The year 1957 was memorable, marked by the launch of Sputnik, the Little Rock crisis, Jackie Robinson’s retirement and Elvis Presley’s debut.
However, for the Mt. Carmel High School senior class that year, the most memorable date was graduation day.
“We were the best, the golden class,” said John Delaney. “Ask anyone, they’ll tell you the greatest class was ’57.”
“Why? Because we’re very active now,” said Paul Martin. “We had just wonderful people in our class who were very successful.”
Their classmates, the late Marlin McKeever, went on to become a USC All-American defensive end and Los Angeles Rams linebacker. His brother, Mike McKeever, made the College Football Hall of Fame. Ken Hill went into Army intelligence and then worked for NASA. John Cady worked for the Pentagon. Michael Nieto became a nuclear physicist. And the list of successful doctors, lawyers, engineers and businessmen goes on.
Fifty-four years later, the class of ‘57 has shrunk a bit. Some have died. Others cannot be located. Keeping in touch during the decades has been difficult: College, marriages and careers have stretched former schoolmates far and wide.
Yet seven men from the class of ‘57 met Thursday at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Priory in Encino for the 5th Annual Mount Carmel Alumni Association St. Paddy’s Day Luncheon. Dressed in green, they celebrated with about 50 other alumni, clergymen and family members from graduating classes dating back to 1942.
They swapped stories and reminisced over homemade, beer-braised corned beef, cabbage and Guinness. Their Roman Catholic all-boys high school is no longer standing; however, its legacy of scholarship, success and family values still lives on through Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino.
“We want to provide a home for you guys,” Bridget Green, the liaison between Mt. Carmel and Crespi Carmelite High School, said during the luncheon. “There’s always a place for you in our hearts here.”
Mt. Carmel High was founded in 1935 at 71st and Hoover streets in Los Angeles. The school closed in 1976 due to declining enrollment and a few years later was destroyed by fire. Although the buildings had fallen, the school was designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, and the spirit of the Crusaders endured.
In 2002, a group of Mt. Carmel graduates formed the Mount Carmel Alumni Foundation with the goal of reconnecting fellow graduates. They’ve since expanded their vision to include supporting Catholic elementary schools in greater Los Angeles and raise funds for retired Carmelite priests.
“There is a common bond between Mt. Carmel and Crespi. We consider ourselves at least cousins,” said Greg Williams (’65), a board member of the alumni foundation and the first black student body president of Mt. Carmel.
When you look at the history of the two schools, there’s certainly some overlap.
The Rev. Augustine Carter graduated from Mt. Carmel in 1942 and returned 10 years later to become the athletic director. He left Mt. Carmel in 1959 to found Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino.
Over the years, many Mt. Carmel alumni have sent their sons and grandsons to Crespi to continue the custom of a Catholic education.
“Mt. Carmel had the most tremendous parents and family values,” Carter told Encino Patch. “A lot of alumni are now carrying on that family tradition.”
That was evident when John Fuess (’60) and his brother Ed (’58) arrived at the luncheon with their 94-year-old father. The Fuesses credit Catholic education to their close-knit family and success.
“The education at Mt. Carmel was absolutely wonderful for me,” said Ed Fuess, who holds the school football record of 220 yards. “I was really involved with the academia as well as the sports.”
“We have 12 children in our family and Pop sent all of us to Catholic school,” added John Fuess. “Everybody still goes to church, so that’s all that anyone could ask for. Everyone is still with the faith."
It’s that same Catholic faith that keeps Mt. Carmel’s legacy alive.
The Fuesses joined the rest of the Crusaders in rehashing old times and keeping the jokes running. They talked about their athletic prominence and the ongoing rivalry with Loyola High School.
But all jokes aside, they also recalled the psalms that were written on the blackboard beside the day's homework; the morning prayers that started the school day; and the memories made in the hallowed halls at 71st and Hoover.