Once a West Orange Chief always a Chief
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
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.