Ute Vocational School alumni reunite

From left: Lilian Siebel, Gene Charley, Annie Chester, Sylvia Weaver, Arthur Weaver, and Arlene Millich join each other for a group photo at the Ute Vocational School reunion on Saturday, July 9.
Arlene Millich reflects on the memories with her fellow classmates.
Ute Vocational School graduate, Henry Garnenez Sr. smiles with his gift during the white elephant gift exchange. He graduated in 1957.
Jean Charley smiles during the white elephant gift exchange.
Damon Toledo | The Southern Ute Drum
Damon Toledo | The Southern Ute Drum
Damon Toledo | The Southern Ute Drum
Damon Toledo | The Southern Ute Drum

Sixty years after its closure in 1955, members of the Ute Vocational School reunited for a special celebration on Saturday, July 9, hosted by Southern Ute elder Arlene Millich.

During the time of its opening, the Ute Vocational School was located where the Southern Ute Head Start now stands, and was exclusive to native students from around the Four Corners area, with grades ranging from Kindergarten through High School. After closure of the school, students were transferred from the dormitories to the public schools.

Ute Vocational alumni met with smiles and hugs as they reminisced on their past years. Ms. Millich additionally provided an entree of food for the guests.

“I think most of us would say that we had a good experience at the [Ute Vocational School],” Millich stated during the potluck. “A lot of times you’d hear bad stories about being in boarding schools, but from experience, this school treated us with fairness and respect. A lot of the Utes and Navajos who attended were poor, so we got a free meal every day. A lot of us have good memories, not bad ones.”

Navajo elder Jean Charley shared her memories by commenting, “That school was the best here for me. I think it was good for a lot of us. We learned all sorts of subjects from rhythm band, basketball, baseball, and football. My personal favorite was [tap-dance] class.”

“I remember there being very talented Ute students because they could do all sorts of stuff,” added alumni Annie Chester. “As students, we also had to do chores to keep the building clean, but it was common. A lot of the students couldn’t speak English, but I don’t remember anyone ever being harassed for using their language. The only thing the males had to go through was getting their haircut.”

A special white elephant gift exchange was held after the potluck, with every alumni going home with a gift provided by attendees. Another reunion for Ute Vocational School alumni’s is planned for July 2017.

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