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Then and Now: A look at the VHS Class of 1961

By KBell
July 28, 2011 at 2:28 a.m.
Updated July 29, 2011 at 2:29 a.m.

Bob Otey  in his 1961 yearbook photo for Victoria High School.

1961 VICTORIA HIGH SCHOOL CLASS REUNION SCHEDULE

The 1961 class of Stingarees was the first to attend the then-new Victoria High School for all three years of their high school. They're preparing to return to their old stomping grounds for their 50th reunion.

Here's the weekend schedule:

Oct. 7: Casual Friday at Fossati's, 302 S. Main St., from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.

Oct. 8: Reunion at Power Avenue Warehouse, 402 E. Power Ave., from 5:30 to 11 p.m.

Oct. 9: Brunch at Victoria Women's Clubhouse, 1408 N. Moody St., from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Reunions planned by: Cora Jo Moore Hummel and Karen Allin Parker

For more info: Go to www.vhs61.com

WHAT HAPPENED IN 1961?

John F. Kennedy was sworn in as president

Construction of the Berlin Wall began

The first "Six Flags" theme park opens in Arlington

Barack Obama was born

A popular song: "Surrender" by Elvis Presley

A popular film: "Breakfast at Tiffany's

A popular TV show: "Bonanza"

The social pressures that may have existed in high school are old news to the 1961 class of Victoria High School.

"Nobody cares how much hair you've lost. Nobody cares how fat you've gotten. Nobody cares if you made it to the vice presidency. We all treat each other the very same," 1961 graduate Pam Wesley Holley said. "That's rare, even in life itself - unconditional caring and respect."

The class of Stingarees is preparing for their 50th reunion - officially, anyway.

Over the years, several class members have remained close friends, no matter where the half century has taken them. Particularly since their children grew up, the classmates seize every opportunity to see each other, said Holley, who runs the class' website.

A countdown clock on the site ticks away the seconds to the October reunion.

"Every single time we get together, every one of us feel just like we did when we were friends in high school," Holley said. "We feel such warm fuzzies when we're around each other, and as we get older, we're finding out how absolutely important it is to have people in your life that you have history with."

The Advocate dug up some of that history and decided to see where life's journey has taken a few of the 330 graduating Stingarees.

Most scoffed at those social categories to which they were assigned back in the day; most cracked jokes, humbled by their high school honors; and all agreed on one thing: time has done nothing but invigorate the already close-knit Class of 1961.

BOB OTEY

n Then: Most Likely to Succeed

n Now:

After 50 years, Bob Otey still has no idea why his 1961 classmates voted him most likely to succeed.

"I haven't got a clue. I still wonder about that. My kids looked at the annuals, and they wondered about that, too," he said, laughing.

Otey recently retired satisfied, after having spent most of his life working in both high schools and universities.

"I never wanted to teach because my mother was an educator," he said, again chuckling. "But when the gene kicks in, you have to do it ... I think it's like a minister or anything else. It's a calling."

He received his doctorate in philosophy from Texas A&M University. He and his wife train people in conflict resolution, an area Otey said is their real love.

The couple, who have three children and eight grandchildren, recently built a lakehouse in northwest Austin. It's open to at least yearly get-togethers for 1961 classmates.

"To show you how really special the Victoria people are, they've just really embraced my wife. In fact, I think they'd just assumed see her than me," he said.

Otey said his quality schooling in Victoria inspired him over the years to pay the experience forward. Plus, he had that "most likely to succeed" title to live up to.

"It was a very, very nice honor that my classmates thought that of me, and that has really stayed with me when I made accomplishments," he said. "I was wondering if they were right or not."

Carole Riggs

n Then: Most Beautiful, Best All-Around, Miss VHS

n Now:

Carole Riggs had more to talk about than her retro picture taking up several pages in the yearbook, for being most beautiful, best all-around and Miss VHS.

"Well, yes, I was voted that. I'm not sure I deserved all that, but yes I was."

Then, she moved on. Riggs gushed about her classmates, teachers and what it was like to grow up in Victoria.

"Looking back on it, I wish I'd appreciated it at the time," she said. "The education that we got in the 1950s in Victoria was so excellent, and we just didn't realize..."

After graduating, Riggs continued her education, eventually getting her law degree. She's practiced law in Houston for the past 32 years.

Riggs said her greatest regret was that she didn't return to Victoria so her two children could grow up in the community.

"It's almost like a small town again because we all live within a few miles of each other. We've recreated our own little Victoria" she said of her kids and grandkids.

Riggs joked it was in Victoria that she learned to live a "moral life out of fear," because the small town knew the dirt on everyone.

But the small town also fostered unending friendships that continue to be a priority for Riggs.

"I think it's important, not because they're my high school friends, but because they're people that I love. I wouldn't want to lose that connection," she said.

Then, she added her exception.

"I don't really want to be reminded by them of some of the naughty things I did," she chuckled.

Ralph Holt

n Then: Captain of the tennis team

n Now:

Since 1966, Ralph Holt had been on a hiatus from playing tennis. Now, Holt is convinced he's going to be the best tennis player in the nation.

The former tennis captain picked the sport back up four years ago, and he's been training daily for nationwide tournaments that will hopefully earn him that title for the 70 to 75 age group in 2012.

"It's been a lot of fun and still is, and I plan on passing them up next year," Holt said of his opponents, who have continued playing over the years.

Holt taught physical education and coached football after graduating from the University of Houston. Tennis wasn't as popular in the 60s, Holt said, so he pursued other hobbies, like golf and fishing.

One of the last times he had played tennis was on his college team, but a more recent trip to Ukraine changed that.

"There are a lot of pretty girls over there," he said about why he went overseas. But no matter why, Holt discovered he could help the youngsters in Ukraine get scholarships by playing tennis and learning English.

When he came back to the United States, Holt "freelanced" for women across this country, while practicing the resurrected sport at the best gyms - from Palm Springs to New Orleans to now Las Vegas.

"I took up tennis because it's an individual sport, and I didn't have to answer to anybody. I could just go out and do what I wanted to do," he said.

And though Holt's sport has taken him around the country, he still has a soft spot for his alma mater.

"Victoria's a good place to grow up. It's a smaller town and easier to keep up with the bad people," he said.

Bill Robins

n Then: Most Handsome, Best All-Around, Mr. VHS

n Now:

His classmates joke Bill Robins is hoarding the fountain of youth, Paul Wesley Holley said.

"I think probably that means that some of the people are not wearing their glasses like they're supposed to be doing," Bill Robins shot back.

He brushed off the idea of him being the most handsome guy to graduate in 1961.

"Shows you how little people recognized talent back then," Robins laughed. "We had a real good class, so anyway, I was lucky."

The former Mr. VHS recently retired for a second time but still continues to do consulting work as a safety and health professional.

Beyond that, he and his wife, who live near Katy, have been able to do more volunteer and church work.

Robins said he's known some of his classmates more than 60 years, and their bond comes from growing up in the same neighborhoods with the same friends and the same hobbies.

"It really was one of those 'Happy Days' type of experiences," he said.

Besides the class of 1961, Robins said the entire Victoria High School had a bond.

"At one time, I really thought I knew almost everyone in school by sight and name. What a great opportunity to be friends with that many people," he said. "I loved and cherished those friendships."

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