by Mitch Lehman
They call them ‘the Old Guard,’ a dozen or so community members who showed up any number of years ago – and never really left – leaving behind memories that will last a lifetime in the minds of San Marino High School graduates.
Bob Horgan calls himself a “screw and glue” guy and is as much a part of Grad Night as the re-usable panels that each year are strung across Dingus Memorial Fieldhouse. Horgan has been a part of the construction team for a remarkable thirty-six years, two of which were enjoyed by his own children. A no-nonsense guy himself, Horgan does a lot of the dirty work but says his wife has told him “he is too old to be climbing around on ladders.”
She never said anything about cherry pickers.
Horgan has a lot of company. If you bump into Skip Josenhans anywhere and any time between the day after the last graduation and the day before the next, he will offer an enthusiastic if not unsolicited explanation of all the new items and activities planned for the Class of whatever year is coming up. Josenhans has been plying the Grad Night trade since 1993 and shows no signs of stopping.
Ping Lit (started working Grad Night in 1997), Tommy Wong (1998), Jeannie Wong (1997) and Bernard Lim (2001) are just a few of the regulars who spend months crafting what is in essence a huge movie set.
The whole affair started fifty-eight Grad Nights ago, according to either Julie Wofford, Beth Davis or Debra Spaulding, who are tri-chairing Friday’s event which commences after San Marino High School’s commencement and finishes at about 5:30 a.m. Saturday morning when the almost three hundred grads will be in the same place for the last time. And though the students inhabit the confines for only about eight hours – a standard work day – construction began in January, when volunteers huddled in an abandoned bank parking lot on Huntington Drive that has served as Grad Night’s staging grounds for decades.
“Before that, it was in Room 100 at the high school, peoples’ garages, a local car dealership even donated a couple of service bays – it was spread out all over the place,” says Horgan.
Grad Night themes are voted on by the actual graduating class and announced a year in advance. Then, it’s up to the Grad Night Committee and army of volunteers to make it all happen.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
The answers come in rapid fire from Mike and Julie Wofford and Jason DuNah, each of whom are able to instantly recall the theme of their own Grad Night some unmentionable number of years ago. Julie Wofford – hence Mike, by proxy – is actually chairing her second event and leans heavily on the experienced veterans.
“They are irreplaceable,” said Julie Wofford. “Grad Night would not be possible without them. I love them all. They are wonderful, great, caring people who love to give back to their community.”
“They are amazing,” said Davis. “They don’t have children at the school any more and yet they continue to come year after year and dedicate their Saturdays. They take your dream and make it happen. We tell them something we want to happen and before you know it, the whole thing is happening. They are incredible. It’s a labor of love and it all stems out of their desire to give kids the best night of their life.”
Tuesday evening saw mixed emotions as volunteers were treated to a barbecue dinner to honor their efforts. In attendance were Maureen and Jenna Dizon, who came at the request of the many workers who had toiled alongside their husband and father Dan ‘Kilowatt’ Dizon, who passed away last July after working twenty-some Grad Nights. ‘Kilowatt’ became electrified towards the process after working Jenna’s Grad Night after her 1989 graduation and earned his nickname from his incredible electrical skills.
“He was amazing,” said co-volunteer Tommy Wong. “He would look at all the electrical equipment and after a while say ‘we need this many kilowatts.’ He was always right.”
“My dad loved working Grad Night,” a tearful Jenna said as she was presented a tool belt bearing the signatures of Dan’s co-workers. “He talked about it all year and we heard every story. He loved this.”
Perhaps San Marino resident and former Grad Night Chair Lisa Sloan captured the sentiment best.
“Grad Night is the last hug of our children before they leave San Marino,” she said.
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