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Nearly 800 celebrate largest alumni gathering in SoCal

ESCONDIDO — Emotional and overwhelming is how Bill Grote, Escondido High School Class of 1966, described the scene at Grape Day Park on May 19. That day, nearly 800 EHS alumni who have been graduated for 50 years or more gathered to catch up and celebrate their alma mater.

“It was incredible, because it was so many people,” Grote said. “Everybody was very happy to see each other.”

Grote was the co-chairman of the event, working for six months with a committee to plan one of the largest alumni gatherings in Southern California. The annual 50-plus reunions began back in 1947, celebrating the class of 1898. The event has come a long way since the first gathering of 20 people — this year saw the highest number of attendees in reunion’s history.

Here’s how it works — the class that is 52 years out of high school organizes the reunion, while the classes that are 51 and 50 years out observe and attend. This helps keep the tradition going, said Rolando Moreno, who graduated from Escondido High School in 1968, and helped plan this year’s event.

“Each class learns from the previous year,” Moreno said. “That’s how they perpetuate it.”

Held under a tent at Grape Day Park in Escondido, Moreno light-heartedly described the event as a huge party. Tables were marked by graduation year — attendees entered the tent and searched for their spot, while greeting old friends along the way.

“People are rushing into get their name tags, they’re yelling at each other, ‘long time no see!’” Moreno explained. “It’s one big happy party.”

In addition to the classes of 1966, 1967 and 1968 helping out, current Escondido High School students volunteered, escorting attendees to their seats and serving food.

“They probably brought about 70 students,” Moreno said. “It’s a great generational interaction.”

Moreno said he believes this year’s large attendance was due in part to social media, and posting about the event on Facebook. Next year, Moreno plans to leverage that even more. He’s looking forward to when his class takes over in 2020.

“When the class of 1968 takes over, there will be a lot of Beatles music,” Moreno shared. “We’ll probably be the rowdiest group that gets this thing rolling.”

The loyalty alumni feel toward their alma mater is something that Moreno describes as unique. He said he is proud to carry out this tradition for years to come.

“It’s important to do it year after year to maintain those ties — loyal, strong and true were three words that related to our motto at Escondido High school,” Moreno said. “Escondido High School is unique in that way.”