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In 1971, I, and my family consisting of wife Eileen and daughters Pam and Debbie and son Jeff, returned to our hometown of Napa at the end of my career in the U.S. Army.

Pam had just graduated from high school at Heidelberg American High School in Heidelberg, West Germany, Debbie was an incoming high school junior and Jeff was in junior high school.

Pam wanted to work rather than continue with school and we enrolled Jeff at Redwood Jr. High but we were torn about where Debbie should go at that critical time in her education.

At the time, Napa High, my alma mater, was the only public high school in town and it had an enrollment of a reported 3,500 students, and we were concerned about Debbie getting lost in the crowd after her first two years in a high school with one-fourth of that enrollment. Vintage High was not scheduled to open until the next year.

At the time, there were two Catholic high schools in Napa: Justin for boys, operated by the Christian Brothers, and Siena for girls, operated by the Dominican Sisters. The schools had separate facilities but were both on the current Justin-Siena campus.

Sister Carol Quinn, a Dominican nun, was the principal of Siena, and Sister Jeremy was the vice principal. Brother Bede Van Duren was principal of Justin and Brother Richard Camara was vice principal. The students of both schools wore uniforms, and there were some co-educational classes.

Having grown up in Napa, I knew that many of my former schoolmates at Napa High had children at the two schools and were pleased with the education their children were receiving so we decided to enroll Debbie in Siena as a junior for the 1971-72 school year.

Then, thanks to the Herculean efforts of local attorney Bob Zeller, the blessing of the Santa Rosa Diocese, the generosity of local citizens and the dedication of the staffs of Justin and Siena, the merger of the two schools that became Justin-Siena came to pass at the opening of school in 1972.

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The two staffs were merged with Brother Bede as principal, Sister Carol as vice principal, Brother Richard as dean of boys and Sister Jeremy as dean of girls.

Gone were the uniforms and the separate campuses, and the parents clubs of the two schools were merged into the Justin-Siena Parents Club. I was the first president of the combined Justin-Siena Parents Club, and Debbie had enrolled in one school but graduated from another.

In addition to the Parents Club, I was asked to become a member and part of an organizing committee for the JS200, a fundraising program with the grand prize being a new Cadillac.

Bill Dodd Sr. was chairman of the first two JS200 events. Then I served as chairman for two years. Other initial members were Nels Bettencourt, Emmett Griffin and Tom Spalding. The program was very successful, but a lot of work.

I was also a member of the Justin High Association, the group that was responsible for funding the school athletic programs and hosted the Wine Tasters Golf Tournament at Silverado each year. I also served on the board of the Justin-Siena Foundation for several years.

The school was supported by the entire community, not just the parents or the Catholic community. The Gasser Foundation became a very generous supporter, and it still is.

Justin-Siena was a great experience for us, and it seems impossible that it has been 43 years since we became involved. It is inspiring to see the great institution that today’s Justin-Siena has become.

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Contact Jim Ford at jwford571@gmail.com.

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