Seventy-five years ago, a group of locals graduated from Kent High School.
The world, and Kent, was a much different place back then. World War II had just ended, Kent only had one high school and the community was a more tight-knit agricultural town, far before the aerospace industry bought land that was being used to grow berries, green beans and hops into large-scale manufacturing facilities.
Class members gathered for their 75th reunion on Oct. 13 at the Kent Senior Activity Center.
Roy Smith, one of the seven of the surviving class of 1946 students, remembers those farms, many of them owned by Japanese immigrants, and the hop fields that he said the town got its name from. Named after the English town of Kent, also a hop-growing community.
He remembers the yearly flooding that occurred in the Valley. He even remembers the time that a flood damaged West Meeker Street, where he grew up, and they shut the road down until it was repaired.
“That was our playground for about a month,” Smith said of the street that the flood left rutted-out. “Nobody remembers that anymore.”
Phyllis Alford, another member of the Kent class of 1946, remembers when her father brought her family to Kent, which at the time only had a population of around 4,700, according to her.
“I was always a city girl,” she said as she remembered thinking, “How could my dad do this to me, put me in this country-hick town.”
Alford, and many others in her class, found life-long relationships with those they went to school with. She said she married a man who was one year older than her. They were married since 1948, until he died in 2006. She still kept his family name, Alford. Her maiden name was Wells.
Many of the students in the Class of 1946 were classmates since they were in first grade.
“We’re still friends,” Nelson said. “A lot of us still recognize each other.”
Nelson said there have been at least three different couples from the class that got married. She said those marriages are like a reunion in themselves.
Beverly Johnson brought a photo of a young boy and girl standing next to each other and showed it to Harold Botts, another member of the class. It was a photo of the two of them. They could not have been older than 15.
“What a handsome couple,” Botts said as he examined the photo in his hand.
Botts must have been a ladies man back in the day. Nelson told his son Ryan Botts that his dad was her first boyfriend.
She said Botts used to give her fruit from his lunch, which she got scolded by her mother for accepting from him.
“If that’s not love, I don’t know what is,” Nelson said of the gift Botts gave her.
Along with many precious memories shared by this group, there were also traumatic and largely forgotten memories as well.
Johnson said of the 109 students that were part of their freshman class, only 53 were a part of the graduating class in 1946. She said many of them self schooled to join the military during the onset of World War II. Even more sinister, they lost many other classmates to Japanese internment after Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Nelson remembers a school assembly that took place once the war began. At the end of the assembly, the principal told all the Japanese-American students to remain in the auditorium as the rest of their classmates filed out of the room without them.
“We lost so many good friends,” she said of her Japanese-American peers who were then interned in camps from 1942 to 1945.
Editor’s note: The Class of 1946 was one of the last graduating classes from Kent High School prior to its merger with Meridian High School to become what is now known as Kent-Meridian High School.