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The City Journals

Hillcrest alumni reunite, reminisce during ceremony before demolition

Jul 16, 2021 09:53AM ● By Julie Slama

Alumni came back to Hillcrest High May 22 to have a final walk-through of their school before demolition began on the 59-year-old school in mid-June as crews finished the new school building on the eastern portion of the campus. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Brent and Sue Burgon looked at the stage fondly one late Saturday in May. 

Sixty-one years ago, during their senior year at Hillcrest High, they began dating. (The school opened their sophomore year.)

“We were in acapella and Madrigals—it was 61 years ago,” Sue Burgon said. “The very first assembly, the auditorium wasn’t done yet. There weren’t chairs in place, so we sat on the floor in dresses with the 2-inch riser between the rows.”

They recalled the highlights—performing the entire “Messiah” with the choir—and the lowlights including the time in class during their sophomore year, when a student came in and told them that President John Kennedy was shot. In their senior year, Brent Burgon served as vice president of the Key Club and his wife was involved in the pep club. They danced together at the senior hop.

“We were the first Hillcrest graduating class which attended the school all three years,” he remembered.

They went on to celebrate their five kids’ graduations from Hillcrest as well. 

“There are lots of memories here,” Sue Burgon said as she stood in the auditorium for the last time.

Hillcrest High, which opened in 1962, is being torn down this summer as a new building is being constructed on the eastern part of the same campus. 

The new school building will open to students this fall, but before the doors were closed to current and former students, the Hillcrest High Alumni Association hosted a final good-bye walk-through on May 22, and invited alumni choir to perform the school song, “Through All the Seasons of the Year” by Jay E. Welch, and “Peace Be with You” arranged by former choir director Leo Dean. They were directed by former student and choir teacher Brian Bentley and current choir director RaNae Dalgleish.

Bentley addressed the gathering that reached beyond 1,000 alumni that day, reminding them of Hillcrest’s diverse community with students coming from affluent neighborhoods to students who live in shelters for those experiencing homelessness.

“Hillcrest had a very, and has still, an extremely unique atmosphere,” he said. “There weren’t powerful cliques in this school. Instead, there were groups of interest…and they worked together and were friends, best friends. It created an atmosphere in this school that I hadn’t seen in any other school. The community and that way of working together was so powerful and so strong, I never wanted to leave.”

And he really hasn’t. 

After serving as the choir director, Bentley became the school’s International Baccalaureate director. Once he retired, he still has continued to return to help with the school musical—even virtually—and played a leading role earlier that May when Hillcrest held its final musical on the stage, featuring both alumni and current students in Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies,” a show that parallels their own with the auditorium being demolished.

Ben Hansen, class of ’95, was there watching his son, Bridger, who graduated this year.

“I sang in vocal ensemble,” Ben Hansen said. “I enjoyed singing and going to California every year.”

He also performed on the stage as Reuben, one of the brothers, in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and in the chorus of “Bye, Bye, Birdie.”

But one of Ben Hansen’s favorite memories was of watching his son play sophomore basketball in the old gym for the Huskies. The gymnasium, once considered the jewel of the valley, was torn down earlier to make room for the school building; the new gym is north of the classrooms. 

Bridger Hansen also was amongst the Class of 2021, who walked across the Husky stage at this year’s graduation, which was a social-distancing affair because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those were the final moments for the famed auditorium.

In the nearby band room, Carolyn Harward Heaton, class of ’88, sat down in the seat in the approximate place she played the flute years ago as a Husky. The room looked different, having the risers removed, and the instrument storage moved, but she still remembered playing for band director Ernie Northway both in the instrumental room and on the field with marching band. 

“I’d practice four hours on my own,” she said. “We played for sporting events, concerts, pep assemblies and in all the musicals.”

She also played the piano for jazz band, which practiced an hour before school.

Heaton drove with her family from Roosevelt, Utah, to show them the band and choir rooms, her locker and the senior bench, which will be moved into the new school.

“I remember walking senior hall and we could always smell what the teachers were eating in the faculty room,” she said.

Julie Bell Davidse, class of ’87, also walked the hallways of her alma mater, noticing the “updated” look with a cut-through in the middle of the hallways. She was in the first vocal ensemble known as a swing choir back in the 1986-87 school year under the direction of Bentley, who was in his first year teaching after Dean retired.

“We performed in churches, colleges and a lot of different venues,” she recalled. “We took a bus to California and stayed with families down there. Choir was my jam. It kept me going to school.”

Davidse still sings, performing solos at her church.

“Brian Bentley was a hard teacher. He wasn’t much older than us, so we naturally gave him a hard time, teased him as a newbie teacher. Swing choir was my favorite class, and he was absolutely one of my main reasons. He was someone I could talk to; he was kind and understanding,” she said. “This was the first time I’ve sang the school song and “Peace Be With You” since I was here. I still remembered almost all the words 35 year later.”

Algebra, however, she remembered was her least favorite class. Maybe it was then that a classmate decided to count the 512 holes in one ceiling tile or calculate 5% of the people who take chemistry each year, failed it—things that were included in her yearbook.

Davidse also remembered getting in trouble when she stood in the back of Don McLeish’s Bronco as he drove around the school parking lot at lunchtime.

“Mr. (Ted) Lovata—the assistant principal then—didn’t suspend us, but he did say it was a stupid thing to do,” she said.

She remembered driving some “old beat-up crappy car” as well as the simulator for the driver’s ed teacher and athletic director, Don Gust.

“I tried to drive around the cones making a circle and I cranked the wheel as far as I could, and I still couldn’t get it to move. I remember him coming over and getting in, but he couldn’t do it either,” she said before they realized the Ford sedan needed more power steering fluid.

She remembered her class naming the stadium after their principal, DelMar Schick, to honor him during the 25th anniversary of the school.

“He was hard, but he really cared. He’d be like a big teddy bear and be emotional and cry. He used to say, ‘these are my kids,’” she said.

At graduation, she wore a white polyester-blend robe while the boys wore green.

“They were so thick and hot, and we sat in the sun on the football field; it was kind of miserable,” she said. “We had some fun times with school activities. There are some good memories and some people, some teachers, helped me through my struggles and helped me graduate. I’ll be forever grateful.”