Look Back in Ojai, May Day 1958

The following article first appeared in the Friday, May 1, 2020 edition of the “Ojai Valley News” on page B8. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Look Back in Ojai, May Day 1958
by
Drew Mashburn
for the Ojai Valley Museum

Mrs. Sutherland was my kindergarten teacher at Ojai Elementary School. Kindergarten was a blast, but I could hardly wait to move up to first grade so I could be on the other side of the chain link fence with the Big Kids. I managed to graduate kindergarten on my first try.

So, in 1957 I got moved to the other side of the fence. My room was in the northern wing that faced the kindergarten. I can remember a girl in our class swallowing a nickel and being escorted out of the room by the school nurse. I remember another girl peeing in her chair and it running off onto the floor. I found both events fascinating! I don’t recall my teacher’s name, but I do recall Mr. Theriault working with me on my colors. I think he figured out I was color blind after I asked my Mom why I was the only kind that had “green” bread sandwiches. Brown bread looked green to me (still does).

I didn’t know it at the time, but Topa Topa Elementary School was being built. Bidding was put out for construction of the school in May 1957. I’m not sure when construction began. But according to a caption under a photo of the school in the Thursday, October 24, 1957 edition of THE OJAI AND VALLEY NEWS, the institution was taking shape even though strikes and early rain slowed progress. The place was almost ready for paint, more concrete still needed to be poured and interior work needed to be completed. Builders were hoping construction would be done by the end of November.

Things must have progressed pretty much on time because, according to an article in the Thursday, December 5, 1957 edition of THE OJAI AND VALLEY NEWS, the new school was ready to receive its first students the next Monday. I learned to count in school. So, that was December 9th.

The weekend before school opened for the first time, the Ojai Lions Club built metal-pipe bicycle-racks and placed them on the front grounds.

School opened with a flag-raising ceremony conducted by Boy Scout Troop 501. Students, teachers and school officials were in attendance. Among those officials were Principal William Mackenness and District Superintendent A. A. Herman. Part of the ceremony included presentation of classroom keys to the faculty.

I don’t remember much about the ceremony. Not because it wasn’t memorable, but because I was only a first grader. What I do remember is being almost awestruck by everything being so new!!! Now, Ojai Elementary School was a pretty neat school, but it was old and looked old. At Topa Topa, not only the buildings were new, the asphalt was black with crisp white lines on it! The blackboards were actually black! I had a new modern school desk! It was WONDERFUL! I was elated with my surroundings and Mrs. Florence Earhardt was my teacher. I adored her!

Topa Topa opened with first through sixth grades. We didn’t have to put up with any immature underclassmen kindergartners. When May came along, the entire school participated in a May Day Festival. My classmate Gail Gartrell and I were selected as Queen & King of the event. We were the two shortest kids in our class. Seems like sixth graders should have held this honor, but I guess because there weren’t any kindergartners and sixth graders aren’t as cute as first graders, school officials decided to go with Gail and I. It just dawned on me after all these years … Gail and I must have been the shortest kids in the school of 163 pupils! (I was taller than that pipsqueak Gartrell). The worst part of being the King was having to hold Gail’s cootie-covered hand! Honestly, I don’t really recall much about the festival, but am happy to report, Gail and I have been buddies for all these years.

Many people around these parts think I’m a nobody, but I was in the first class to ever go clear through sixth grade and graduate for Topa Topa. And, I’m an educated King! Go, Gophers!

King Drew
King Drew yanking away from Queen Gail’s cootie-covered hand!
King Drew & Queen Gail arriving to the festival on their float
Queen Gail & King Drew departing the May Day Festival

4 Replies to “Look Back in Ojai, May Day 1958”

  1. River,

    I’m happy that you enjoyed the story. I’ve spoken with Queen Gail about the event. Neither she, or I, can remember much about it. So, it’s great to have the photos. I’m assuming my Mom and/or Dad took them.

    — King Drew
    (“Ojai Valley Museum” volunteer)

  2. Ah Drew,
    Love your writings.
    So Queen Gartrell & King Mashburn. YAY, and they are still buddies.
    I LOVE the pict’s.
    Also, thank you for telling us when Topa Topa opened. I had always wondered and speculated.

  3. Mary Ellen (AKA: MARE):

    I’m glad you enjoyed the read. Yes, like you and I, Queen Gail and I are still buddies after so many years have zipped by us.

    No, you don’t have to keep bowing to me when you see me around the Ojai Valley.

    — King Drew
    (“Ojai Valley Museum” volunteer)

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