Sitting down at a picnic table under the shelter at Philomath City Park on Saturday afternoon, 90-year-old Norman Oleman gets back to work on eating lunch after pouring himself a cup of coffee. Conversations can be heard all around him with folks sharing memories of their younger days. Every once in a while, a small group gathers to smile for the camera.
Oleman’s been a longtime participant over the years at the annual Philomath Old-Timers Reunion and he could certainly share a few stories. Oleman doesn’t travel far for the event with his home located close to the park.
“We might’ve had between 20 and 30 that graduated and there wasn’t too much going on around town back then,” Oleman said when asked what it was like in Philomath back in 1948 when he graduated with his high school class. “When I moved here, there wasn’t this many people in town … we knew everybody that was here, just about, back then. I don’t know too many people now. You’re lucky if you know your neighbors nowadays.”
Oleman moved to Philomath from Kings Valley when he was age 14. Through the years, he hasn’t seen too many of his classmates.
“I think 90% of them disappeared right after (graduation) when they went to work and stuff,” he said. “There wasn’t much around here except sawmills and a little summer work in the fields.”
Oleman himself worked at a lumber yard and for several years was a car loader. He ended up as a foreman at Peak Lumber, the company from which he retired.
The reunion honored the Class of 1961, which marked its 60th anniversary.
“I think our class was a close class,” said Charlie Lamberty, who will turn 78 in about a month. “There really wasn’t any animosity between all of the guys — we all got along, the girls got along, and I think that’s why we have a fairly decent reunion.”
The Class of 1961 included 64 graduates.
“There had been a discussion of 61 to 64,” said 77-year-old Rod Berklund, who was the student body president as a PHS senior. “Last night, somebody brought a copy of our graduation program and we counted 64 names on there.”
The class has lost 22 members, the names of those “who have gone before us” featured on a display near the park’s gazebo. As Berklund indicated, classmates had dinner last night.
“Some of these people that come to this class reunion, we haven’t seen for years and you’re going, ‘who is that?’” Lamberty said, which prompted Berklund to add, “That’s why we have name tags.”
Berklund said he believes the Class of 1961 was the first to completely go through all four grades and graduate after the new high school was built following the devastating fire of 1956.
“I watched it burn,” said Lamberty, whose family at the time lived on land where Dairy Queen now sits. “My mother came in and woke my brother and I up and said, ‘look out the window’ and there was the school going up in smoke.
“They got around to building the new one pretty fast,” he added. “We ended up with a pretty nice school and then they’ve rebuilt it since then and it’s better still.”
The pandemic led to the cancellation of last year’s event, so it was the first all-class reunion since the summer of 2019.
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