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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Kenny Anderson gets a “big kick out of it” when he hears the Highland High School fight song. “Kids today who may have even gone to a different high school can sing the song. They’re familiar with it,” he says.
Not as familiar as Anderson. He wrote the music and lyrics 64 years ago when he was a freshman at Highland, and the song has been used ever since.
The school hadn’t been open long and Anderson had been playing trumpet in the band. “We used ‘On Wisconsin’ as the tune for the school song and played it at football games and other sporting events. Then we decided to hold a competition for a new fight song and I worked on it at my piano at home for about a week.”
Anderson, a guard on the senior varsity basketball team, also led an 11-piece sock-hop dance band. “The dances were held in the girls’ gym after football or basketball games, but they didn’t want to scar up the hardwood floor so people took their shoes off and danced in their socks, hence the name sock hop,” he explains.
He and some of his former band mates will entertain the student body once again when they play a few selections at their “60-ish” Highland High School graduating class reunion Sept. 14 at Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town. The reunion will include all Highland students who attended from the time the school opened in the fall of 1949 through the graduation class of 1954.
Starting a culture
“The wonderful thing about being at Highland at the beginning and staying for all four years was we got to pick everything and were responsible for establishing a whole community and culture within the school,” Anderson recalls. “We got to choose the school mascot and the Hornets name. We considered the Highlanders, but we couldn’t see ourselves running around in kilts.”
People who attended Highland High School from its establishment in 1949 through the graduation class of 1954, are invited to attend a “60-ish Reunion” on Sept. 14 at Hotel Albuquerque, 800 Rio Grande NW. A no-host cocktail hour begins at 6 p.m. with dinner and dancing at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $65. Checks should be made payable to Achievement Gallery/HHS Reunion, and mailed to Achievement Gallery, 4421 McLeod NE, Suite D, Albuquerque NM, 87109, or 505-881-4625.
About that ride
The Bombardier Car Club provided the classic 1953 Chevrolet 210 “Post” used in the photo illustration. The two-door vehicle, powered by a 235-cubic-inch, straight six-cylinder engine, was rebuilt by owner and car club president Russell Perea. The Bombardier Car Club features classic vehicles up to 1960. For information, go to bombardierscc.com.
Anderson, now 77, went on to have a professional career as a musician, playing trumpet with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and the Santa Fe Opera Orchestra. He continues to lead a 14-piece swing band, Tuxedo Junction.
Anderson liked his Highland classmates so much that he married two of them – the former Gayle West, class of 1953; and the former Martha McAdams, class of 1955. “Those Highland girls …” muses Anderson. “They sure were charming and talented.”
No argument there from reunion organizer and fellow ’53 graduate, Ginger Grossetete, known as Ginger Taylor in high school. She, too, met her future husband, Alec Grossetete at Highland. They were together until his death in 2004.
“We decided to include the other graduating classes because we’re getting older and there are fewer of us all the time,” says Grossetete, 77, a former assistant director of the Albuquerque Department of Senior Affairs.
“The classes were smaller back then so we knew people who were in grades ahead of us or behind us and we were all friends. Just this past spring, myself and two friends from Highland went to Eastern Europe for a cruise. They’re still in my circle of friends after 60 years. Of course, we also go to a lot of funerals. We’re at that age.”
Not that she dwells on that. She’s too busy. Grossetete plays tennis three times a week, is in a bowling league, skis during the winter and rides her jet ski during the summer.
“I’ve always been active. I was in the Swim Club and the Ski Club and played other sports at Highland, but it was all intramural. Girls didn’t play other schools in those days. The boys did. There were different rules for boys and girls.”
Thanksgiving and football
Another rule was plan a late Thanksgiving meal. The big football rivalry between the Highland Hornets and the Albuquerque High Bulldogs (the only other high school in Albuquerque, established in 1892), was settled yearly during a Thanksgiving day game. It was immediately followed by equally enthusiastic fist fights at local teen hangouts, the El Sombrero drive-in and the Castle drive-in, both long gone from the Albuquerque scenery, Grossetete says.
She also recalls other teen hangouts that now exist only in memory: Fito’s Cafe on south Fourth Street (now the Barelas Coffee Shop), Chisholm’s Fountain in the university area, the East End Roller Rink on east Central Avenue, a handful of drive-in movie theaters and a long-gone miniature golf course near the zoo.
Like today, cruising in a car to see and be seen was a popular activity, at least for those lucky enough to have a car or to borrow a parent’s car, says Grossetete. “There was hardly anything east of the fairgrounds. Central was paved, it was Route 66, but Lomas was a dirt road, Tramway didn’t exist at all and Juan Tabo was a bumpy dirt road. We called Juan Tabo ‘kiss-me-quick’ road because you’d go over the bumps and have to kiss your boyfriend or girlfriend quick between the bumps.”
Era of prosperity
Her generation, says Grossetete, grew up in relative safety and prosperity. Most of her classmates were too young to have fought in either World War II or the Korean War, though they may have some recollection of the Depression from their early childhood.
“We followed the rules, were joiners at school and did a lot of volunteer work in the community,” she says. “Smoking was seen as cheap, girls didn’t pierce their ears or wear dangling earrings, and they didn’t have babies until they were married.”
And families were important. Mothers didn’t generally work, so they knew when their kids got home after school and could keep an eye on them, she says. “We had game nights and played board and card games like Monopoly and poker, and action games like charades. We ate dinner together every night, and even though more and more people had a television it was never turned on while we ate.”
What James “Corky” Morris most remembers about Highland is the teachers.
“They were good role models – friendly, helpful, involved and concerned – and the kids for the most part were not troublesome for the teachers.” Those teachers taught the eventual junior class president much about civics and government, lessons that served him well later in life as a Bernalillo County commissioner and county and state Republican Party chairman.
If he was a mover and shaker in student government, Morris was a silent observer when it came to mixing it up with girls. “I didn’t date a lot until I was a senior,” he says. “I worked the dances in the school gym, helping to set things up and hiring bands, but then I sat in a corner and watched the girls walk by.”
Morris, 78, who continues to operate a family-owned warehouse business, also played on Highland’s baseball team, which “opened the door for me to play baseball at UNM,” at a time when, he recalls, “tuition was $100 a semester.”
Not only were things less expensive, Albuquerque of the 1950s was also simpler and safer, and people often left their front door unlocked.
“The milkman would come by in the mornings and let himself in, put the milk in the refrigerator and maybe sit down and talk for a while,” he says.
“That sort of thing just doesn’t happen today. It was a different world back then.”