UPDATE: Congratulations to the 2017 winners!
Jike Wong award: Josh Concepcion
Molly McGowan award: Angela Ahern
A walk down memory lane with snapshots of some of the Jike Wong and Molly McGowan award winners in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. Have more memories to share? The Coronado Times would love to hear your stories and see your pictures in the comments section at the bottom.
With the Coronado High Senior Awards Ceremony planned for Monday, June 12, my husband and I pulled out our old CHS yearbooks. We remembered that the awards for outstanding senior boy and senior girl are the Jike Wong and the Molly McGowan.
Both Molly McGowan and Jike (pronounced Jick) Wong were well respected and well-liked Coronado High students in the 1940s.
Molly died during her junior year at CHS in January 1943 when she was just 16. She died of Hodgkin Lymphoma, which would be treatable today. The Molly McGowan Award is given to an outstanding senior girl who encompasses qualities that Molly possessed: friendliness, service, leadership and scholastic achievement. This will be the 73rd year that the honor is bestowed; the first year was 1944.
Jike graduated from CHS in 1948 and died while attending UC Berkeley. The Jike Wong Award is given each spring to an outstanding senior boy who fills the roles of “scholar, athlete, leader, and friend.”
I was happy to write this article as I fondly remembered that my husband Ken was honored with the Jike Wong Award in 1981. His counter-part that year, winning the Molly McGowan Award, was Cecile Fraley.
I called to ask what the award meant to her. Dr. Fraley, who is the CEO of Pediatric Partners of the Southwest, said that the award was very meaningful. She remembered it as a great honor and recognition of the importance of leadership. I asked her if she felt that winning the award that honored Molly McGowan, inspired her in some way. Cecile replied: “Absolutely. It validated the gifts of leadership that I see play out in my professional life today.”
When I asked Ken the similar question, he said that winning the Jike Wong Award was a validation of excelling in many different areas, or well-roundedness.
Okay, enough about those closest to me; I also reached out to well-connected friends for their memories of other past Jike Wong and Molly McGowan award winners.
Retired Biology Professor Gordon Dudley, Coronado High School class of 1952, shared some thoughts on the earliest years of these awards.
From Gordon I learned that CHS used to have a “beauty queen,” Miss Beachcomber. In 1951, Jean Greenlee was Miss Beachcomber as a junior. The following year, 1952, Jean was awarded the Molly McGowan Award, First Citizen, and Most Popular. She was also our first homecoming queen. Gordon was also friends with the 1952 Jike Wong Award recipient, Harry Sykes.
Speaking about Jean and Harry, Gordan said, “Their personalities were very similar. They were hard working, excellent students who were involved in everything. Harry was All-league in football as a running back and led CHS to a Metro League championship, as well as a track star and basketball player (Coronado didn’t have a baseball team, or field, in those days).
“Jean was involved in multiple clubs, the Islander newspaper (with Gordon), and was a Miss Coronado. They rarely went to the wild open house parties we had, and they were pretty straight arrow.
“They came from very different backgrounds. Jean’s dad was a Naval officer who was killed early in the war. She formed fast friends with Jackie Latham, Ann Fullenwider, and other girls because they all had horses in the stables at 4th and Alameda Blvd. They were always talking about their horses in Junior High School.
“Harry had a very different background. He came from Louisiana with his family when his dad got a job on North Island. He was a kid from the Mullinex Project down where the Tidelands Park is now. They eventually rented an old three story Victorian two doors down from me when we in the 6th or 7th grade. We’d walk to school together, with other kids and play pickup games in the street. He was quick to smile, always friendly. His best friend was also a project kid from Oklahoma, Herman Pollock.”
Coronado High graduate Martha A. Wakefield sent me this darling picture of Sidney Earle Clark, who she remembered won the Molly McGowan award in 1956. Sydney was also on Homecoming Court, the Beauty Court and a Representative to the All-Cal Symphony Orchestra. Mrs. Wakefield said: “I knew Sidney and really liked her. In 2000 she was living in San Diego, but I don’t remember her married name.” Mrs. Wakefield wondered, “Maybe someone from the class of 1956 is still in Coronado [and would know]?”
In 1960, Coronado resident Paul Plumb won the Jike Wong Award, as well as Athlete of the Year.
That’s not surprising for those that know Paul.
The following year’s award winners, 1961, are notable because they married each other: Doug Norton won the Jike Wong Award and Janet Johnson won the Molly McGowan Award. Doug went to the Naval Academy, and Mrs. Wakefield says, “I think he was an honor guard for President Kennedy in the Capitol Rotunda in 1963.” Mrs. Wakefield goes on to explain that “Doug and Janet (Johnson) Norton had the first baby born in the New Year at the Coronado Hospital, sometime in the late 1960s, and I believe Janet’s sister Susie Ovrom is still in Coronado.”
Have any other two same year recipients married?
Robert Sanchez won the Jike Wong award in 1978 and his younger (updated correction) sister, Arlene, later won the Molly McGowan award.
Classmate Marla English had this to say: “The [Sanchez] family was exceptional in that they were close and all the children excelled in school as evidenced by their degrees and success in life. Responsibility and hard work seems to be a part of the family’s DNA. They excelled in friendship and community and I have always cherished my connections to Linda (sister) and her family. I consider her one of my oldest and dearest friends.”
Reached at his home in Encinitas, Robert said that leadership and hard work were a part of his family’s values. Robert’s parents, who suffered during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, came to Coronado via the U.S. Navy. Filipinos have a proud history of serving the U.S. Navy. Robert’s father, who passed away when Robert was in high school, joined the U.S. Navy from the Philippines as a cook. Robert’s mother, while never receiving more than a sixth-grade education, stressed the importance of working hard and obtaining a solid education to the seven children she raised. Robert remembered fondly his mother making sandwiches in the CHS school cafeteria to support her family and keep a loving, watchful eye on her brood.
Robert’s leadership skills served him well after high school. He went on to found and sell three multi-million dollar corporations, serve both the President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama administrations, and fund the building of hundreds of homes in impoverished areas of the Philippines.
Besides his parents, Robert credited the Coronado community for their supportive and warm embrace of his family to his later success: “It was absolutely the best place to grow-up.”
Tony Vernetti won the Jike Wong award in 1993. Mr. Vernetti was also an Eagle Scout, the highest achievement or rank attainable in the boy scouting program of the Boy Scouts of America. Only four percent of Boy Scouts are granted this rank after a lengthy review process.
When the Class of 2017 Senior Awards are presented on Monday afternoon, the two honored with the Molly McGowan and Jike Wong awards will know they are part of a long legacy of outstanding Coronado students that will stay in our hearts forever.