Centennial Celebration: A bucket of Copper Nuggets

On the 100th anniversary of CHS, here is a collection of tidbits from all those years, in very random order. Many were inspired by looking at old Copper Nugget yearbooks, and especially the Cordova Schools Centennial Yearbook, 1908-2008.

  1. Lyle Kritchen, salutatorian, class of ’76, Best Graduation Speech, in its entirety: “We have been big fish in a small pond, and now we will be little fish in a big pond.”  Following a brief silence, the stunned crowd at the CHS gym waited for more, and then broke out with applause as Lyle walked away from the podium.
  2. A favorite workplace for several CHS graduates, the Cordova Airport/State Department of Transportation facility at Mile 13. Five alumni, Walt Mantilla ’37, Bob Cunningham ’55, Tom Justice ’69, Jack Stevenson ’75, and Rob Mattson ’91, all became station managers.
  3. Famous fishing/boat building legends: Jim Webber ’50, at age 87, is still gillnetting on the Copper River Delta. He started in a row boat with his dad when he was 8 years old. Bill Webber, ’56, highline Prince William Sound seiner for years in F/V Kimbo. Bill Webber Jr., ’76, founder and master welder of Webber Marine and Manufacturing at 6.2 Copper River Highway, builder of top of the line aluminum bow pickers and innovative fishing equipment.
  4. Records on CHS graduates becoming medical doctors or earning PhDs are non-existent. Here is an incomplete list, with hopes that readers will send more information: Harrison Leer, ’36, M.D, ophthalmology; Rory Merritt, ’05, M.D., emergency medicine; Jerry Behymer ’64, doctor of chiropractic; Robert Arvidson,’52 PhD, psychology; Bob Irvine, ’86, PhD history; Randy Trani, ’85, PhD education; Gwynn Thomas, ’90, PhD political science; Wade Goodridge, ’92, PhD engineering; Katie Schultz, ’94, PhD social welfare; Jodi Pirtle, ’96, PhD marine biology; Shawn Espejo, ’01, doctor of physical therapy, Jennifer Smith, ’07, PhD, ethnic studies; Jannessa Borodkin, ’10, doctor of physical therapy.
  5. CHS military academy graduates: George Nippell, ’64, U.S. Army, West Point; Tenor Galembush,’04, US Coast Guard Academy.
  6. Alaska Teacher of the Year, 2015: John Bruce, ’86, Mathematics, Romig Middle School, Anchorage, Alaska; Oregon High School Principal of the Year, Randy Trani, ’85.
  7. Famous longtime teachers at CHS: Winifred Kaiser: business and Spanish teacher, guidance counselor, plus cheerleaders, Pep Club, Copper Nugget, and class advisor; and Rubye Karo, principal, and English teacher. Their tenure began back in the mid-’30s. Their last year at CHS was 1964.
  8. Only CHS graduates to participate in a major sport at a Division 1 college: Jennifer Saunders, ’97, three-year member of the Oregon State swim team; and Gayle Groff Belgrade, ’77, Coxswain on the Stanford men’s varsity eight rowing crew.
  9. The Northern Light, Cordova High’s school newspaper, was created in 1923, with Pierre DeVille as its first editor in chief. The name was selected by a vote of the high school, with other options including “The C Gull”, “The Copper Gate”, and “The Glacier Worm”.
  10. The Copper Nugget, Cordova High School’s annual, was created in 1929, and has been published every year since. It was named by John Lydick, ’29, Bill Clemence ‘30, and Karl Rosswog, ’30, winners of the naming contest.
  11. The 1950 Copper Nugget sold for $1.75. Its back section contained 66 ads from various local business that helped sponsor its publication. The most eye-catching: “Get your fresh milk from Young’s Dairy. Tuberculosis free cows.”
  12. The original CHS school colors were crimson and black. The colors were changed to blue and white in 1939, with silver added in the eighties. The Wolverine was adopted as the school mascot in 1947.
  13. Virginia Nicholoff (Lacy), ’41, and Bill Dineen, ’41, wrote the words for the Cordova School Song in 1939-1940. Winifred Kaiser selected the music, which is the U.S. Marines Hymn.
  14. First CHS basketball team, Cordova girls, 1922, Coach Prof. Goodman; first Cordova boys basketball team, 1923, Coach A. Suomela; first CHS Wrestling team, 1971, Coach Bob Ruth; first CHS Cross Country team 1971, Coach Bill Noonkesser; first CHS Swim and Dive team, 1978, Coach Duffy Lederman, first CHS Volleyball team, 1990, Coach Al Cave.
  15. Most immortalized CHS athlete: Pierre De Ville, ’25. He played on the first CHS basketball team back in 1923, and also dominated local boxing 4th of July boxing matches as a heavyweight. What other Wolverine has his bust on a stand behind the Powder House bar, which he owned and operated for years?
  16. Longest tenure CHS varsity basketball coaches: Girls: Virginia Anderson 27 years, (1982-1996 and 2002-2013) Boys: Box Lenz, 18 years.(1981-1998)
  17. CHS athletes that played Division II or lower college sports: Shannon Jones, ’73, UAF BB, Pam Van Den Broek, ’96, UAF, VB and BB; Lynsey Adams, ’04, VB, Humboldt State; Kaila Hawley, ’03, VB and BB, Edmond’s CC, BB W. Oregon; Chelsea Jones, ’06, BB, Susquehanna College; Kelsey Hawley, ’08, VB, Ft. Lewis CC;  Brandon Blake,’87, BB, PLU and Grey’s Harbor; Robert Noe,’87, BB, APU; Jeff McHone,’88, BB, Sheldon Jackson; Reggie Guerrero,’93 ,BB Grays Harbor; Kellen Hawley, ’06, BB Chemeketa CC, Eastern Oregon; Eric Johnson, ’11, BB, Providence, Canada and Rainy River, Minn.
  18. Tallest CHS graduate, 7’1’’Robert Cunningham Jr. ’81. CHS Coach Bob Lenz tried to get him to come out for basketball “just so I could see Dan Eide (Valdez rival coach) poop his pants when he burst through the paper star the team ran through when they first came on the court.” Cunningham gained athletic fame in 2017 by deterring a charging brown with a punch to its nose.
  19. Answers to the age-old question of what high school pupils do during the summer, from a column in the 1920 Cordova Times by Edna Thawley, ’20, a member of CHS’s first graduating class: Katherine Boyce — roaming around the oil fields of Katella; John Rosswog, ’20 — working at his dad’s store; Leona Churchill — lady of leisure; William McGowan — delivering milk; Brooke Lamprey — watching the Empress Theatre doors; Pauline Deville — will help Katherine discover a new oil well at Katella; Bart O’Loughlen, ’23 — delivering newspapers; and Edna Thawley, ’20 — attending Hall’s Business College, Seattle, Washington.
  20. And finally, a comment on this search itself. As a graduate of CHS, ’62, I am in awe and so proud of our Cordova schools. Phone calls to track down the accomplishments of its many graduates brightened my days in these discouraging times of the novel coronavirus pandemic shutdowns, social distancing, quarantines and controversy.
  21. Perhaps none gave me more joy than the search to find the oldest CHS grad living here in Cordova, which turned out to be Ethel Bilderback, ’49, whom I overlooked because we all know her as Babe Johnson. As the separate feature in this paper shows, she is truly a babe, full of life, humor and a zest for storytelling. I could almost hear her across Odiak Slough without a telephone.
  22. Then there is George Olsen, ’40, who came in second in this unusual contest. When I first called, his wife Leona said he couldn’t come to the phone because it was his 90th birthday and he was busy eating clams, which we all know have to be dispatched right out of the pan. She said how about calling later. When I asked when, she said next Friday, which I asked her to repeat, because that was a week away. When I did call on that day, they both almost sounded relieved when I mentioned Babe had beat George by a year, with Leona saying, “Oh that’s wonderful!” So are they.
  23. And finally, when I contacted Jim Webber, who came in third place by graduating in 1941. He proved his amazing recall of historic events. “I knew George had me beat.” And then this from a guy that has been gillnetting out on the Flats for eight decades: “Hey, could I call you back later? I’m busy getting ready to go fishing.”

You might think after all these years he would have it down to a routine that required no last-minute preparation, but then again, I hope I can get excited and hurried about upcoming events when I’m 87.

So, here’s cheers to CHS and all those who have made it such a special part of our lives.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes.