After years of talk about getting together, the Salt River Day School Beginners Class of 1955 finally made it happen: They planned a class reunion to remember the days they spent together at the old school. After months of planning and preparation, the class members finally had the opportunity to get together and see each other again on Saturday, June 23.
Eleven of the 26 former students made it to the reunion, where they enjoyed a potluck lunch, bingo, entertainment by the Senior Steppers and a quick update on what they have been up to since their school days.
Delbert Ray, a former Day School student and member of the Reunion Committee, explained why the reunion took place. “[T]he discussion we had regarding having a reunion would always come after a funeral. I don’t know how many times we discussed it. Etheleen [Brown] would come up to me and say, ‘Delbert, there goes another one.’ We wanted to do this before something else happened and because we lost a lot of our classmates. We need to know where we came from and where we’re going. Every one of us has an impact on our Community; we don’t usually see each other that often.”
After lunch, the students had the opportunity to update their classmates on what they’ve been up to since leaving the Day School. Each person had a different story, but many went on to boarding school, married and had children. Here are some of the class updates.
“I remember after the fifth grade when I left the Day School, it was 1959 when I was sent to Sherman Indian High School (in Riverside, California). I was 11 years old. They say I cried all the way to the border of California,” said Sharon Chiago. “They said I might as well stop crying because I wasn’t going home.”
She returned home in 1964 and married Robert Wilson, the son of Day School cafeteria worker Amy Wilson. Chiago has five children and has raised eight grandchildren. She was proud to announce that two of her grandchildren graduated from high school in May.
“I do remember a lot of you, and [I’ve] thought of a lot of you. I know a lot of us are gone,” said Chiago to her classmates. “It’s good to see you here. Those that are gone, I wish they were still here.”
Rebecca Collins left the Day School after the fifth grade to go to Mesa Public Schools with her sister, the late Brenda Collins-Porter.
“After I left the Day School, I graduated from Westwood [High School] in 1967. I got married and had two daughters, Cheryl Doka and Deanna Doka- Stacey. I have nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren,” said Collins.
She continued her education and graduated from college in 1985 as a medical records clerk. She worked for Phoenix Indian Medical Center and the Indian Health Service hospitals in Fort Yuma and Sacaton. At Sacaton she worked as the director of medical records for 11 years, then retired for one year before returning to work at Casino Arizona, where she is employed today. Collins has kept herself busy working for more than 38 years; her career included part-time jobs as well, at places like Circle K and Mervyn’s.
“I remember most of my classmates. Some I still keep in touch with because we dance together or see each other here and there,” said Collins.
Delbert Ray, Sr.
After leaving the Salt River Day School, Ray attended the fourth grade at Franklin Elementary School in Mesa, AZ, graduated from the eighth grade at Arizona State Industrial School at Ft. Grant, AZ, and went on to Sherman Indian High School, where he graduated in 1967. After high school he enrolled at Haskell Indian Nations University for two years, studying business, before he was drafted. Ray served in the U.S. Marine Corps for three years; he spent a year in Vietnam, returning to the U.S. in 1971, and was discharged from the Marines in 1972.
“After returning from the military, I went to Hopi looking for a wife,” said Ray jokingly. “That’s where I found June (his wife); we’ve been married for almost 40 years. We have three children and nine grandchildren. Life’s been good.”
Ray has been a tribal court judge for the past 24 years and is now serving an elected term as Council Representative for Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
“I thank the committee for putting this together and making this possible,” said Annette Eschief-Rave at the reunion. “I am real thankful that you guys did this. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the planning meetings, but I did tell myself [that] I would get here.”
Now 63, Eschief-Rave remembers entering Salt River Day School during the third grade when her family returned from Los Angeles from the relocation program. After sixth grade, she left the Day School to attend Carson Junior High in Mesa.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had a program called the Indian Student Placement Program, and they sent us to Christian homes and supported us. They were our surrogate moms and dads and we went to school there in the city,” said Eschief-Rave. “I went there for five years, and in the summers I would come back home and see what was going on around me and who was who, but I would mainly stay home with my parents. In August we would go back to Utah to the Indian Student Placement Program. I went there from the eighth grade till I graduated [from] high school.”
Eschief-Rave has four children—E. Pacer Reina, Shannon Reina, Peter Ray and Melissa Ray—and 15 grandchildren. She worked at the Phoenix Indian Medical Center for many years. She is currently retired and helps the Boy Scouts of America troop at the LDS Papago Ward.
“I recently started going to the Salt River Senior Center and getting involved with the activities there, especially with the exercising. For me it has been constantly learning, no matter where you are or what age you’re at,” said Eschief-Rave.
Class Reunion Committee
Former student Pat King shared photographs that she found of herself from the third grade, along with a report card where she had A’s and B’s. King even had perfect attendance, only missing one day of that entire school year.
“I want to thank Etheleen Brown for making the centerpieces, and [I also would like to thank] the committee members, Pat King, Sharilyn Belone, Lois Smith, Nadine Torres, Johnny Wilson, Linda Antone, Delbert Ray, Larry Robinson and Pat Wadena, for making the reunion happen,” said Collins, a member of the Reunion Committee.
The members of the committee would like to continue to have these class reunions in the future.
If you are a former Salt River Day School student and would like to help with future reunions, contact Rebecca Collins at (480) 233-2136 or Pat Enos King at (480) 941-1275.