A Tribute to Peter
S. Umland (1935-2001)
Hello to all my BHS Classmates of '55
Aren't we fortunate to have Grey to keep after us? He keeps asking each of us to keep the other classmates informed about our lives sometimes we might feel like it and other times we might not but that guy is persistent. He e-mailed me recently about reading in Panther Postscripts about my brother, Pete Umland, becoming BHS Alumnus of the Year. And indeed Pete did get that honor, but there is more to the story than that.
Pete was just a class year ahead of me as he had been held back a year at McKinley Grammar School. My sister Gretchen had been promoted a year, so when I came along they didn't know what to expect. When Pete was barely making passing grades as a Junior at BHS, he decided that he wanted to join the US Navy, so he quit BHS. He went to the Recruiting Office in SF and was turned down because they had so many draft-age boys, they couldn't take him. He was sorely disappointed.
Our parents said, "Either go back to high school or get a job." There was no way he was going to return to the hallowed halls of BHS, so he took a job as a Lumber Clerk at Higgins Hardwoods in South San Francisco and commuted to work each day from our family home on Arc Way in Burlingame. It dawned on him after a while that lumber clerking might easily be the height of his professional career unless he had more schooling. So he enrolled in a correspondence high school class and earned his "diploma" after studying very hard at night each home. I don't know how genuine that diploma was, but at least he had one.
When he became draft-age he joined the Navy and was stationed in San Diego from 1953 to 1956 as an Aerial Photographer. By then I had graduated with our class in '55 and Pete and I continued on to San Mateo Junior College for a couple of years. During this time he developed a fondness for law enforcement and was hired by the Burlingame Police Dept. as a Patrolman until 1958. Then he made the decision to apply as a California Highway Patrol Officer and was first stationed in the Imperial Valley of California. His career as a CHP officer continued until his first heart attack. He had a quadruple bypass and retired as a Sergeant around 1980.
When Pete was 9 years old he began selling newspapers on the street corners of Burlingame Avenue, selling both the San Francisco News and the Call Bulletin. At age 14 he moved indoors and started working at the Towne Smoke Shop (now known as the Burlingame Smoke Shop) at the corner of Burlingame Avenue and Primose Road. After leaving the Highway Patrol, he became proprietor of the Smoke Shop and eventually bought the property where he worked and greeted his friends every day.
He became enamored of long distance running during this time and ran marathons which matched his physical abilities. He volunteered as a track and cross-country coach at BHS and drove what became known as the "Rescue Car" his old Volvo which he used to keep track of the "laggers" and to yell from to encourage them to finish. He thought it would be a good idea to upgrade or replace the old track at BHS which may even have been the same one we ran on. He walked into Principal Arrigoni's office about a week after the principal had taken office. Mr. Arrigoni asked Pete what he could do for him. Pete said, "No, it's what I can do for you." And Pete offered and delivered on removing the old track and replacing it with an all-weather track to the tune of close to a quarter of a million bucks.
When an Alumnus of the Year Award was to be presented this year, Pete was chosen as the honoree. He didn't know quite how to handle the honor because he had to admit that he had never graduated from BHS. So the night of the award, Principal Arrigoni and others bestowed upon Pete a genuine Burlingame High School diploma! He couldn't have been more pleased.
Pete died very suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack on September 18th. His service was a week later. His sister, Gretchen, and I were overwhelmed with the response of the community at his simple service at the Neptune Society. He was honored by the CHP, by the Superintendent of Schools, by BHS Principal Arrigoni, by BHS Track Coach known to me only as "O.B.", by past and present members of the BHS Track Team, by City Council members and former Mayors, by cronies from the Smoke Shop, by family members and by others who genuinely knew and loved him. His passing has left a big hole in my heart.
When parents pass on we may have the tendency to think, "OK, it's their time to go" but when a brother or sister dies it simply reinforces how fragile our lives are since they are apt to be close to our own age. At the risk of sounding like I am preaching, just remember, if you are fortunate enough to have a brother or sister, to embrace them and cherish them and remember to always say "I love you" in any way, shape or form when your conversation with them is over. You will never live to regret it.
From Diana Umland Bos
October 5, 2001