By Stephanie Raygoza
One of Kirk Schenewark’s fondest memories took place on the USS New Jersey. He remembers, as a young cadet, a field trip he took during which he walked every part of the historic battleship in complete awe and amazement. Schenewark said the trip established a sense of pride in him and the other cadets, and it served as a glimpse of potential military service for them.
Twenty-six years since his graduation from the Southern California Military Academy (SCMA) in Signal Hill, Schenewark still carries that same pride with him as he plans to bring together alumni and their families for a private bronze plaque dedication ceremony in honor of the academy’s cadets, cadre and staff who served the nation and the surrounding community. The ceremony will take place at the former academy grounds, now Alvarado Elementary School, on Saturday, May 21 at 11am.
“It’s the pride we all have in our academy and the love that we have for our teachers,” Schenewark said. “Many were retired military themselves, and we just had so much pride and love for everyone from the academy, so it’s a great chance to get together and honor everyone.
Falling on Armed Forced Day, the event will not only host and salute alumni dating as far back as the mid-1940s, but also aims to revitalize the rich cultural legacy of the oldest and largest military academy on the West Coast, according to Schenewark, that was demolished in 1987.
Since it opened its doors in 1924, the same year the city of Signal Hill was incorporated, the kindergarten-through-ninth-grade, all-male military boarding school established itself as a very significant piece of the city’s history. When financial troubles hit the academy, the City decided to demolish the school with very little effort to preserve its history or prized, concrete senior walk, which included medals, awards and messages left by graduating classes.
“It was a historical piece,” Schenewark said. “Many people would’ve loved to have saved it and done something with it. It’s the number-one question. Everything changes, and then everything is gone. Years go by, generations go by and nobody has any clue of what was there.”
With a concrete pedestal holding the bronze plaque mounted in the southeast corner of the school at Cherry Avenue and 20th Street and the planting of a Goldenrain tree donated by the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) set for the ceremony, Schenewark is ready to unveil what he hopes will be an important asset to locking in the important historical recognition of the academy. In addition, the John Brown University, which took over the institution in 1947, donated funds for the memorial.
“Brett Geithman, who is the principal of Alvarado, was very accepting of this entire event and just a blessing to work with. LBUSD was so supportive.” Schenewark said. “I think the community will appreciate the remembrance of the once great military academy that prepped boys for leadership in serving our country and civilian community.”
Alumni will be treated to patriotic music from the professional orchestra band The Goldenwest Pops and a barbeque lunch after the ceremony.
“They’re a highly acclaimed band performing for us during the ceremony. They were honored to play for our crew,” Schenewark said. “We have people traveling all the way from Arizona and San Luis Obispo, so people are looking forward to it.”
Last year’s reunion at the Signal Hill Park, also spearheaded by Schenewark, gathered more than 100 SCMA alumni. Saturday’s event is expected to have 175-plus people attending.
“Many people used to drive up and down the street and see our canons upfront. That was an impressive sight, to drive by and see kids marching, the pride for our country and the canons,” Schenewark said. “People have that just embedded in their minds for years.”
One alumnus attending who played a key role in developing the character of the young students was Col. Jack Aden. Schenewark recalls Aden as being an absolutely beloved history teacher and commandant.
“He accepted us as his own family. We’re all looking forward to reuniting with him again,” Scheneward said. “Who better to learn history from than a retired war veteran who learned US and world history firsthand? He is one of my heroes to this day.”
The academy’s motto was “Character before Career,” what Schenewark fondly describes as its dedication to training of the youth, building of character and development of leadership. Having previously attended DeMille Middle School before attending the academy, the transition from the public school into the boarding school was a remarkable one for him.
“We all competed for rank. There was an incentive for us to be promoted to higher rank, and that was an important thing. Public school wise, there was nothing like it,” Schenewark said.
He looks forward to once again reuniting with other cadets to reflect on such powerful individuals as Aden and his drill instructor and command sergeant, Major William “Big Bill” Presley, who was a part of a famous infantry at Normandy and Omaha Beach, and provides what Schenewark describes as “the most powerful story of one of our alumni.”
A longtime US history enthusiast (his uncle was at Normandy with Aden and Presley) and owner of Kirk’s Stump Grinding in Long Beach, Schenewark hopes to rekindle the pride in the hearts of the academy’s many alumni much like the memory of the battleship trip does for him.
“Looking at the future possibility of military service, it was an absolute, absolute proud moment,” Schenewark said. “There was not a field trip that could compare to that.”
Those interested in reaching out to the alumni or obtaining more information may do so by emailing Schenewark at SCMAALUMS@yahoo.com.