Most high school students can barely wait four years for their diploma.
But Middle Park Union High School graduate Ellis “Lefty” Newland waited a lot longer.
Though he technically graduated with Middle Park’s first graduating class of 1948, Newland didn’t receive his diploma until a sunny July day in 2009, thanks to an organization of Middle Park alumni.
“Like some kids did in school, he acquired his credits to graduate early, and then he enlisted,” said Yvonne Knox, executive director of the MPUHS/MPHS Alumni Association.
Newland’s mother accepted his diploma in his stead at graduation.
“That was the first thing he related to me when he came in 2006,” Knox said.
That was the year that Newland joined the alumni association.
Knox’s voiced cracked as she recounted how Newland, wearing a tasseled cap, was presented with a real diploma, signed by the superintendent, at Hot Sulphur Springs Town Park.
It’s one of her favorite memories from the organization, which seeks to keep alumni of Middle Park High School and its predecessor, Middle Park Union High School, in touch.
The organization, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, traces its roots back to the 40th-year reunion of the class of 1956, when alumni voted to create it.
Its mission statement says, “to honor those who have gone before us, and to support the ones to graduate after.”
It’s this philosophy of transcending generations through a common identity that keeps older alumni like Knox working with much younger ones, like Tyson Arnold.
Arnold is the president of MPUHS/MPHS Alumni Association. As a class of 2000 graduate, he’s also the board’s youngest member.
Arnold said his belief in volunteering is what drove him to get involved with the group.
“I believe in their cause, so when I believe in something, I’ll definitely volunteer for it,” Arnold said.
And that cause is more than just sending out letters and organizing reunions.
The Middle Park Alumni Association gives out four $500 scholarships every year to Middle Park seniors. There are also two $200 awards given to an outstanding boy and girl in memorial of alumni who have passed away.
It’s contributions like these, in addition to the mini diplomas and flowers that the association provides for graduation, that set Knox’s organization apart from other high school alumni groups.
It contributes about $3,000 total to each class.
“We get a lot of good feedback from supporting the class like we do,” Knox said.
The scholarships and awards are funded entirely by donations. The association charges no membership fees, and Knox said it can be difficult to convince people to contribute.
“There’s kind of two different attitudes,” she said. “You either love it, or you don’t want anything to do with it.”
The association supplements its scholarship fund with a silent auction and annual dinner, which Arnold is in charge of.
Arnold said that this year he is considering having a culinary competition, where local restaurants can showcase their appetizers. A keg has also been donated, which Arnold said he hopes will entice younger alumni to come and contribute.
Of course, the event isn’t just about the money.
“I think its important that we all kind of stay connected with our roots,” Arnold said.
“You’d be amazed with how many networking opportunities are out there talking with former classmates and former teachers.”
Welcoming all Alumni
The association will hold its silent auction on July 18 at the Inn at Silvercreek. It will hold its annual dinner July 19 at Maverick’s Grille. Admission is $15 for both events.
Arnold asked that any donations for the silent auction be valued at $20 or less.
Overall, both Knox and Arnold are optimistic about the organization’s abilities to contribute to Middle Park graduates’ education and connect alumni.
In 2006, more than 120 alumni showed up for breakfast at Mad Munchies in Granby.
Since the school’s start, around 3,000 Middle Park High students have walked across the graduation stage, and Knox said she would like to see more of them get involved.
Though some may be a bit hesitant to reconnect with old classmates, Knox encouraged even those with less than satisfactory memories of high school to give the association a try.
“We welcome all of them at this point,” Knox said, “and we just hope that their experience in the association — if their high school was bad — then this would be a better experience.”
Reporter Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.