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Tuesday, December 18 , 2018, 6:35 pm | Fair 55º


Bob Wakefield: Santa Barbara High Getting a Read on What Its Alumni Write

The Santa Barbara High School Alumni Association has begun collecting and cataloging books authored by former Dons. So far, the school library has tracked down 130 books.
The Santa Barbara High School Alumni Association has begun collecting and cataloging books authored by former Dons. So far, the school library has tracked down 130 books. (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk file photo)

A quick thought, sometimes called an idea, that came to someone’s mind in October 2014 has grown in less than two years into a project that conceivably has no end.

At least, not so long as Santa Barbara High School exists.

It began in the SBHS library as some alumni volunteers were skimming and scanning old volumes of the school newspaper, The Forge, which was ready to celebrate its centennial later that month.

Gloria Cavallero-Belfiore, then-president of the Santa Barbara High School Alumni Association, came across an article in a 1920s issue reporting that Archie Rice, an 1895 graduate, had presented to the school’s principal a copy of The Glow of the Campfire, a work on camping in Yosemite.

A check with the current principal’s office revealed, though, that Rice’s book was no longer there, nor was it in the school library. Even online, it is a rarity.

The alums went on skimming and scanning, but a few days later, one of them connected Rice’s lost donation with the fact that the featured speaker at the upcoming centennial, Leon Litwack, Forge editor in 1946-1947, was also an author.

In fact, Litwack was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

“Why don’t we start a list of graduates who have written books and see how many authors and how many books we can identify,” the alum suggested.

Cavallero liked the basic idea of a list, then checked with librarian Marsha Barr, who also embraced it and even envisioned a modest collection.

Barr recently counted 130 books on hand, but not all shelved “because some are self-published and have to be hand-processed.”

“I’ll work on that during the summer,” she said.

No one wants to fall too far behind with this all-volunteer project.

“New names and new titles come in every month,” noted Laura Davis Wilson, in-town coordinator of the overall project, “and we can’t foresee why or when that should ever end.”

The list of authors, regardless of whether a listed book is on hand, numbers slightly over 100, with almost every decade since the 1920s represented.

Archie Rice, who authored a second book that is on hand, is the only graduate thus far listed from the 19th century.

What is the range of book types? There’s Litwack’s Pulitzer-winning Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery.

There are more tha 20 children’s books by local author Lee Wardlaw, Class of 1973. Winner of numerous prestigious awards, Wardlaw gained two honors for Won Ton: A Cat Tale Told in Haiku.

But also listed, some on hand, are cookbooks, scholarly treatises, novels, several screenplays, histories, biographies and autobiographies.

A number of Don authors are also on the SBHS “Wall of Fame,” including famous athletes who have written autobiographies: Eddie Mathews ’49, Sam Cunningham ’69, Keith Jamaal Wilkes ’70 and Karch Kiraly ’79.

Listed, but not secured so far, is the autobiography of famous dancer and teacher Martha Graham, Class of 1913, also on the SBHS “Wall of Fame.” Graham’s Blood Memory was published in 1991, and the alumni group hopes that some alumnus or community member will step up and donate a copy soon.

So it goes: distinguished graduates, a quick thought, dedicated alumni, a project with no end in sight.

— Bob Wakefield has worked with his third name since 2007. He was Bob Johnson at Santa Barbara High School from 1946 to 1949, then his actual birth name, Bob Wiener upon entering the Air Force in 1950. A 1957 UC Santa Barbara graduate, he was an educator for 33 years, retiring in 1990, but writing for fun since. The opinions expressed are his own.

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