The photograph accompanying this article features seven local students who all received scholarships for academic achievement at their graduation in June, 1964. Fifty years have now passed, and I was curious as to how their lives and careers had progressed since that significant rite of passage. With the help of both the ‘print and people’ resources of the Ladysmith Historical Archives, I was fortunate to locate all seven of the graduates and interview them by telephone or email. Here are their stories.
The tallest girl in the picture is Marie Scott, who received the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Ladies Auxiliary Scholarship. Marie was a popular student at L.S.S. and thrived on the close but respectful relationship that existed between students and staff. In the 1964 edition of the Spion Kop, Ladysmith Secondary School’s annual yearbook, the caption accompanying her school graduation picture stated that Marie “could usually be found in the center of a group of chattering girls.” When asked, Marie did not challenge this description, but reminded the writer that she also attended class regularly and completed all her homework.
Following high school graduation, Marie attended St. Anne’s Secretarial College in Nanaimo. After receiving her business certificate, she went to work for Ladysmith Town Hall under the management of Jim Runciman. A short time later, she met a young RCMP Constable, Ken Rehman, who was “fresh from the depot in Regina.” After they married in 1967, Marie followed Ken’s career postings from Kelowna, to Prince Rupert and finally Victoria where he retired in 1989. They presently reside in Langford. Marie raised three children and now has four grandchildren. She considers her ‘bucket list’ to be “pretty full – at least for the moment!” The closing comment in the Spion Kop yearbook proclaimed, “Marie’s main ambition after graduation is to work for a while and then become an ideal housewife.” When I asked her to comment on this prediction, Marie laughed and said, “That’s pretty accurate!”
Standing next to Marie in the 1964 photo is Vivian Battie, one of the well-known Ladysmith ‘Battie girls’ who lived with their parents at 209 White Street. Like most children growing up in B.C during the ‘50s, Vivian had an active but safe childhood, attending school in town surrounded by a close set of friends. Viv’s teen years were filled with school and local dances, picnics on Kuper Island, Teen Town, Friday night roller-skating and hanging out at the Hub Café or the Wigwam.
Shortly after graduation, Vivian met Colin Cameron from Nanaimo while working at De Clark’s Dairy. After a year at the dairy, they married and Viv began work with Nanaimo’s Social Welfare department. After 5 years, Viv left the work force to be with her two young children. One day she received a surprise gift from Colin. It was a new organ from Florence Ferguson’s music store in Nanaimo and included a free lesson. That gift resulted in a 25 year career in the music business. Viv gave lessons at Ferguson’s Harbour Park store in addition to selling pianos, organs and other musical instruments.
Music had always been an important part of Vivian’s life, which she credits to her mother, Margaret’s influence. “My mother,” she told me, “was a natural musician and could play the melody of any song on the piano by ear. She was the original inventor of “Name that Tune.” We would all sit on the chesterfield while she played a mystery piece note by note. The first one to guess the name of the song would get points. First prize was 25 cents, down to 10 cents for fourth. I won most of the time!” Vivian studied piano at St Mary’s Convent and completed Grade Five in the Royal Conservatory of Music. However, she learned to play popular music by herself.
Vivian and Colin live in Cedar in one of the transplanted homes from the Diamond which they purchased in 1965. The location is a good family compromise between Ladysmith and Nanaimo. Next year, the couple will celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary, but Vivian still has “things to try. Actually, I’ve never flown in airplane, and coming up soon is a family trip to California with my daughter Laura and granddaughter Mackenzie, who is dancing in the Disneyland Parade. After that, who knows?”
Lynne (Doherty) Hutton’s yearbook prediction was “to become a stewardess on an ocean liner.” Instead, she became the first member of her family to attend university. Although she did not complete her degree, Lynne did discover “an affinity for numbers”. After an early start as an operator with BC Telephone she became an administrator in their payroll department. She retired from the same company in 1996 after 32 years of service. Her husband, Wes, whom she had met while he was in the military, asked her to marry him in 1967. Wes completed a 35 year career with BC Transit and they retired to Nanaimo in 2001.
Although Lynne never experienced the role of air or cruise line hostess in her career, travel remains one of her favorite pastimes. Another big part of their life is fishing – together, with friends or with family. In looking back over her school and home life in Ladysmith, Lynne felt it was an ideal place to grow up. She has remained friends with schoolmates like Sandra (Simila) Virtanen and Joan (Gust) McKinley for more than 60 years, and “I like them now for the same reasons I liked then when we were growing up. You can always count on them”
The fourth graduating student in the back row of the photo is Joan Gust. Joan was from the Diamond, beginning school there as a student in Taimi Hindmarch’s kindergarten class.
After graduating from Ladysmith Secondary, Joan discovered that she was too young to enter nurses training, so she enrolled in grade 13 in Nanaimo. Finally, in January 1966 she started her training at Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria. After obtaining her degree, Jones worked at Nanaimo General Hospital for 20 years. In 1983, she married a young man from the Diamond, Joe McKinley, whose grandfather James first moved to the area in the late 1890’s after seeking his fortune in the Klondike gold rush. Joe, who was Ladysmith first Queen’s Scout, first worked at the Ladysmith sawmill followed by a busy and productive career of 40 years as a longshoreman. Both are still actively involved in the community life of Diamond.
I asked Joan about her favorite memories from school. She mentioned being editor of the Spion Kop yearbook in grade 11 and president of the Student’s Council in her graduating year. She then concluded, “Those were good times… happy days. We really got along so well. Even in grade 12 when we were divided into three classes, we were still all friends. I used to cut the girls hair in high school, setting and styling it for dances and other special occasions. [Laughing] I will probably be remembered most for that – cutting hair.”
Sitting in the middle of the front row in the picture is Margaret (Jackson) Green. Like Vivian, Margaret grew up in a home filled with music. She was one of six children born to Stephen and Olive Jackson. Her parents were both music teachers, and an appreciation of literature and the fine arts was a key component of their upbringing. Margaret thrived in school, and her yearbook confidently predicted that “someday Margaret will return home as the great teacher we know she’ll be.”
A school highlight for Margaret was being selected as an alternate for the combined Ladysmith-Chemainus team for the quiz show “ Reach for the Top” which reached the Canadian finals in 1963. She also played a Chopin piano solo (”or was it Schubert?”) at her graduation ceremony. Margaret then left Ladysmith to begin her studies at UBC. Frank Green, one of the Chemainus Reach for the Top team members was a student in mathematics at the same university. The relationship that had begun in preparatory sessions for the quiz show ended up in marriage. Then came two children followed by a move to Alberta. By this time, however, Margaret had decided that she wanted to do something more in life than teach Canadian schoolchildren. Consequently, they packed up their children and accepted a CUSO position in Nigeria. As Margaret explained in the interview, “Frank and I had become very interested in issues of social justice. While raising our four sons, we became very aware of global issues regarding poverty, refugees, and basic human rights. I had always wanted to travel, and working for an NG0 provided the opportunity to become directly involved with these concerns. After a number of years working in Third World countries, they returned to Canada and became involved with many of the same issues in Vancouver’s East End community.
Frank and Margaret Green are now retired and living on Vancouver Island at Fanny Bay. I asked Margaret if she felt that she had lived up to the expectations expressed in her high school annual. Her reply: “I think I took my desire to teach out of the classroom and into the world. The experiences in Africa gave me the community skills to work successfully with the marginalized in Vancouver. I learned to be flexible and to listen closely to what members of the community were trying to say. It was not really teaching but rather a sharing of solutions based upon real life experience.”
We now come to the first of the young men in the Scholarship group. Michael Petrak was valedictorian for the 1964 graduating class. He has fond memories of his school years. “I received an excellent education, and more importantly, I received the education I needed.” All of my teachers in high school were both diligent and dedicated. If you needed help it was there for you.” Michael was the son of the high school principal, John Petrak, a highly respected man both at work and in the Ladysmith community. Consequently, everyone expected that Mike would follow in his brother’s footsteps and enter university. But Michael had other plans. Beginning as a log sorter in the Chemainus mill, he worked his way up the McMillan Bloedel ladder and ended his long and successful career with this same company as an office manager in 1993. Although his career took him to a number of coastal lumber towns Michael, now lives in Ladysmith in a home he had previously bought and sold.
As many of my readers are no doubt aware, Mike is a quiet and modest man. During the interview he preferred to talk about his lovely and talented wife Leona (Reist) who is well known as a teacher and artist in our community. He is equally proud of his two children Aisha and Lucas. In his life, he has tried to live up to his father’s expectations as a parent, a husband and a productive member of his community. “I was very proud of my dad and I worked hard to make him proud of me.”
Finally, we come to Dennis Matson. Dennis is presently in Helsinki, Finland on holidays but he was kind enough to respond to my questions by email. After graduation, Dennis completed a degree in Applied Science in Chemical Engineering at UBC. He worked in the pulp and paper industry in Dryden, Ontario and Prince George, BC. This included working as a design engineer to help create the largest mill of its kind in the world at that time. As an operating manager and research engineer, much of his long and varied career focused on reducing his industry’s impact on the environment. In 1969, he married Helen, a Registered Nurse. Together, they have raised two daughters and now have five grandsons in his retirement community of Prince George. Sadly, he has lost touch with many of the members of his graduation class, but he has fond memories of his years in Ladysmith and holidays at “the Gap”. His school memories include being the score and timekeeper at school basketball games with Mike Petrak. “This allowed me to travel with the players. I loved sports but couldn’t make the team.”
I asked each of the seven interviewees if any of their high school teachers had played an important part in their lives and careers. Dennis mentioned John Gourlay, “who sparked my interest in chemistry by showing me the importance it played in our everyday lives.” Although his subject matter (Latin) may not have been the most interesting or relevant course they studied at Ladysmith Secondary, five of the seven graduates from 1964 specifically mentioned Bert Morgan as their most inspiring teacher. Joe Gentry, Harold Rourke, Emile deKoninck, Ruth Dickson and Marie Harrison were also mentioned.
In an era when ‘urban flight’ is an accepted part of life, it is interesting to note that six of the seven former students interviewed have all remained or returned to Vancouver Island in their retirement, despite traveling and/or working in communities all around the globe. Coincidence? I think not. It’s a big, exciting world out there, but to Vancouver Islanders, there’s no place like home.
By Ed Nicholson
NOTE: The writer would like to thank the volunteers at the Ladysmith and District Archives for their assistance in the research for this article.