It was 1970 and the timing couldn't have been worse. Just two days before Byron Legg was set to walk across the stage and accept his diploma at Redmond High School, in what would be the last commencement ceremony held in the old brick two-story school downtown, his father was in a serious automobile accident in California.
The family rushed south and stayed there for a month while Legg's dad recovered.
“I came back home, started working and never thought about it again,” he recalled. “It” was Legg's diploma, which has sat in a locked records room for the last 42 years until a couple of new Redmond High School employees rediscovered it — and dozens of others — this winter.
It's not that the diplomas were lost, said Tracy Osborn, data assistant in Redmond High School's main office.
It's just that when she was helping a team of staff move, sort, clean and organize records during the school's remodeling, she discovered the box of unclaimed diplomas.
She was immediately struck with the history, both of the school and the families to whom the diplomas belonged.
“A lot of stuff was put in the vault when construction was happening,” said Osborn. “I was kind of excited when I found them and I took them to share with Nicole because she's new here too and I knew she'd think they were neat.”
Nicole MacTavish began as principal of Redmond High last fall. When shown the diplomas, she immediately began imagining how the school could reunite the diplomas with their owners, or close family members.
“We have to keep all these records, including transcripts, but it seemed a shame that people were missing out on having these mementos,” she said. “If it was me and it was my mother or grandmother, I would want it as a family keepsake.”
Unaware of diploma
The extended family of Delia Negus, class of 1935, were unaware there was an unclaimed diploma out there. Sandy Negus, wife of Delia's nephew Rick, was surprised to hear that any of the nine Negus siblings, who grew up on a large ranch near Grizzly Mountain, even finished school.
“The family had a place in Metolius at one point but they lost it for taxes,” she recalled. “My father-in-law and his family, they all had to work pretty hard.”
Delia, who has since died, has a brother in an assisted living facility in Prineville and two children in the Valley, said Sandy Negus, and when notified of the unclaimed diplomas, she said she'd do her best to let the family know.
More than 30 of the diplomas were from the years of the Vietnam War and MacTavish has speculated that some of the boys who were drafted or joined the military neglected to pick up their diplomas for that reason.
John Grayson Tickle, class of 1971, was a long-haul truck driver his entire life, which was cut short when he died at 45 of a heart condition. According to his brother Iley, who still lives in Terrebonne, John must have been unaware he had a diploma waiting because he thought he was a quarter of a credit short.
“On the last day of school he just went home, he didn't even attend the graduation,” said Tickle. Iley himself never walked with his class of 1974 because he graduated early and left town to work.
“Funny, my brother was in the first class to graduate in the new high school and I was in the first class to graduate after four years there but neither of us walked.”
According to Amy Brown, Redmond High registrar, a couple of people a month walk in the door or call looking for diplomas, but most of them are from the last decade. It's rare, she said, for graduates to come looking for older records.
“I think most of them don't even realize they don't have it,” said Brown.
To prepare for the retrieval of the old diplomas MacTavish and her staff spent time verifying that all the students named had earned the required number of credits to graduate. Beside the 51 older diplomas from the vault, there are dozens of newer ones, from 1980 to the present, all available to their owners — who need only come to the high school.
“We haven't had the time yet to verify all those but it will only take a couple of days and we're happy to do it,” said MacTavish. The school is asking people to bring identification when they come for diplomas, including those asking for the records of deceased loved ones. Birth or death certificates, or other kinds of legal documents proving the relationship should suffice, said MacTavish.
“We're trying to be reasonable,” she said. 'We just want people to have these.”
The oldest diploma found is from 1930, for Elsie Fern Fields. Known as Fern to family and friends, she grew up in Redmond with four brothers, one of whom went on to run Erickson's Sentry Market for years. Fern waitressed and cooked at Freeman's Cafe across from the Historic Redmond Hotel after graduation, and she and her husband, Clarence, worked at the Cooperative Creamery downtown for many years.
“I don't know why my mother didn't pick up her diploma,” said Carolyn Gibbs of Redmond. Aware that her mother married and started a family soon after graduation, Gibbs speculated that the diploma was just not a priority for Fern.
Gibbs followed in her mother's footsteps by attending Redmond High but the family moved soon after she started freshman year. Gibbs returned to Redmond when her son was a freshman and the family ran Gibbs Bakery downtown for several decades.
Gibbs laughed when she heard about the discovered diplomas — her daughter-in-law Jamie Gibbs works in the Redmond High office, but this is the first the 79-year-old retiree had heard about them.
Byron Legg knows why he didn't pick up his diploma — he didn't need it. A millworker for most of his life, Legg had no need to prove he had graduated high school, even though he has attended some college.
He did realize the document was missing some 10 years after graduation but he didn't know who to contact and he thought that with the high school moving during that time perhaps some old records were disposed.
Now Legg is planning on a trip to the high school soon.
He'll likely take his wife, Toni. She's on the missing graduate list too: Class of 1971.