Dear Mead Friends,
It has taken me a while to feel comfortable with sharing this, so there has been a bit of a delay since I originally wrote it, which was shortly after the word was received of Greg Cowan’s transition. His passing inspired me to write an open letter to all of you, recognizing that we never know what the morrow will bring. I did not know Greg well, but I always liked and admired him, and like others who wrote on the Mead alumni page, I feel a sense of loss. I hope his family will accept these condolences even though some time has passed. Thank you, Mike, for allowing us all to get an intimate glimpse of your friendship with him and the kind of person he was.
Here is what I want to say to you that I did not express either individually or publicly at the reunion, where, for some reason, I was struck with shyness, something that was (and apparently sometimes still is) a challenge for me when I was younger.
The Mead Class of 1965 has always been so thoughtful and generous and included me in reunions over the years, even though I didn’t graduate with you, so I wanted to take this time to express my gratitude and tell you how significant that has been for me. Were it not for your kindness I would not really have a place to return to, since I spent two years in a high school abroad and only spent one year in the high school where I graduated, which was not enough time to form many memories or deep and lasting relationships.
Since I grew up in a military family, we were constantly on the move during my earliest years, traveling and living many places, including post-war Germany. Eventually, my father was assigned to Fairchild Air Force Base. I clearly remember sitting in the back seat of the car as we drove into Spokane for the first time. It was nighttime and we came around a curve and I saw the glittering lights of the city stretched out in front of me like a magical kingdom. I was flooded with this huge sense of relief and happiness that I was finally going to have a home. I was 5 years old. We stayed in Spokane for 10 years (though my father came and went on assignments), a highly unusual circumstance for a military family. We lived on the west side of town for several years, and I came to Whitworth Elementary midway through 2nd grade and remained in the school district through 9th grade.
When I came to Whitworth I was immediately welcomed and made to feel at home. There was no period of adjustment, just a feeling of belonging right from the start. I was fortunate in having as a next-door-neighbor Kathleen Bell, who helped me make friends. In thinking back over my years in that school district I cannot remember one episode of unkindness from anybody. Can that even be? When I recall some of the challenges from schoolmates that my daughter experienced starting as early as kindergarten, I am astonished, in retrospect, to be able to say that.
I was heartbroken when in 1962 we had to leave Spokane and 9115 Mountain View Lane, where I was inordinately happy, except for unavoidable challenges that any family faces. In our case, that included my father’s frequent absences for tours of duty elsewhere. We moved to Augsburg, Germany, where I faced a hardened group of military offspring, many of whom had never lived anywhere more than two years. It was a multi-cultural and hierarchical environment based on the rank of the fathers, with few of the resources or facilities that I was accustomed to, never mind the values. These kids were street-savvy, precocious and had a tough and cynical exterior, necessary for survival, since many of them grew up in families where harshness was the norm, alcohol abuse was prevalent, and where there was, shall we say, a relaxation in behavioral standards, since everyone was so far from home and ordinary societal constraints. It was quite a contrast to my comparatively sheltered environment in Spokane.
The first year was particularly tough, and I experienced many shocks and emotional ups and downs. By the second year, I had adjusted and made had friends. There were certainly memorable moments during my time there, and, in hindsight, I benefited greatly, especially from international travel, but it was challenging. We moved back to the states my senior year, and I graduated from high school in Pasco, Wash. I made friends rather quickly, but I wasn’t there long enough to form lasting bonds with more than a few people, so the fact that you have included me in your reunions has meant so much. Other than the Monterey Peninsula in California, where I have lived much of my adult life, Spokane is truly the only place I have considered home.
I want to acknowledge what an important part you all played in my growing up, whether we were close friends or not. I cannot think of anybody that I do not feel a certain fondness for. I remember Gai (now Samantha) Chamberlain joining us in 6th grade with her curly dark brown hair, beautiful big blue eyes and bubbly personality. She and I used to sleep over at each other’s houses in grade school and early junior high, and we shared a fondness for Roy Orbison, especially his rendition of “Love Hurts.” I remember the late Don Rock, who sat behind me in 6th grade, where he would delight in teasing me by, for example, bringing in shanks of red cow hair, scattering them on his desktop and feigning that he had cut off my pony tail. I remember Jack Strand’s affability and good nature. I remember Mike Farley for his school service, and Paul Kuroiwa’s energy and enthusiasm. Maureen McKee once took me with her family to their lakeside cabin on Priest Lake where we swam all day long, and I got the sunburn of my life. Lenore Tjomsland lived down the street from me, and all the girls in our neighborhood, including Marilyn Simchuk and my next-door-neighbor Kathleen Bell, had frequent slumber parties, tent overnights and other fun get-togethers to celebrate birthdays and for no reason. Lenore and I were inseparable in 8th grade, and I was fortunate enough to be a part of a reunion with her, her sisters and our other neighborhood pals in 2000, a few years before she passed. I remember John Selden’s irrepressible personality – Mr. Cool, always up for a good time and always pushing the envelope just a little. I remember Kathy Britton for her remarkable athletic prowess, her intelligence and for our time in choir together at the Whitworth Presbyterian Church. I wonder if she recalls certain incidents with one of our classmates relating to an off-color gesture that he would share despite the setting. I remember a welcoming tea for Judy Haas when her family moved into our community and being impressed even then with a grace and dignity she displayed that was beyond her years. I had a crush on Donny Close in 7th grade that was not reciprocated and perhaps not even recognized. I remember the late Bill Perry’s boy band. I remember Rosemary Whetstone, Carol Muzeroll, Linda Hunt and Sharon Pebles, also for their athletic gifts and their bright personalities all. In fact, sports were a big part of my life throughout my years there – softball, volleyball, basketball – and I played on teams with a lot of talented athletes. Conni Kirkwood and I were close friends in 9th grade and spent a lot of time at one another’s homes. My first real boyfriend was Bill Martin, who ironically moved to California the same time as I moved to Germany. And I cannot fail to acknowledge my dear next-door-neighbor, Kathy, whose loving heart and kindness were and are boundless. We climbed the hillside behind our houses too many times to count, ruling over the world from the huge rock formations at the crest. We practiced softball, rode our bikes to school, swam at Wandermere, skied with the Simchuks on Mt. Spokane, and on and on. Somehow, despite personality differences and distances, we have maintained an enduring friendship.
I will not be able to mention everybody, but just know that I have so many treasured memories from my years there and that you all have been threads in a beautiful tapestry that made up a pivotal part of my youth and that shaped my world view and the type of person I would become. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
Sandy Nisley Leader
Somehow, after 51 years, I still just can't bring myself to call Mr. Chalich just "George" because I've always respected our history teacher/coach that much. It was a real thrill when I got a warm hug and conversation with him during a previous reunion. Should have been prepared for his passing this year because I had a bad feeling about his health when he was unable to come to our reunion. What a wonderful obituary and article from the Spokesman. I've shared it with my brother, John Little (class of 68). Last month he sent me the Spokesman article about a posthumous exhibit of Pauline Haas's art process that Judy Haas McKeehan helped the curator prepare. John's timely email led me to the exhibit at Spokane City Hall, and Judy, her brother, Joe, and his wife all happened to attend at the same time. Both John and I were blessed to know Mrs. Haas and see her artwork in process while she was a teacher at Whitworth College. I'm hoping John had gotten to know Mr. Chalich, too. At our age, especially, it's essential that we share the meaning such special people have brought to our lives.
Clarice Little McKenney