the first time since 1972, she said.

Pruett - who lives in Fresno County, Calif. - decided to attend her first class reunion for similar reasons as Shumake: Some of her high school friends are dying.

"I came back and unfortunately found out that three classmates were gone," she said. "We're not getting any younger."

Two out of three of those classmates were her girls' basketball teammates. Pruett was a Lady Stingaree, the Victoria High School mascot as well as the school's photographer.

The old Stingaree is a source of pride for many of the graduates. The Stingaree logo painted on the floor of the old campus, the now-defunct Memorial High School building, still sits there but is draped by a rug these days.

"It used to be that if you stepped on it, you had to clean it with a toothbrush," said Bruce Baillio, who was the class president. "But it's good to know at least it's still there."

Peggy Warren, Victoria High School class of 1959, set up shop at the reunion to sell Stingaree memorabilia.

The items Warren, who also worked at the school for 37 years, had on sale included pendants, throws and necklaces.

Warren was disappointed when the school district axed Victoria High School, she said.

"We had so many outstanding years in our district," she said. "I really was hoping they kept the schools we had before."

Shumake describes herself as the opposite of a snowbird. Living in warm weather most her life, she sought an arctically cold location in Alaska. She will continue her stay in Texas through October as she visits her mother and brothers who still live in the state.

"It's always worth it because I'm coming home," she said. "And when I'm going back, I'm coming home, too."

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