When Monte Wolff packed his bags to attend his 60th Lake Stevens High School reunion, he also brought a lifetime of memories. There are stories of a small-town boyhood, a harrowing time in the Vietnam War, and his years in the legal profession.
A retired attorney who worked in Everett, the 77-year-old Wolff and his wife, Midge, live in Gold Canyon, Arizona. They’re here for the reunion of Wolff’s class of 1957. The reunion, with dinner and maybe some dancing, is scheduled for Saturday evening at Gleneagle Golf Course in Arlington.
“It’s going to be plain and simple, with lots of chit-chat,” said Sally Ann Willie, a class member and reunion organizer. Their Lake Stevens class had about 80 graduates. “It’s not anything special, except it is special — it’s 60 years. We’ve gone through about every phase of life,” said Willie, who lives near Mukilteo.
Cliff Crowley was Lake Stevens High’s student-body president in 1957. “We didn’t have a big class, but our class was really pretty close,” the Lake Stevens man said. They graduated before the city was incorporated, in 1960, when its population was just 900 or so. Today, more than 31,000 people live in Lake Stevens.
Not many classmates have moved far from the area, Crowley said. Wolff is an exception.
Along with pictures and mementos, Wolff brought a copy of “A Different Drummer, ” his 55-page memoir. In the story of his life, he devoted much of the booklet to his military duty.
Wolff was one of eight children in a family that moved from Everett to Lake Stevens after World War II. From second grade on, he attended Lake Stevens schools. The high school was then near the town center, where North Lake Middle School is today. At one point, the old school was painted pink and nicknamed “the pink palace.”
“It was a bucolic time, a simple time,” Wolff said Thursday, remembering how students from several grade schools came together in high school. He had attended a clapboard school called White School. Money was tight, and by 13 he was pumping gas.
At 14, life forever changed when Wolff’s father, Roland Wolff, died at age 45. It was Easter Sunday 1954. “In my mind it will always be only yesterday,” Wolff wrote in his memoir.
The title “A Different Drummer” comes from what would become Wolff’s salvation in high school, and later his Army vocation. Learning on his dad’s old drum set, Wolff became a proficient drummer. He credits Rex Holbrook, his high school band teacher, for acting as a father figure and encouraging his drumming. Wolff became leader of the pep band.
“He was my anchor. The band gave me responsibility,” Wolff said.
After enlisting in the Army in 1958, he attended the U.S. Navy School of Music in Virginia. He was then assigned to the Army Band at Fort Mason in San Francisco. He and Midge, an Everett High graduate, were married in 1959. By 1961, he had been honorably discharged from the Army. They had a daughter, the first of their three children.
Civilian life, with stints working in sales and playing in a country band, didn’t suit Wolff. He re-enlisted in the Army. That began an odyssey from Germany, where he was selected for the 7th Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy, to Infantry Officers Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He completed U.S. Army Ranger School and Airborne Paratrooper training.
By 1967, he was a captain in Vietnam, commanding Delta Company of the 46th Infantry Regiment. In his memoir, he wrote in detail about dozens of combat assaults. Homecoming was in 1968. He earned a Combat Infantryman Badge, a Bronze Star for valor, and a Silver Star for gallantry in combat.
Back home, Wolff finished an undergraduate degree at Seattle University and attended law school at what is now Seattle University School of Law. In Everett, he practiced criminal law with Royce Ferguson. He once served as president of the Greater Everett Navy League.
Among his memorable cases was defending a 14-year-old in the mid-1990s. The boy was sentenced to 15 years for killing a teenage friend. After the sentencing, Wolff told The Herald the case had been the most difficult of his career because of “the absolute waste of two young lives.”
A high school reunion — 20, 40 or 60 years — is a time to look back, to rekindle friendships and share life journeys. Just this summer, two of my high school classmates died. “For a long time we didn’t lose anybody, but recently we’ve lost a few,” Crowley said. Willie has lunch with women she graduated with every month.
“We were all very close. We knew each other like brothers and sisters,” she said. “It was a good time to be in school.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.