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Glenwood grads of ’55 are a class act

Post Independent Photo/Kara K. PearsonTwenty-two members of Garfield County High Schools Class of 1955 pose for a group shot Friday evening at a reunion picnic. Originally, there were 33 students.
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They were a class unto themselves.The 33 members of Glenwood Springs’s Class of 1955 showed no shortage of promise back during their high school years. And they’ve lived up to the promise ever since.Class members have been getting together this weekend for the 50th reunion of the class that attended what then was called Garfield County High School. They have had all kinds of accomplishments to look back on, not just from their high school years, but also in the half-century since.One became Glenwood’s mayor. Another played a pivotal role in guiding the design and construction of Interstate 70 in Glenwood Canyon.The accolades go on, from an internationally successful businessman, to a top oil shale executive, to a winner of multiple beauty pageants who went on to become a successful horsewoman in national competitions.”I think everybody has kind of stood out,” said Lavonne Diemoz, a 1955 graduate. “All of the classmates, they were all outstanding. We just had a unique class.”Diemoz, whose maiden name is Conto, found her husband in classmate Floyd Diemoz. Besides going on to run a construction company that has been heavily involved in historical renovation projects, Floyd Diemoz pushed for formation of a citizens committee that advised the state on how to build I-70 through the canyon in a way that would make the road safe while preserving the canyon.One of the shining moments in recent years for the Class of ’55 may have been in early 2004, when the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association named Diemoz Citizen of the Year, and fellow ’55 grad Bob Zanella its Volunteer of the Year.”I thought Floyd really earned it – his involvement with the canyon and just with the community at large – but it made it a little sweeter when I got Volunteer of the Year,” Zanella said.Zanella also is a previous recipient of the Citizen of the Year honor. Among other community involvement, he served on City Council, and as Glenwood’s mayor from 1993-95.Said Diemoz, “So many of our guys and gals have really been successful, not only in professional life but in home life.”Several have contributed much to the community. Marty Zemlock was active with the fire department and volunteered with the Boy Scouts. Joe Llewellyn, who when into insurance, was a president of Rotary. Jim Gambrel headed up the city’s electric operation.Jim Rose went into ranching. He ended up selling the Rose Ranch for the Ironbridge golf course development south of Glenwood Springs, and the Rose property in Glenwood Springs to WestStar Bank for its new facility near Safeway.Other classmates went farther afield. Norm Smallwood earned an engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines, worked in executive management for companies such as Procter & Gamble and Hunt-Wesson Foods, and does business consulting at an international level. Mark Fortsch became a nuclear physicist, doing cutting-edge work in nuclear energy, Floyd Diemoz said.Glenn Vawter was a senior vice president for Tosco, which became a Fortune 150 company and partnered in the Colony oil shale project with Exxon in the Parachute area. Vawter also married a fellow ’55 grad, Mary Linda Clapham, although it was several decades later before they tied the knot. They became reacquainted at their 45th class reunion.Clapham was a Strawberry Days queen, first in Glenwood Springs and then at the national level. She also was Miss Colorado, and competed in national cutting horse competitions.This weekend’s reunion activities were for several Garfield County High School classes from the mid-1950s. While meaning no disrespect toward other classes, some members of the Class of ’55 contend that their class stands apart.”We always stand up and say we’re the greatest class that ever graduated from Garfield County High School, and we are,” Vawter said.Other classes might make the same claim. But Bill Bolitho, a ’51 GCHS grad, gives the Class of ’55 its due.”I think they were an exceptional class. They had some really good students and they had some great athletes. They accomplished quite a bit in their high school careers.”When the Class of ’55 members were seniors, the school’s football team went through its entire regular season without being scored on. It won the Colorado River Valley Championship and the Western Slope Championship, beating Delta in the playoffs before falling to Durango. Class member Larry Graves went on to play football for Colorado State University. The GCHS basketball team also took the Class A Western Slope Championship in 1955.Diemoz said the glee club and bands were among the best in western Colorado.Bolitho said the class members’ accomplishments didn’t end in high school.”A lot of those kids did really well and made quite a name for themselves,” he said.Bolitho was quick to mention his belief that Garfield County High School produced standout classes every four years over that era, including 1947, 1959 – and his 1951 class. He also assures that his high opinion of the 1955 class isn’t influenced by his marriage to one of its members, Jere Leigh Bell.”I’ve known her all her life. I saw her when she was 10 days old. Her mom and dad and my mom and dad were very good friends,” Bolitho said.Close families and close community ties may have had a lot to do with the successes of the ’55 grads and other grads of that era.”I think Glenwood – the town and the school – had a lot to do with how the kids were,” Bolitho said. “The town was small and people knew what everybody was doing. You couldn’t get away with stuff because everyone would see you.”Diemoz credits hardworking parents who instilled discipline in their children.”I think it instilled confidence in us. I think that confidence is what allowed us to go on and do good things in life,” he said.By that, Diemoz said, he means they became productive people, not necessarily millionaires.”We’re just a lot of good people,” he said.Diemoz also cites teachers such as Patsy Guadnola (music), Fritz Bramble (band), and Tina Stap (English) as major influences on him and his classmates.Ironically, the Class of ’55 was the second to graduate from what is now Glenwood Springs High School, which is scheduled for a major reconstruction and expansion. The class members got to experience both a new building, and in their first two years of high school, an old one. It sat where the Roaring Fork Re-1 School District office is now, across from City Market.While benefiting from the new facility, the class also showed what students with good teachers and parents could accomplish in a run-down building.The Class of ’55 enjoyed glory days that served as a prelude to lifelong achievements. But those days were a long time ago, as Zanella once was humbly reminded. One day in the early 1990s, his son Steve, then in high school, presented Zanella with some 1955 school football trophies.”He said, ‘I brought ’em home, Dad; your name’s on them,” Zanella, a lineman on the ’55 team, remembered.His son had rescued the trophies from the school’s trash bin.”They were cleaning out some of the old stuff,” Zanella said.


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