Fifty years ago, life in Thousand Oaks was simple and epitomized the small-town feel.
“Everybody knew everybody,” said Ann Hohimer, 68, who was born in Los Angeles and moved to Thousand Oaks in 1960 when she was in the seventh grade.
At the time, the town had one grocery store and one movie theater, Moorpark Road had one lane, and churchgoers attended services in the basement of a resident’s home until a chapel was built.
The area was filled with oak trees, cattle and horses, and Moorpark Road was regularly closed when the sheep herders moved their flocks. The area was so safe that many residents left their doors unlocked. There was no junior high school, and children attended school together from kindergarten through eighth grade.
The town was so small that students who attended grade school also attended the same high school, keeping their friendships intact.
“Having gone to elementary together, we all knew each other even as we got older,” Hohimer said. “And it was just wonderful because during high school kids would congregate at our house because we didn’t have many places to go. It was nice to have so many good friends throughout the years.”
“When I was growing up in Thousand Oaks there wasn’t anything there — it was all open space. There was no Westlake Village,” said Jackie Dougherty, 67, who moved to Thousand Oaks in 1959 at age 11, and met Hohimer in the eighth grade.
“It was very rural with lots of oak trees and cattle and horses … especially on Thousand Oaks Boulevard,” Dougherty recalled. “It was all empty and a very quiet community of less than 20,000 people. Now the population is about 130,000 people, so it’s really grown.”
When Westlake Village was being built in the 1970s, Dougherty worked for a construction company that was helping develop the area.
“It was a little unnerving because there was a lot more traffic,” Dougherty remembered. “We had these beautiful mountain areas and all of a sudden they’re starting to build on them. It was kind of sad, but exciting at the same time.”
As the years passed, and more buildings and housing developments filled the area, “It was just kind of sad because we loved that rural feeling, and it was sad when they started taking away the different fields and making them into housing developments. I mourn that loss of our farmlands. We knew progress was happening, but it was still sad to see part of your growing up is gone.”
Even though the area has grown, the friendships Hohimer and Dougherty made when they were young still remain, especially the connections they maintained throughout high school.
The ladies are now seeking alumni of the first high school in Thousand Oaks, which was established in 1962, to attend the 50-year class reunion for the first graduating class.
“We were the first freshman class to open this brand-new high school in 1962 and there were 456 graduating students in 1966,” noted Dougherty of Port Hueneme. “We were called the Almegans, meaning the beginning to the end.”
During their search for alumni, Hohimer and Dougherty discovered many of their high school classmates had died, including their class president, a cheerleader and a couple of football players.
“It was really heartbreaking to see,” Dougherty said. “I remember a couple of people that were named ‘best dressed’ and ‘most likely to succeed’ in our yearbook who have passed away. It’s always really hard to see that.”
High school in the ’60s
Before 1962, there was no high school in Thousand Oaks, so students had to attend high school at the closest campus, in Camarillo.
“Thousand Oaks High School was built because we did not have a high school,” said Hohimer of Camarillo. “We had only freshmen, sophomores and juniors the first year. If you were a senior, you finished out at Camarillo High School. I was lucky enough to start my freshman year in 1962 when (Thousand Oaks High) opened.”
When the school was built, it was an open campus with no fences.
“The school was so small we only had one lunch period,” Hohimer said.
The 101 highway at the time was only two lanes, one north and one south.
“The famous animal park, Jungleland, was located where the Civic Arts Plaza is today on Thousand Oaks Boulevard,” Dougherty said. “Jungleland was the only way people knew where Thousand Oaks was even located.”
As a teen growing up in the area, “There wasn’t much to do … other then go bowling at the Acorn Bowling Alley or go to the very limited movie theaters we had in town, then head over to Du-par’s for a cherry coke,” Dougherty said. “There was nothing out here to do when we were growing up so we used to go to Van Nuys Boulevard and Hollywood.”
Casey Kasem on KRLA radio station was popular at the time, and staples of the town included Lupe’s Mexican Restaurant — which remains today — Robb’s Hardware Store and the Oakdale Market.
“There was not a whole lot of excitement for us teenagers to do but we wouldn’t trade growing up in the Conejo Valley for anything,” Dougherty said.
Thousand Oaks High School
Thousand Oaks High School, now home to approximately 2,400 students, has come a long way in the past 50 years.
“They’ve added a few things compared to what we had,” said Dougherty, noting that the campus was home to about 800 students when she was in high school.
“They added an Olympic-size pool after our class graduated,” Dougherty said. “They also updated the stadium with lights; we didn’t have any lights in the stadium to do nighttime activities.”
Other changes to the campus include structural upgrades, as well as the conversion of a large classroom into a video production space.
“They also have new science labs, a refurbished gym, new pool and an all-weather track-and-field and softball field,” Dougherty said. “They also created patio areas between classroom wings to give it more aesthetics.”
A chance to reconnect
The 50th reunion will give graduates a chance to reconnect and reminisce about the past.
“We can rekindle the friendships we had in high school; we all knew each other and there were so many wonderful friendships made,” Hohimer said.
“This is our 50th and might be our last big gathering,” said Dougherty. “We are still looking for people.”
While they have located about half of the graduating class, about 50 of those graduates have passed away from car accidents, cancer and heart attacks, Hohimer said.
“We were involved with the Vietnam war so we lost about six of our classmates in the war,” Hohimer noted.
Hohimer and Dougherty have spent the past several months searching for alumni through emails and social media.
“We’re having a hard time finding people,” Hohimer said. “Many of them, especially women, have changed their last names, and a lot of people don’t have email or use the Internet. Almost all of us have lost our parents so we don’t have that immediate connection. We’re hoping maybe there’s a cousin or a friend or a sibling that knows someone and can let them know about the reunion.”
Celebrities who attended Thousand Oaks High School included Kurt Russell, who signed a 10-year contract with The Walt Disney Company in the late 1960s and later became the studio’s top start of the 1970s. During the 1980s, Russell starred in films including Escape from New York, Escape from L.A., The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China.
Michael Richards also attended Thousand Oaks High. He is best known for his character, Cosmo Kramer, on the show Seinfeld, for which he received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series three times.
Hohimer and Dougherty have located a few people from their graduating class, including Dave Torgerson, who went to Arizona State University and later signed a contract to play baseball with the San Francisco Giants, but then got drafted into the Army in 1969. He finished school after the Army, got married and began a teaching and coaching career in Tennessee.
“It’s fun to learn what everybody has accomplished,” Hohimer said.
The reunion, described as “kick back and casual,” will take place at the First Neighborhood Community Center in Westlake Village on Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $75 per person, and will include dinner and dessert, wine and beer, and a classic rock deejay.
For those who cannot attend the dinner, a “bring your own food” picnic will take place at Conejo Community Park in Thousand Oaks on Sept. 25 from noon to 4 p.m., for $10 per person.
Reservations for both events are due by Sept. 9. To make a reservation or for more information, contact Hohimer at 805-482-2803 or 805-443-0871; or send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The last time many of us got together was at the 40th reunion at a big picnic,” Dougherty said. “We’d love to find as many classmates as possible for the 50th reunion.”
“I hope there will be a 55th, 60th, 70th and 75th,” Hohimer said. “But we need to make this 50th our best ever.”