Getting Schooled: The Puente Union High School Yearbook, Imagaga, 1929

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

For graduating high school seniors, this 2019-2020 school year will obviously stand out in history given that the COVID-19 pandemic and school closures meant the challenges of distance learning to close out the last couple months of the academic year and the extraordinary circumstances surrounding drive-through and virtual graduations.

Still, the production of the yearbook, a tradition of American high schools generally dating to the end of the 19th century, will, for the most part, continue even under the trying situations students and faculty have faced, even if these will get distributed later than usual.  Tonight’s post features the 1929 edition of the Imagaga yearbook for Puente Union High School, now La Puente High, and we’ll focus specifically on the graduating seniors.

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The school opened in 1915 as the agricultural area around the town of Puente (the “la” was not added until the mid-Fifties) experienced enough growth in the preceding fifteen or so years that there were enough students to open the campus.  Yearbooks like this not only give us a window into the lives of teens, but about their communities, as well.  The word “Imagaga” appears to have been made up and there is a tag line of “to give happiness” on the title page.

Music teacher Benedict Bantly was honored by having the yearbook dedicated to him because of “his interest in the school activities, and his work in the music department.”  Bantly, who had several children attend the school (and two of which I interviewed about a quarter century ago with La Puente native and historical society curator Cecilia Wictor) also gave private music lessons.  Among his students were Thomas, Agnes, Walter, Jr. and Edgar Temple and, when La Casa Nueva was finished in late 1927, Bantly came over to instruct them in the upstairs Music Practice Room.

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There is also a brief editor’s foreword, in which Eldridge Linn, wrote

If this little volume serves to bring back memories of the joys, struggles, and sorrows, of the students of Puente Union High School, in years to come, then the name of the book [that is, “to give happiness”\ will have been lived up to.

Principal Robert M. Blee penned a short message about the importance of the annual to students, writing that “it reveals their ambitions, interests and accomplishments” while “there is much that occurs outside the class room that affects for all time the character and the interests and the devotions of those make up our group.”  He concluded by noting that the reader “would become acquainted with the whole of our school life” and “derive no small amount of pleasure therefrom.”

Vice-Principal S. Chester McIntosh, who went on to replace Blee and then was a long-time superintendent of the Hudson School District, now the Hacienda-La Puente Unified School District and whose daughter-in-law Patricia is, at 90, still very active in the local community, added his “Farewell Message to [the] Class of ’29.”

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He noted that “for four years you have worked together performing the many routine tasks common to all who would make graduation from high school their goal.”  He encouraged those “who are endowed with limited talents” to avoid discouragement because “even our greatest leaders were not endowed with all the good qualities and talents in the superlative degree.”  But, with “an enthusiastic love for the task,” a person could “make up for the shortcomings by hard work” and do better than those who were “more highly endowed, but lacked perseverance.”

McIntosh ended by quoting the prominent progressive Republican politician Robert “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, who was a governor of Wisconsin, member of the House of Representatives and, lastly, a United States senator from his state for nearly twenty years before his death in 1925: “Neither the clamor of the mob nor the voice of power will ever turn me by the breadth of a hair from the course I mark out for myself guided by such knowledge as I can obtain and controlled and directed by a solemn conviction of right and duty.”

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Beyond Bantly, Blee, and McIntosh, there were fifteen other faculty members, including nine women.  One, auto mechanics instructor Alfred J. Gunn is the grandfather of one of the Homestead’s longest-serving volunteers, Kathy Gunn, who has been with us since the mid-1980s.  On the Student Body page, it was noted that the 1928-29 school year brought enrollment to nearly 200 students, showing how rural the area was, though the freshman class was “the largest in the history of the school.”

Other news of note was that bonds were voted by locals for a new gymnasium, which was finished in February, while “the semi-monthly picture shows have been continued,” thanks for the work of history teacher and glee club adviser Bertha Berg. also “the chairman of the stunt committee.”  Another highlight was production of the spring play, “The Champion,” directed by Marcus Taylor, who taught math, Latin and public speaking.

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The student body president was Edwin Clark and the vice-president was Helen Kibby, while the secretary was Marie Ernaga and the treasurer John Wise (an appropriate last name for the keeper of the funds!)  The senior class presidents were Loyd Deaver for the first semester and William Tucker for the second, while Helen Kibby and Blake Gibson were vice-presidents, Betty Nichols was secretary for both, and Dominique Sorcabal, who not surprisingly went on to work as a banker in town, was treasurer.

There were three dozen graduates in the class of 1929, with seventeen of them female.  Only two had Latino surnames (Frank Gomez and Evelyn Yorba, the latter also being a Rowland family descendant) and there were two Japanese students, Isamu Miyakawa and Kimyo Terada, whose families likely were among the small community of Japanese farmers that lived in the area, but could not own land by state law, and which included “K. Yatsuda,” who leased the Homestead at the time Walter Temple purchased it in late 1917.

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By each senior’s name was a listing of activities and how many years they were involved, as well as a short little description, mostly in rhyme.  So for student body president Clark, it was “When in our midst he sat / Many hears went Pitter-Pat.”  For Gomez, it was “To us it’s a mystery / How he mastered all History,” perhaps because he was both a four-year Honor Society member and a letterman in basketball, baseball and football.  Bernice Maxson, whose family were early settlers of El Monte and West Covina, was described as “Like a bird on a tree, like a dainty flower in May / She dances and sings all the way, while Terada’s description was “With my artistic hand / I hope to decorate our land.”

In a “History of the Class of 1929,” it was observed that fifty freshman showed up on campus in mid-September 1925 and attended a Freshmen Reception, though they were cowed by “all the wild tales we had heard about poor Freshmen.”  Nine boys and two girls won letters that year and there were ten Honor Society members, four of which were girls.

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For the 1926-27 year, ten of the preceding class left and two, including Miyakawa, joined the sophomores.  They gave the traditional party for seniors and also “at the El Monte [football game] rally, we stated the custom of lighting the letter on the hill,” this latter being Puente Hill, or P-Hill, just east of the campus. Ten students, including the same two girls (Maxson and Ernaga) won sports letters and there were eleven Honor Society members, with four girls once more.

As juniors, the class changed faculty advisors and three students left with one coming to campus.  Among the highlights was the presentation of the play “White Collars” and the attendance upon the seniors at their banquet at the Hotel Alexandria, one of the best-known hostelries in Los Angeles.  The class also proudly received their school rings. Eight boys and Maxson and Ernaga, in tennis, earned letters and the Honor Society roll included eight students, including three girls.

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For their final year as “Dignified Seniors,” there was one student who left and three, including Yorba, who joined.  When it came to the traditional “Ditch Day” trip to Big Pines, the recreation area near Wrightwood in the San Gabriel Mountains, “we got part way, but had to turn back on account of the wind,” perhaps a Santa Ana condition, so the class headed for Mt. Baldy instead.  The class was served by the sophomores for a party, there was a school play, “The Cat-O-Nine Tails,” and there was a fine Junior-Senior banquet.  Seventeen letters were earned, with Aurelia Metcalf joining Maxson and Ernaga as female sports recipients, and fourteen students were in the Honor Society, including four girls.

Another interesting feature to the yearbook was a “Senior Class Will,” as the 36 graduates joking willed something to remaining students or others.  Wilmer Miller left his Buick sedan to Mr. McIntosh; Miyakawa left his “ability to make cabinets” to John Rowland IV, the great-grandson of the grantee to Rancho La Puente and a graduate of the 1930 class; Antoinette Bidart bequeathed “her ability to argue to Esther Smith;” and Maxson gave “her arches [from her sports accomplishments] to Puente Union High School.”

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With regard to the other classes, there were 35 juniors, 48 sophomores, and 57 freshmen, a notable demographic indicator of the moderate, but steady, growth in the La Puente area ninety years ago.  Lists of alumni for the preceding two classes showed that 28 of 62 graduates were attending junior colleges, universities or trade schools, while many were working and 22 of them were at home.

The activities section included pages for the Imagaga staff; the Girls’ Athletic Association; Girls’ League; the Honor Society; the Spanish Club; the Orchestra; and more.  A calendar for the year included highlights like the gym construction, sports scores; the movie night film titles; an assembly for a radio address by President Herbert Hoover; the class parties; entertainment by a flagpole sitter; and the 14 June commencement, among many others.

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A literary portion featured essays, poems, and the “True Chronicles of a Freshie From His Diary,”  The sports section included descriptions of the exploits of the football team, which started with two shutout victories against Excelsior and Colton, then was blanked by Monrovia and John Muir before losing a nail-biter to Citrus, but finished strong with convincing wins against Montebello and El Monte, the last a first for the Warriors against its close rival, to finish 4-3.

The basketball team followed its 1928 championship season with two wins to start off the campaign, lost in a one-point heart-breaker against Citrus, won two more contests, and then lost to Covina.  There was a three-way tie with Muir and Citrus for the title, but, because in calculating the total points in league play, the Warriors came out on top, the championship cup was handed over to Puente High.

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The track team had two close losses to Citrus and Montebello and a tie with El Monte in its meets before nine Puente athletes qualified for the San Gabriel Valley League meet at El Monte.  Two, Edwin Clark and junior Albert Faure finished second in the discus and mile run, respectively, while Victor Buccola, also a junior, finished third in the discus and shot put.  Senior Elbridge Linn placed fourth in the broad jump.

Puente’s baseball team won all four of its practice games and then went 2-3 in league with wins against Muir and Montebello, who finished below the Warriors in the standings.  Monrovia, which finished 5-0, beat Puente 6-3 in the opener.  Buccola was the star hitter with a very impressive .591 batting average and three other players hit between .333 and .350.

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The boys tennis team had a rough year, being shut out in four of its five tournaments, though it did tie Montebello.  The girls’ squad, however, easily won two of its three completed matches against Citrus and Montebello, but lost to El Monte.  Monrovia and Muir, however, did not field squads, so those went to Puente for forfeit.  There were intramural girls’ sports in baseball, speedball (a combination of soccer and football played indoors and which was developed in the early 1920s) and basketball.

Finally, it is fun to see the advertising section with mostly local businesses promoting their wares and services, including the First National Bank of Puente; the Rexall drug store; the Puente Department Store; the Puente Grocery Company; the Rose Bud Sweet Shop and Cafe; the Sanitary Food Market; the Puente Garage; the local Safeway store; the La Puente Valley Journal newspaper; Spear Pharmacy; the French American Bakery; and many more.  There are some jokes mixed in with the ads and in separate pages ahead of the unused autograph pages which are at the end.

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The 1929 edition of the Imagaga yearbook is a great snapshot of life in the Puente area not just at the high school and it is one of a dozen Puente High yearbooks in the museum’s collection from 1917 to 1932, the period that the Temple family owned the Homestead.

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