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Class of ’52 Grass Valley High School’s Last

The Union StaffGrass Valley High School as it appeared c. 1960.
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On the evening of June 6, 1952, 87 members of the last class to graduate from Grass Valley High School – one of the first organized high schools in California – marched down the aisle to receive their diplomas, ending 90 years of academic history and excellence.

The previous November marked the end of 47 years of football rivalry with Nevada City High School. Henceforth, all western Nevada County public school senior students would graduate from the newly-formed Nevada Union High School.



Western Nevada County residents decided to unify the Nevada City and Grass Valley high school districts.

There were the traditionalists who wanted to keep separate high schools because that’s the way it was for them and their parents, and there were the provincialists who jealously guarded their turf.




There were also those who took into consideration the duplicated effort and cost of running two schools and, after all, the population of the entire county hovered around only 20,000!

Reason prevailed. By more than three to one, voters overwhelmingly approved unification and the Nevada Joint Union High School District became a reality.

The class of 1953 became the first to graduate from the newly formed district’s high school.

Grass Valley’s first high school was built with a public subscription of $7,000 in the 1860s. Through the years, classes were held in the old Lincoln School and then Columbus School, the site of present-day Hennessy School.

The main building (now gone) was constructed in 1922, and was followed in 1939 with the addition of the reinforced concrete building still in use today.

Today, the old Grass Valley High School site at Buena Vista Street and Park Avenue accommodates specialized secondary education facilities, including adult education. In addition to these, the high school district maintains other units on McCourtney Road.

The district’s principal campuses are Bear River High School on Magnolia Road in the southern county and Nevada Union on Ridge Road. Today’s total district enrollment is 4,315 students.

First, the graduation and then the last football game.

A large audience of friends and family filled the auditorium/gymnasium building (the 1939 addition) to witness the historic final graduation.

The evening began with selections by the high school band that was followed by the procession of graduates, after which the Rev. Karl Markgraff delivered the invocation.

The audience was welcomed by senior class president Walter Bloom, who said that the class had carried out the mandate inherent in its motto, “We Stand Challenged.” He said that the Class of ’52 was outstanding in its academic, athletic and student governing abilities, and had helped greatly in making unification possible.

A Chopin clarinet solo by George Tennis preceded student body president Jerry Angove’s speech, “Education – Past, Present and Future,” in which he echoed Bloom’s theme. Other student speakers included Alice Applegate, Robert Miller and Peter Bissell.

Principal William George introduced the graduating class and praised them for practicing good citizenship.

He also praised a dedicated faculty and “the board of education for its desire to provide the best possible educational facilities.” Diplomas were awarded by George Ellsworth, a member of the school board.

Many and varied achievement awards were then presented to deserving graduates.

Top student recognition went to Jerry Angove, an “all-round outstanding athlete who also maintained good academic grades, was informed he had been awarded a four-year scholarship to Stanford University,” according to a front-page graduation story in The Union. (Angove is now retired as president of Sierra College and lives in the area.)

Western Nevada County’s 1951 “Big Game” was originally scheduled for Friday night, Nov. 9, but due to many factors was rescheduled for Saturday, Nov. 10 at Hennessy Field. This would be the final football game in a series that began early in the 20th century; both teams were ready.

The preliminary game between the JVs, the Grass Valley Muckers and the Nevada City Bumble Bees, would begin at 12:30 p.m., followed by the varsity at 2:30 p.m. Ceremonies marking “the end of an era” would be held between the games.

Saturday dawned cold and cloudy and with rain, driving rain! Only a handful of fans braved the elements to watch the contest.

On a sloppy, muddy field, both Grass Valley teams were victorious: the Muckers won 20-0 and the Miners defeated the Yellowjackets 20-12. It was the second league win for the Miners, while the JV Muckers went undefeated in league play.

Two players in that game were Ernie Pello for Nevada City and Jerry Angove for Grass Valley. Pello remem-bered: “It was an honor just to have played in that game. I’ll always remember it really rained that day!” Angove had good reason to remember the game: he scored two touch-downs and converted two

extra points.

by BOB WYCKOFF


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