First coed class at St. Michael’s celebrates its 50th-year reunion

A look inside the 1969 St. Michael’s High School yearbook shows portraits of females students, amid other photos of class life. In 1969, the school became coed for the first time.

The Lasallian brothers in charge of St. Michael’s High School didn’t feel the need to hire a moving company in the winter of 1968. The student body’s assortment of vans and pickups hauled desks, drawers and everything else from the school’s original downtown Santa Fe location to its current campus on Siringo Road.

By the fall, the move wasn’t the only change in student life. After the Loretto Academy for Girls closed its downtown campus, St. Michael’s became coed in time for the Class of 1969’s senior year.

This weekend, members of that class are gathering for a 50th reunion. While the mixing of the sexes made for some awkward introductions at first, the students and the school say the decision to move on from the tradition of gender separation in Catholic education left everyone better off.

“At first we weren’t so sure if this was going to work. Most of us were upset about Loretto closing,” said Gloria Baca, who enrolled at St. Michael’s for her senior year along with about 50 Loretto classmates.

“But I remember the first day we got there, they said, ‘You’re all going to college somewhere,’ and, really, nearly all of us did. Looking at the school now 50 years later, I don’t think it would have survived and thrived as it has without going coed. We didn’t know it then, but we were part of a huge transformation.”

St. Michael’s traces its roots to 1859, which means it did not admit girls for its first 110 years. Male graduates of the Class of 1969 said the introduction of female students lightened up some of the Lasallian brothers, some of whom previously were inclined to dish out physical punishment.

“I can still remember the first day of school when the boys and girls lined up across the lobby of the new school,” recalled Joe Butler, a Class of 1969 graduate and former teacher and athletic director at St. Michael’s. “It was like a tense junior high dance. Nobody wanted to make the first move.”

“Back then society was much more separated into male roles and female roles,” he said. “I think it was good for us to have that experience at that point in our lives to understand women are as capable academically or athletically as any of us.”

Baca, a retired school teacher and principal, said tuition was $35 a month during her senior year at St. Michael’s.

A trip through her yearbook shows a state champion basketball team in short shorts and high socks, lots of big glasses, and advertisements for plenty of bygone businesses and a few still-familiar names like Bishop’s Lodge and Kaune’s.

Members of the Class of 1969 say the cool hangout spots in Santa Fe were the Big Boy restaurant where a McDonald’s now stands on St. Francis Drive, a Tastee-Freez drive-in near where there is now a CVS on Cerrillos Road, and a bowling alley on Cordova Road in a space now occupied by the New Baking Company.

As for the music coming from the radios in pickups and American muscle cars, the Beatles era was giving way to Motown. Alums remember cranking up Marvin Gaye, the Temptations and the Supremes. Santa Fe was half its current size, with around 41,000 people, but had two drive-in movie theaters, which would have been packed in 1969 for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Baca said 62 of 129 graduates from the Class of 1969 are expected to take part in the reunion weekend. Two-thirds of the attendees still live in Santa Fe. The schedule includes a Friday night reception, a Saturday football game, a Sunday Mass and plenty of trips down memory lane.

“We’ll be back in 10 years when we’re in our wheelchairs,” Baca joked. “I’m not sure what it is, but our class has always had really good attendance at reunions. Maybe it’s because we feel special for being the first.”

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