About 12 years ago Mike Bernard and some of his

classmates from the West Orange High School Class of 1959 had the idea to start

a reunion for the WOHS exes in the format of a picnic. WOHS and their mascot,

the Chief, only existed for 20 years. The first class graduated in 1958 and the

last in 1977. For the majority of those years the entire campus was located on

Western Ave. in the heart of West Orange.

Bernard and his classmates were noticing that their

classmates and others from WOHS were dying at rate that was alarming to them.

The reunions that they had been holding every five years were fine, but they

wanted to do more to stay in touch with their classmates and other friends from

their high school years.

The first years were slow in gaining attendance. The

early picnics were attended in the most part by the classes of 1958, 59, and

60. The class of 1961 was the next class to attend in a group. Other exes began

to attend in ones and twos. Early reunions were held in a variety of places

until Mike Trahan offered his home as a picnic site.

Trahan and his dad, the late “Crip” Trahan had

planted a number of oak trees in the back of the home in 1954. These trees have

grown to provide a large shaded area, perfect for a large picnic.

Each year the Chiefs Reunion Picnic has grown in

attendance with more and more old Chiefs attending and more classes being

represented. The picnic of 2011 was an explosion! Nineteen of the 20 graduating

classes of WOHS were represented. There were a total of 155 exes who came from

several states to attend. Along with spouses and guests there were a total of

192 gathered to visit and eat under the trees at Serenity Oaks, Trahan’s home.

A picnic of this size and attended by so many

classes does not happen overnight and by itself. The classes of the “Young

Chiefs” became involved and provided a tremendous amount of energy and ideas.

Trahan had begun an email group to keep Chiefs

informed of events and news. Robert Stephenson, from one of the last classes,

came on board with a Facebook page. Stephenson is highly computer literate and

in addition to the Chiefs Chat page also built a memorial page to keep a list

of deceased Chiefs and faculty members.

Stephenson’s Chiefs Chat page began to see a little

sparring between some of the older and younger Chiefs, leading to some cyber

friendships forming. There were two dinners held, one in Beaumont and one in

Orange that led to some face to face meetings and personal friendships being

formed. These events led to more classes being represented at the 2011 picnic.

The picnic took preparation and work by a number of

people. Trahan and his wife Sheila and their daughter Theresa worked to make

the grounds and party barn ready for the picnic.

Rene’ Smith Willis (1975) was possibly the most enthusiastic

Chief involved. Willis designed and made two purple Chiefs flags, one for the

flagpole and one to hang in the party barn. Willis was a whirlwind in a purple

shirt as she worked to decorate the grounds, hang streamers on the gate, pass

out purple and white cups she provided for the attendees, and to generally make

sure that everyone was having a good time. She even spent time at the

registration table making sure that there would be an accurate count of exes

and guests. Willis deserves a vote of thanks for all her hard work, both in

preparing and decorating and also for bringing some of her older classmates

together with some of the younger classes.

Numerous tables and chairs were provided by Kenny

Pigg (1965) and Cornel Thompson (1966). Five days after the picnic Thompson was

named the new athletic director and head coach at West Orange-Stark High

School. Thompson is the first WOHS graduate to be named to that position.

Pigg also donated and cooked two cases of Zummo

sausage for the picnic.

Jimmy Guidry (1967) helped bring the tables to the

picnic and set them up. Guidry is a popular disc jockey and brought his

equipment to set up and provide music for the entire time of the picnic.

There were several amateur photographers working

their cameras. Dean Clark (1965) is a professional photographer and was able to

take two shots of the group and splice them into one group picture of all that

were there.

The high point of the day was when West Orange Mayor

Roy McDonald read a proclamation honoring the 20 classes of WOHS and declaring

April 16, 2011 as West Orange Chiefs Day in the City of West Orange.

The Class of 1961 was the Honor Class, celebrating

their 50th year since graduation. They also had the largest

attendance at the picnic. They occupied the coveted position on the Trahan’s

deck. The deck is awarded to the honor class each year.

The fears of the younger Chiefs that the older

Chiefs would not be able to keep up and the fears of the older Chiefs that the

younger Chiefs may play in the traffic were unfounded. All of the classes

represented had a great time. As the years go by and the picnics continue there

will be more friendships made.

“All Chiefs have always been invited, but the word

did not get out until recently. This looks like it is going to be a great

tradition that will grow even greater from year to year. There are no more

Chiefs being made, we are the last of the tribe, so to speak. Let’s get to know

each other and keep the Chief traditions and memories alive as long as one of

us is left standing”, said Trahan.