Wasco Union High School, which turned 100 years old this year, is a far cry from the campus it was when it was established in 1915.

It boasts 40 buildings, 115 courses and 1,701 students today. Its 1915 self had one building, an auditorium the school rented for $30 a month and only 30 students (about the size of the school’s present-day steel drum orchestra), according to Wasco High records.

Still, former students say what they cherish most about the school are the elements that haven’t changed, the dedicated teachers and administrators invested in the school because they are products of it.

Some of those students come from families who have lived in Wasco for decades.

But none can say they remember what it was like to be a student at the school in 1915. A variety of records district Superintendent Lori Albrecht emailed The Californian, though, paint that picture. (See side boxes)

Wasco High is only the fourth high school established in Kern County, as far as Rob Meszaros, spokesman for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office, can tell. It was preceded by Taft’s former Conley High, Bakersfield High and Delano Union High schools.

The closest option Wasco residents had for high school before 1915 was Bakersfield High, which was established in 1893, according to Wasco district records.

That meant students had to stay in Bakersfield during the week and come home on weekends, an expensive tab. So only affluent children ended up attending high school.

Dr. E.S. Fogg, the community's only physician, travelled in a horse and buggy advocating for that to change, according to the Wasco records.

It did in 1915 when voters of the Cleveland, Maple, Poplar, Wildwood, Semitropic and Wasco elementary school districts approved plans to establish a high school district in Wasco.

THE EARLY DAYS

Thirty students were enrolled by the first day of school Sept. 20, 1915.

Most of them studied some combination of Latin, Algebra, English, sewing, music, agriculture, manual training, drawing and domestic science, all from the shared auditorium the school rented.

Students could hear instruction going on in other classes, and business class was held on the auditorium’s stage, according to district records.

The only upperclassman at the school when it opened, a junior named in school records as Mrs. Stanley Lyons, enrolled in only one course, sewing.

“A married woman, she probably was interested in acquiring this skill only,” officials stated in the school record.

Catherine Dounies, owner of Hall Letter Shop, had more in mind.

She went by Catherine Zeilman at the time Wasco High got a $45,000 bond to purchase 15 acres of land and a 3-acre parcel school officials would use to construct Wasco High’s first building. 

Dounies, 94, remembers seeing the construction as a young girl; then in the late 1930s she studied Latin, law and economics at the very school she watched take form.

“It was home,” she said.

Students could choose an academic track, either college preparatory, commercial or agriculture. She chose commercial.

“College was expensive, and it was the depression,” Dounies said. “So you did what you could.”

She graduated from Wasco High in 1939 and went straight to work at Hopper Machine Works, an iron foundry that created propeller shafts for ships during World War II.

She took a job at radio station KERO in the 1950s but left when the company later acquired a television license.

Dounies wanted to be an on-air announcer, but the station wouldn’t allow her to do that. 

“At the time, women did not head offices,” she said. Only men were allowed to do those jobs.

“I said, ’No, I’m not going to work under men,’” Dounies said.

So having studied printing in high school, she bought a small dental shop and turned it into a printing company in 1963.

Women had to start their own businesses if they wanted to work in managerial roles, Dounies said. 

“That would be the only way to do it, and that’s what I did,” Dounies said. 

She is now one of the oldest female business owners in her industry, Dounies said.
 
FROM 1993 TO 2015

Elias Rodriguez, a third-generation Wasco High student, said the campus is simply where you go if you live in the area.

His dad, mom, her six siblings and his father’s parents all went to Wasco High.

Rodriguez, who is in line to be valedictorian, said his dad was an outfielder for Wasco’s baseball team when he went there in the early 1990s. That team was the last one to advance to the Central Section championship in 1993, Tallon said.

Martin Rodriguez, Elias’ dad, said he remembers the power pitching of Greg Romo and Jeremy Wedel, both of whom played on the Wasco High team with him and were eventually drafted by Major League Baseball teams.

“We grew up playing baseball together,” Martin Rodriguez said.

Players on the team, like many at Wasco High today, came from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, he said. Some only spoke Spanish. The student body was 73.5 percent Hispanic and 21 percent white in 1993, according to state data. 

Still, being together so much in the community just short of 18,000 residents nurtured a closeness between students that Rodriguez said he still feels. 

It’s a closeness that transcends sports and even time, and just became what it means to go to school at Wasco High.

The more senior Rodriguez said the campus, with USB ports on the library bookshelves and more than 1,000 Chromebooks in circulation, has changed tremendously since he went there.

Teachers had the only computers in classrooms, with 30-pound monitors, and emailing classwork was unheard of in the early 1990s.

Martin Lonza, district director of facilities and planning, said a successful 2008 bond election for $33.5 million allowed the school to add three classroom wings and an 18-acre sports complex; expand and update the cafeteria and library; and modernize the band room and computer lab.

Rodriguez said even with all the physical changes, he can’t imagine the camaraderie between students changing. Many of his peers graduated and went on to become teachers and administrators at the school.

Tallon graduated from Wasco High in 1995 and taught there for 11 years before moving into administration. He said some families have generations of Wasco High graduates. They feel like part of the school.

That was the premise of a mural in the cafeteria that shows the blurred faces of several students walking on campus.

“The idea is anybody who comes back can see themselves,” Tallon said.

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