Thursday, April 26, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 8

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 2nd, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 30 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 14, Issue 30

Hobnobbing With Helen


Margaret Cooper and friends served lunch at a retired teachers’ picnic on Sept. 18 in Waller Park. Suzanne and Gary Miller are at the head of the line.

Margaret Cooper is like the Energizer Bunny. She just keeps going and going and going. Sometimes to Turkey. Sometimes to Australia. Sometimes to Waller Park. 

The retired art teacher took time off from her rigorous swimming routine, travel schedule, and volunteer work at the library to organize this year’s fourth, or fifth, or sixth (who’s counting?) annual picnic for former high school teachers from the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District.

Retirees drove from Templeton, Arroyo Grande, and Nipomo, as well as local neighborhoods, bearing potluck offerings for a Waller Park get-together on Wednesday, Sept. 18.

Aided and abetted by Helen Hill—her traveling companion on a recent trip to Turkey—Margaret sent out an e-mail blast letting everyone know that they could hobnob with former co-workers in the park. Forty-nine people attended. Tri-tip was grilled on the spot and served up with beans, garlic bread, and a tasty stew, the name of which I can’t recall, by a team that included Rodger Brown, a Santa Maria planning commissioner and retired high school coach.

Socializing was the order of the day. No one missed the opportunity to re-connect. Reminiscing and catching up were Pat Roy, Chuck Osborne, and Frank and Kathy Andrews,along with Fred Cooper,spouse of the intrepid organizer.

(From left to right) former Santa Maria High School aquatics instructor Karl Bell, his former SMHS swimming coach Phil Wahl, Greg Nims, and Fred Cooper chatted before the barbecue.

Some significant multi-generational local sports history was attached to the attendees. Among the crowd were retired swimming teacher Phil Wahl and Karl Bell (who was on the barbecue team). During his Santa Maria High School career, Phil coached Karl, who went on to study at Cal Poly in SLO, where he made many valuable connections in the world of water sports. He came back to SMHS to teach for umpteen years. Karl was so valued in the aquatics program at Santa Maria High that two years ago, the school named a pool after him.

Karl started water polo at Santa Maria High.

“We had to travel to Oxnard to compete,” he remembered. “They were the closest place with a high school water polo program.”

Traveling down Memory Lane, he added, “Santa Maria High was a powerhouse in swimming and water polo.”

It seems appropriate to mention here that Karl’s legacy lives on. Now his son Charles Bell coaches a water polo team at St. Joseph High School.

Not too long ago, Santa Maria hosted a prestigious two-day water polo camp at the Paul Nelson Aquatics Center. Coached by Olympic swimmers, the camp attracted participants from as far away as San Diego.

(From left to right) Margaret Cooper, Rodger Brown, and Helen Hill kept an eye on the grill at an annual retired teachers’ picnic.

Back to the picnic: Retired teachers Gary and Suzanne Miller, who pop up at various nonprofit fundraisers around town, enjoyed the day, as did Crystal Duval Kidwell and Del Petersen.

Alice Addison garnered attention with two photo books documenting her trip to Africa. Greg Nims was especially keen on the photos because he knows quite a bit about the Sahara. 

Greg got my attention when he mentioned that his wife spent part of her childhood in the Belgian Congo. Greg, a native of Los Angeles, had some colorful stories to tell, many of them about his growing up around Hollywood types. For example, Johnny Weissmuller was a neighbor and could be heard yodeling in his pool.  

I asked retiree Jack Ward what he taught during his working years, and he replied with a twinkle in his eye, “Ornery-ness!”

Now, Jack, we know better.

Or, do we?


If you want to hobnob with Helen, you may contact her at

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