Gerri Willms brims with pride as she walks the halls of her former and now current high school.
Back when she was known as Gerri Laseur, Willms was a student at Pitt Meadows Secondary School.
“Class of 1969,” she says.
Today, 50 years after the school first opened, she is a teacher at the school that so many Pitt Meadows residents have come to know so well.
Next Friday, Sept. 30, the school will celebrates its 50th birthday.
For long-time Pitt Meadows residents like Willms, the school has been a centre-piece for their community.
“It’s really so much more than just a building,” she says. “We’re celebrating the whole community. They are one and the same.”
It is the city’s only high school, and one with a proud tradition.
Willms is helping organize the day-long festivities next Friday.
The school has been dolled up for the occasion. Display cases are packed with school memorabilia, yellowed textbooks and artifacts from years past.
When the school opened in 1961, it was home to just 300 students in Grades 7 to 10. In 1964, the first class of graduates received their Dogwoods, and today the school is home to 1,062 students.
The school has undergone numerous renovations in the past 50 years, adding a science wing, a new gym, a second floor, as well as the school’s new all-weather artificial turf field, which opened last year.
The school has also been the incubator for a host of students who have gone on to fame and fortune, including race car driver Greg Moore, NHLers Brendan Morrison and Brandon Yip, and actress Molly Parker.
Principal Dennis Dickson says the anniversary is a great opportunity to honour the many teachers who have spent decades at the school, teaching a generation of Pitt Meadows’ best and brightest.
“We have a number of teachers who have been here for 20, 30 years,” he says. “I think it says a lot about a school that many of them have been here as long as they have.”
French teacher and decorated basketball coach Rich Goulet first came to the school in 1979, when it was less than half the size it is now. His first impressions of the school were not positive.
“It seemed like the students seemed to be running things,” he says. “For the first two years I really questioned why I came here.”
However, that quickly changed, he says, and thanks to support from the school’s administration and teachers, the school transformed itself into a well-respected academic and athletics school.
As for the school’s sporting reputation, much of that can be credited to Goulet’s tireless work as a coach and athletic director.
“When I was hired, the principal asked me to win him a provincial basketball championship in five years,” Goulet recalls.
Goulet and his Marauders did it in four, winning the B.C. AA championship in 1983.
In addition to the many teachers that have helped formed the fabric of the school, also critical have been the large number of community volunteers. You just have to look at the number of former students who decide to volunteer their time and come back to the school to help coach the school’s sports teams, says Dickson.
“It’s never been about the walls, but the people inside them,” he says. “Their commitment speaks volumes.”
The school is holding a birthday ceremony with awards for students and invited guests only at 9:30 before school is dismissed early at 11:30 a.m.
From 1 to 7 p.m. there will be an open house with tours of the school, and dinner from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., served in the multi-purpose room.
Capping off the day will a football game between the Pitt Meadows Marauders senior boys’ football team and Burnaby’s Moscrop secondary, under the lights at 7:30 p.m.
Graduates, ex-students, and community members are welcome to attend.