By all accounts, it was Dan Siskowic who conceived the idea of creating a place in cyberspace for the Mission Bay High School Class of 1975. Dan did this in January 2000. He and a few friends had organized 10- and 20-year reunions for the class, and the last time around they had located less than half of the 476 members. With another celebration looming, Dan thought the Internet might help them find more of their former schoolmates.
So Dan, a mechanical engineer and a sophisticated computer user, found a family-reunion website that would work as a tool for spreading the word about the reunion. By the beginning of February, he’d set up a Mission Bay High School Class of 1975 site within MyFamily.com, and in the “News” section he posted a plea for help with finding people.
Over the course of the next few weeks, some of the first items to trickle in were polished multiparagraph essays that read like job applications. Cindy C. weighed in from Vancouver to say she had married a Canadian and was raising two daughters, as well as studying to be a gemologist (after a ten-year career as executive director of the British Columbia Men’s Field Hockey Association). Stephen Van R. detailed his status: happily married, with a five-year-old son, and working as a researcher at the University of Washington Center for aids Research near Seattle.
But less formal, more personal items also appeared. Debbie sent a recent, somewhat startling photo of herself surfing at South Mission Beach (startling because the slim-hipped, buxom, distant, silhouetted figure on the board suggested a woman in her early 20s, rather than her early 40s). Pacific Beach resident Dave Schultz, an avid photographer since his high school days, posted a comic image of two classmates dissecting a rat back in 1973. Dan Siskowic uploaded an article that had just appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune about his son, Cameron, an outstanding football and basketball player at Clairemont High School, who, the article revealed, had recovered after having a soft-tissue sarcoma removed from his back. The article mentioned that Dan, too, had been fighting a cancer, melanoma, for two years and had recently finished a round of chemotherapy on February 18.
I saw no hint of illness when I met Dan. I had contacted him by e-mail and confided to him my interest in finding and following up on people who had gone to high school together 25 years ago, to learn something about the various paths they had taken. As a starting point, I’d checked around to see which local schools were having a 25-year reunion, and someone in the office at Mission Bay High had given me Dan’s e-mail address.
“You have come to the right place,” he shot back in reply to my message. A committee of four was planning the event, he told me. He urged me to visit the class’s website and invited me to join an upcoming planning session at the Blue Collar Grill.
This modest neighborhood hangout occupies a little shopping center that overlooks Morena Boulevard a few blocks south of Costco. I found Dan and Phil Huffman at the bar. The two men were born one day apart.
They met in the fourth grade at Kate Sessions Elementary School, where they formed a friendship that endured through the three years at Pacific Beach Middle School (seventh through ninth grades) and three years of high school.
In his senior year, Dan had been the co-captain of the football team, and at 43 he was still a superb athlete. “Anything he wants to do, he does it really well,” one friend told me. “If you were to challenge him to…archery. Or hurling! He’d kick your ass in about six weeks if you gave him a chance at it.” High school photos of Dan show him with thick, curly, light blond hair and the angelic features of a young boy. Today the hair has darkened to a rich copper, and the years have added a virile maturity to his features. His peers once judged him to have the Best Sense of Humor, and it seemed to me the quiet humor was still there.
Huffman appeared to be a more exuberant character. In high school he was “deathly skinny” and rather nerdy looking. “I was six foot four — same height I am today — but I weighed only 155 pounds.” Filled out now, he looks fit and powerful. “I’ve had a lot of fun in life, basically,” he told me. “I’ve been lucky. And I had a lot of fun in high school!”
Huffman worked on the staff of the Taroga, the school annual, and in his senior year he directed the yearbook’s sports section. “I was always hanging around with the jocks anyway,” he recalls. “They were all my buddies.” But he didn’t play any sports himself; he wasn’t a natural athlete, he says, plus “I used to work all the time.” His father was Ray Huffman, one of the city’s most powerful apartment builders in the 1970s. Phil says he started working for his dad’s construction company the summer he was 12, and he continued to do so each year through college. “And the day I turned 16, man, I was working after school. School would get out at two, and my brother and I would go work for two or three hours…. All my buddies like Danny would go down to Law Street [beach] and meet all the girls. But I was working.”
This had its advantages, Huffman says. “We made good money! I was rich, when I was a kid!” And he squeezed an active social life into his free time. “Back then, it was party-animal city. And I was an instigator of many of those parties. I remember all of us getting busted a couple of times in the 10th and 11th grades by cops and stuff like that for having beers and things. Not busted busted. Not thrown in jail, but caught drinking.” His status as head of the reunion committee could be traced to one of his most legendary bashes, he told me. The senior prom was scheduled to run from eight to midnight, “And my parents said, ‘You know what? Let’s have a party so we know where all the kids are.’ So we had about 125 kids over at our house, with a champagne fountain.” The celebrations lasted until six in the morning. When it later came time to elect an alumni president at the class’s senior breakfast, “They said, ‘Let’s have Huffman! He throws awesome parties,’ ” Phil recalls.