High School 50-year Reunion Elicits Golden Memories

(Photos by David Laurell) - The well-dressed and flirtatious Mayor Jess Talamantes and his wife Sandy arrive for last week’s 50th class reunion.

First published in the Aug. 20 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

One could make the argument that 1971 ushered in the digital age with the invention of the microprocessor. It was also the year Charles Manson and his followers were sentenced for the Tate-LaBianca murders; Walt Disney World opened in Florida, and the 26th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed giving 18-year-olds the right to vote.
It was the year that saw the first Starbucks open in Seattle, and while disco was the era’s influential musical movement, it was also a time that saw David Bowie give us his alter ego, Ziggy Stardust; the Rolling Stones release “Sticky Fingers;” Carole King’s “Tapestry” break all sales records for an album, and John Lennon release his second solo offering, “Imagine.”
In 1971, Joe Biden was 29 years old and serving as a councilman on the New Castle County Council in Delaware, while Gavin Newsom was a 4-year-old living with his parents in San Francisco.
Between the future president, who was serving his first term as an elected official, and the future governor, who was still 29 years away from dipping his toe into the political waters for the first time by serving on the San Francisco Parking and Traffic Commission, there was future Burbank Mayor Jess Talamantes.
Then a 19-year-old, who was in his senior year at John Burroughs High School, Talamantes was preparing to enter Pierce College. From there, he would matriculate to California State University at Los Angeles, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in fire-protection administration and technology before going on to a career with the Burbank Fire Department and running for public office.

  • Brian McCoy, David Palmerston, William Stevens, Richard McMillan, and Mayor Jess Talamantes served on the committee that staged last week’s 50th reunion.
  • Among those who made last week JBHS 50th reunion a success were committee members Ruth Redding Welch, Cheryl Smith McMillan, Susan Muscarella Newcomer and Patti Shelton Kelly.
  • While he was known as Philip Worwa back in his days at JBHS, he is now known as Kauai’s “Santa in Paradise.”
  • The graduation photo of the future Burbank mayor


This past week, Talamantes and close to 100 members of his graduating class and guests gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their graduation.
“We had to put it off for a year due to the pandemic, so everyone has been looking forward to this for a long time,” said Cheryl Smith McMillan, who chaired the reunion committee, along with her high school sweetheart, and now husband, Richard McMillan, as well as Brian McCoy, David Palmerston, William Stevens, Ruth Redding Welch, Susan Muscarella Newcomer, Patti Shelton Kelly and Talamantes.
Few gatherings are as revealing as high school reunions, and this one was no different as shared memories, collaborated by yearbook and school newspaper clippings, brought to light little known details of those from the Class of ’71, including its most celebrated member who currently serves as the city’s mayor.
Rather proud to admit that he was voted the classes’ best dressed, Talamantes was far more hesitant to confess he was also named class flirt.
Pressed on his flirting prowess, Talamantes’ wife, Sandy, who was a Burbank High School Bulldog cheerleader, rolled her eyes and laughed.
“He was well-known at Burbank High School because he played football and ran track, so, being a cheerleader, I knew who he was, but didn’t really get to know him until we met at Pierce College,” Sandy said.
When the city’s future first couple met in September following their high school graduation, Jess obviously ramped up his flirtatious ways because his first date with Sandy took place the following month when he invited her to a Halloween party.
“Yeah, he was flirt,” Sandy confessed. “But his timing was also really good because when he asked me to the party, I had just had a big fight with my boyfriend,” she added with a laugh.
Talamantes may have been best-known for his athletic abilities, sartorial elegance and playful flirtation skills while in high school, but it was his service to Burbank for 32-years with the fire department and 13 years as an elected official that made him the standout alum at last week’s reunion; not that he didn’t have competition.
While there’s one thing to have a mayor in your graduation class, it’s also a big deal to be able to say you graduated with “Santa,” who was better known as Phil Worwa during his days a JBHS.
Lauded during last week’s reunion for coming the longest distance – no, not from the North Pole, but from his adopted home in Kauai, Hawaii – Worwa is known throughout the “Garden Isle” as “Santa in Paradise.”
Decked out in red overall shorts and flip-flops, which he wore to the reunion, Worwa takes on the role of the jolly old elf to entertain at parties and perform island weddings.
“How many people can say they graduated with Santa?” Worwa asked rhetorically.
Probably – one would have to believe – far fewer than those who can say they graduated with a sharp looking chap with a flirtatious flair who went on to become a politician.

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.