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AHS class of '37 holds 72-year reunion

From left, George Rauch, Grace and Don Prather, Velma
From left, George Rauch, Grace and Don Prather, Velma 'Babe' Bjorn, and Estella and Bill Jensen meet up at the Eagle Crest Restaurant Aug. 12.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

ARLINGTON — Aug. 12 marked the end of an era for the group of just under half a dozen former classmates that met at the Eagle Crest Restaurant, but they remained upbeat as they shares stories.

Their reunions started out on a schedule of one every five to 10 years, and then one every other year, but not long after their 50th reunion, the Arlington High School graduating class of 1937 started getting together once every year, to catch up on old times and new. Two years ago, less than a dozen were were able to attend their 70-year reunion, and this year, Estella Jensen admitted that the group probably would not be able to reunite again, due to the strain on herself and her classmates. At the age of 88, she was the youngest member of the class in attendance.

Between graduating from high school and scheduling regular meetings with each other over the course of the next 72 years, the AHS class of '37 has done some living.

Jensen worked for Boeing and as a shipyard welder, while her husband Bill, now 93 years old but still able to attend, was involved in construction and machine repair.

Velma "Babe" Bjorn worked as a survey interviewer and sold Avon for a number of years, while Don Prather served in the Army for a few years, before he and his wife Grace ran a grocery store and restored housing in the University District of Seattle. The Prathers are the closest to being newlyweds in the class, since they've been together for only 47 years.

After his stint in the Air Force, dairy farmer George Rauch used his G.I. Bill to become an engineer in the Marysville School District, while his wife Karin was a licensed nurse. George and Karin's marriage of more than 68 years is the longest-lasting of the class, but Karin was unable to attend this year, since she was still recovering from breaking her leg two months ago. That same leg already had an artificial knee and hip.

Out of a graduating class of 104, these are the survivors, who have made an annual habit out of passing around letters from those whose failing health has prevented them from attending, bringing obituaries of those who have passed on, trading tales of grown children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and reflecting on their lives.

George Rauch still lives on Camano Island, his home for the past 29 years, but in 1995, he moved houses to be closer to the golf course and "away from stair-steps." The Prathers have made their home in Shoreline for close to 45 years, while the Jensens have stayed on Jordan Road in Arlington Heights. Bjorn, a Lakewood native, moved to Olympic Place in Arlington nearly two years ago.

They were the first class to graduate from the old high school on French Street, back when the Depression was still going strong. Unlike today's high school students, none of them had cars of their own back then — as Bjorn noted, "There's so much more traffic and people here now" — and jobs were even more scarce than they are today. They had far fewer teachers, in charge of far fewer students, and Don Prather suspects this makes it harder for modern students to "get acquainted," with their teachers or each other.

Even as Estella Jensen commiserated with Bjorn about how difficult even the simple act of putting on socks has gotten, with Bjorn recommending a "sock puller-upper" she now uses, they joined George Rauch in expressing their appreciation over having lived so long. Rauch described his life as "happy," while Bjorn characterized hers as "blessed."

"It's just nice to know some fellow survivors," Estella Jensen said.

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