90 years ago…

105-year-old alumnus reminisces about his SHS experience


Compass Park Masonic Home staff member Cindy Coy

Alumnus Donald Miller is doing a phone call interview with The Journal. He had been preparing for days.

When Donald Miller thinks back on his high school years– about 90 years ago– memories of joy and unity come to mind.

“SHS was a wonderful, caring school,” Miller said. “Everyone from the teachers to the custodians were very kind and helpful.”

At 105 years old, Miller still remembers his time at SHS. He was proud of his school back in the 1930s and still is today.

When Miller was in high school, life around him was a lot different than it is today. The student body is much more diverse than it was, not to mention it was taught in a different school building.
Miller’s daughter, Betty Hoffmeyer, believes that student participation was higher at extracurriculars like sporting events and school theater productions.

“You knew that everyone was going to the basketball game every Friday night,” Hoffmeyer said.

The historian of the SHS Alumni Association, David Ladd, says that there were extreme differences between life back in the 30s and today.

For instance, in the second semester of his freshman year, Miller switched from the first ever SHS building to the “new” one that is now the PTEC building.

That very same year, the Stock Market crashed and the U.S was plunged into the Great Depression.

Fewer people had any form of work, they were going hungry and very few graduates were moving on to college.

“They went through some really hard times,” Ladd said.

The Depression also affected the amount of activities to do in high schoolers’ leisure time. Miller says virtually the only things going on for him and his friends were school, church and high school sports. Ladd thinks the reason participation was so high in that time is that no one had anything better to do.

Despite the challenging times, Miller was still able to find a high school job picking vegetables for a neighboring family for $1 a day.

Miller and other SHS students in 1933 pose in front of the old SHS building. Miller says his class was much smaller than the classes now. (Contributed by The Anchor)

School itself looked very different. In 1930, the graduating class had 43 students and the entire school had only 14 teachers.

Of those 14 teachers, Miller’s two favorites were Mrs. Hamilton and Mrs. Kurtsy.

Ladd says that they didn’t have school lunches, let alone a cafeteria. Everyone brought their lunch if they had any food to eat at all. He says that everyone ate in the gymnasium and they played music and some danced for the 45 minutes allowed.

“These kids were trying to have fun as much as possible,” Ladd said.

While most teens his age were playing sports to entertain themselves, Miller was involved in the music programs at SHS. He performed in plays and musicals and even had a leading role.

“Music was very big for my dad and still is to this day,” Hoffmeyer said.

Ladd also says that a big thing for youth in the ‘30s, especially high schoolers, was to go to Buck Creek. They did everything there. From fishing, to swimming to just using it as a general hang out spot.

Having a living graduate of SHS from the ‘30s is very exciting to Ladd because he thinks that if Miller weren’t alive to tell these stories, then the stories and memories would be forgotten.

“He’s a ghost from the past,” Ladd said. “To have someone from 1933 be able to tell us what it was like is amazing.”

Because of U.S’s economic state when Miller graduated in 1933, he couldn’t find a job, so he went back to SHS and took extra classes, worked in the front office and ordered supplies for the school, specifically the cafeteria.

After that, he worked in retail for most of his life and then did many smaller jobs until he couldn’t anymore. In fact, he left his last job at 85 years old. He even still helps around the Compass Park Masonic Home where he lives now, even working in the gift shop.

“I do what I can to help around,” Miller said.

Hoffmeyer says that because her father worked in retail for a lot of his life, he befriended many people and knew of many people in the community. She says that his outgoing personality was very apparent when he worked his retail job and that personality trait seemed to run in the family.

“He was very outgoing towards everybody,” Hoffmeyer said. “And I think he kind of passed that down to me.”

During high school, he was also involved in the Easter Sunrise Services when SHS still had them. This was when all the churches from the district would gather in the gymnasium and have an Easter church service.

“If you could imagine the whole Fieldhouse filled up, that’s how many people were there,” Hoffmeyer said.

Miller’s senior quote in the 1933 yearbook. After graduating, Miller came back to SHS to work during the Great Depression. (Contributed by The Anchor)

As the last surviving member of his class, Miller has had to see his classmates pass as the time goes by, including his best friend from high school, Herbert Kuhlman, when he died years ago.

He says that when a friend or loved one passed away, the community of people from SHS came together to lend a hand.

“When a friend passed away, people were right there ready to help and did what they could,” Miller said.

Hoffmeyer says that the school was a great influence on her dad and her entire family. So much so that he ended up sending her to SHS as well and she graduated in 1959. She says that she and her father had nothing but an amazing time there.

From his birth to now, Miller has witnessed two world wars, the invention of nuclear power, the commercialization of plane travel, the U.S. landing on the Moon, the birth of his first great-great grandchild and has lived to see 19 presidents.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, Miller used to spend his time visiting friends and playing cards with them, spending time with his family and even singing in the church choir at the Masonic Home.
Miller said the most important life lessons he’s ever learned through his entire life were to be patient and be cooperative.

As for life advice, Miller says to always work hard and take care of loved ones, and that’s exactly what he learned at SHS.

“Work hard and take care of each other,” Miller said. “And that’s what we did there.”