Gary Grigg (left) and Bill Elfring will join members of the class of 1959 Sept. 13 at Vale’s Wadleigh Park. (Submitted photo)

VALE — Sixty years ago those in the Vale High School Class of 1959 graduated and went their separate ways.

On Friday Sept. 13, the class will reconvene in Wadleigh Park for their class reunion.

The last reunion was five years ago, took place in Ontario, and about 40 out of the 58 classmates showed up. Emil Wirth, a Vale resident and class member, is putting together the reunion this year and has been involved in four reunions so far. 

Friday at the park will consist of a picnic, and on Saturday, the class of ’59 will be hanging out at the Vale Senior Citizen Center, where the Diamond Back Bar & Grill will cater dinner. 

The hope is that more classmates will show up this year, and the best way to get in touch is to call Wirth, 541-473-2215, or to email him at emilwirth1@msn.com. One notable fact about the class of ’59 is that it was the first class to go all four years of high school in the current high school building.

Wirth, who spent 25 years traveling the world as a personnel specialist with the U.S. Department of Defense, said he is looking forward to seeing how much his fellow classmates have aged.

“I do enjoy getting together with the old friends,” Wirth said. Recounting old tales and filling each other in on their lives is something Wirth is particularly looking forward to.

“That’s kind of what the reunion is all about at this stage,” Wirth said.

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Wirth added that while school was never his thing, he can’t wait to see what everybody looks like and, generally speaking, he is not shocked whenever he sees his old friends years after graduating.

“I probably shock them more than they shock me… I’ve resigned myself to the fact that we all get old,” Wirth chortled.

William “Bill” Elfring, another Vale High School class of ’59 graduate, will be at the reunion as well. Elfring is currently a Umatilla county commissioner in Pendleton.

In the class yearbook, Elfring’s nickname is “Big Man.”

Elfring suspected that he earned the moniker because he was physically large in high school, but that he remembers his actual nickname in school being “Bull.” He traced that to his younger cousin’s botched attempt to pronounce “Bill.”

Elfring said that he couldn’t exactly recall if any of his friends still call him Bull. “Maybe over a beer they did I don’t know.”

Gary Grigg, the son of Golden Grigg, co-founder of Ore-Ida and one of the inventors of the Tater Tot, said he always looks forward to the class reunions. “It’s one thing to go to a class reunion, but those are the kids I grew up with from the first grade on.”

Grigg said he moved to Ontario his sophomore year of high school, and played football there for three years.

He said it was traumatic playing football on the Ontario team against all of his Vale friends. 

Grigg said that his most vivid memory from playing football was when he was playing directly across from his cousin, Stan Monson, who at the time was a junior on the Vale team.

Grigg will drive five hours into town from Idaho for the reunion and is also planning to watch the football game together with his Vale friends.

“That game will be interesting,” Grigg said. “Because I’ll be with all those Vale kids but football wise I’m a little more loyal to Ontario.”

Elfring said that when he was on the Vale football team, the rivalry with Ontario was intense.

“Ontario being the bigger town, you always want to do well against a town that’s bigger than you,” Elfring said.

The Vale team, however, was a whole different animal. Coach Arnold “Arnie” Lewis took over as head football coach in 1958 after coaching football under Melvin “Dutch” Kawasoe.

Lewis took the Vale football team to the state championships three times during Elfring’s high school football career.

Elfring said that the team, under Lewis, won state championships his freshman, junior and senior years in high school, but that his sophomore year was a disaster.

Elfring said that, for him, high school was a time of learning, maturing, and experiencing new things, and that football was “one of the things I truly enjoyed.” 

“I think it taught me a lot about life.”

Elfring recalled that toward the end of one particularly memorable game, “I remember in the last few seconds as the clock was winding down, maybe a minute or less, I was a co-captain and I called time out.”

Elfring said he made the call to get the team back in order to prevent any mishaps in the final stretch.

Elfring said that he believes the football team was formidable because everyone knew each other, and compensated for each other’s weaknesses.

“I think it was a great place to grow up, and I enjoyed my high school days immensely,” Elfring added.

News tip? Contact reporter Joe Siess: joesiess.malheurenterprise@gmail.com or 541-473-3377.

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