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ERHS alumni returns to celebrate 96th birthday

Photo by Karla Montoya

On Friday, September 24th, Dean Phinney approached the auditorium with seven of her family members, including her 20-month-old great granddaughter Charlotte. A large crowd filled with ASB students and loving community members had gathered at the entrance to greet her with a large sign reading “Happy Birthday, Dean Phinney”, cheers, and a rendition of “Happy Birthday”. In the hallway stood a table decorated with cupcakes, flowers and balloons.

Photo by Dave Abbott

Inside, students took turns standing on a step stool and conducting the ensemble. Woodwind instruments lined the walkways as the rest of the ensemble played on the stage. Playing three songs in total, the band students didn’t have much time to prepare, although they did a great job. Dean could be seen nodding her head to the music. She was also presented with a copy of an ERHS newspaper from 1943. Her daughter-in-law gave a heartfelt speech at the end, the whole family overcome with emotion. The band played her out, and there was a crowd of cameras taking pictures of her and her stroller-bound great granddaughter, both holding up signs with their ages on it, reading “Ninety-six years old” and “Twenty months old”.

Art by Femi Henry-Chia

Dean is an alumni of ERHS, class of 1943. She, or at least her son’s foundation, has donated a lot to ERHS; they paid for the new auditorium seats and fund the band uniforms. “Eagle Rock was good to me, and it's a community that's changing, so I figured it could use the help. But it was my son’s foundation that did it.”

Graduating in 1943 means she graduated in the middle of World War II. “I started on to college, but with wartime I married early. I married in 1945, so just two years after I graduated from high school. My college major was home economics,” Dean said. She went on to teach at a nursery school, and eventually direct that same school.

When asked how she felt about turning 96, Dean laughed. “I don’t even think about it. I’ve lived in the same house since 1964, and I don’t think there's anyone in my class that's still alive except for one man.”

Photo by Briana Garcia

Dean certainly doesn’t seem 96. She has a bright demeanor, and speaks clearly if a little quietly. Her granddaughter, Samantha, relayed how Dean, in her 80s, taught her how to do a cartwheel.

Still, ERHS has certainly changed a lot since she’d been here last. “You know, I've had good memories of Eagle Rock all the way along, and it's been fun to see the change. The auditorium looks so different; the school looks so different now.”

“Eagle Rock has always been a very special place, and I think it's even more special now. Like I said before, when I was here there was absolutely no diversity, and I love the diversity now.”

About Friday, Dean had one thing to say: “It was fun to see; to see all the students, to see all of you. It was a great school and it still is.”

Photo by Dave Abbott

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