By Gary Walker
They came from as far as the East Coast and as near as Santa Monica. A famous actor, a skating legend, an astronaut, a local elected official — the one thing they share in common is they’re Gondoliers for life.
During Venice High School’s homecoming football game last Friday, the Venice High School Alumni Association inducted the inaugural class of its alumni Hall of Fame. Of the 21 graduates and former faculty chosen, 16 were present for a special halftime ceremony.
Three-time Emmy winner Beau Bridges, class of 1959, talked about playing basketball at Venice High and being motivated by a teacher who had an interesting way of reaching his students.
“His name was Clinton DeWitt Nye, and at the beginning of the year he put a little gnome on the ceiling and asked us what it meant,” recalled Bridges, the son of Lloyd Bridges and brother of Jeff Bridges. “At the end of the year we talked about it, and he told us that it symbolized how we could be whatever we wanted to be in life. And that was a great motivator for me.”
Three-term Santa Monica City Councilman Tony Vasquez, class of 1973, looked back on a time when he couldn’t even picture himself in politics.
“Never in my wildest dreams back then did I think that I would even go to college, much less become an elected official,” Vasquez, who spent last year as mayor, said with a smile.
“I remember Venice High as being very diverse. It was a lot of fun,” said Vasquez, whose favorite class was woodshop.
Retired Santa Monica College administrator Jeffery Shimizu, who graduated with Vasquez, was captain of the football and baseball teams during his senior year. He was on the 1972 city baseball championship team and returned to Venice High as a coach in 1980 and led his alma mater to city championships in 1984, 1985 and 1986.
“In essence, I feel like I’ve never left,” said Shimizsu, who met his wife in high school and whose sons attended Venice High. “The best thing about high school was the lifelong friendships that I made.”
After the ceremony, the alumni association’s Hall of Fame Committee unveiled member plaques in the main office building, each with a photo and short bio of the inductee.
Hall of Fame inductees also include Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham (1950), Cowgirl Museum Hall of Fame equestrian Audrey O’Brien Griffin (1954), singer-actress Donna Loren (1963), Jeff Ho Surfboards cofounder Derrick “Skip” Engblom (1967), former pro baseball player Ken Medlock (1967), Grammy-winning musician John Clayton (1969), original Z-Boy skater Peggy Oki (1973), former pro footballer Dana McLemore (1978), actor Sam Whipple (1978) and theater industry entrepreneur Clifford L. Warner (1980).
Posthumous inductees included In-N-Out Burger founder Harry Snyder (class of 1932), former Venice High band director and “Mighty Gondolier” fight song composer Billy E. Paney, and actress Myrna Loy (class of 1921), who was the model for the iconic “Inspiration” statue on campus.