Class of 1931

Born in Delano in 1913, and raised near McKittrick on
the Reward Oil Lease, Garlyn Basham attended
Midway School, Taft Union High School and Taft
College. While attending TUHS, he enjoyed public
speaking and was on the debate team and drama
club, performed in several school plays and on the
track team. Basham graduated Taft Union High School
in 1931. While at Taft College, he continued with the
college debate team and graduated in 1933. He then
took a year off from school to work for Standard Oil
Co. and to save money to continue his education.
Basham next attended Santa Barbara State Teachers
College (which later became UCSB), graduating with a
BA degree in English in 1936.

After college, Basham returned to the hallways of Taft
Union High School as an instructor for Social Science,
Public Speaking and Radio Broadcasting. He also
earned a Master of Arts Degree from USC. In 1943, he
took a leave of absence from TUHS to enlist in the
Naval Reserve. He attended Officer Training School
and graduated with a commission of Ensign, USN.
After serving with distinction in the US Navy, Basham
returned to the faculty of TUHS in 1946. With more
schooling in his future, Basham took summer courses
in school administration from UCLA and Stanford. He
was chosen as Director of Taft College in 1950 (title
later changed to President) and became the first
Superintendent of the West Kern Community College
District when it was formed in 1963. He continued as
President and Superintendent until his retirement in

Garlyn and his wife Mildred had two sons, Roger and
Larry. Garlyn and Mildred were married for 68 years
when Mildred passed away in 2003. Garlyn passed
away in 2005.
Class of 1961

Dr. Eugene (Gene) Casagrande graduated from
Taft Union High School in 1961. He attended St.
Mary’s College in Moraga, California, and
graduated from the USC School of Dentistry,
where he continued as a part-time instructor. Dr.
Casagrande has been a distinguished leader in
the dental, Italian American and local
communities. He served as President of the Los
Angeles Dental Society and the California Board
of Dental Examiners. He was instrumental in the
fluoridation of the Los Angeles water supply and
was proclaimed “Honorary Mayor of Los Angeles”
in 1979.

Dr. Casagrande has been knighted by the
President of Italy “Cavileiere Ufficiale” and
“Commandatore” for his leadership in the Italian
American Community, serving as President of
Santa Monica Unico, President of Federated Italo-
Americans, and the Southwest Vice President of
the National Italian American Foundation. As
such, he fostered business relations with Italy,
promoting a positive image of Italians, and
sponsoring many cultural events. He actively
raised funds and awareness of Cooley’s Anemia,
youth in need and mental health.

Dr. Casagrande practiced dentistry for 30 years in
Los Angeles where he resided with his wife, Rose
Ann, and their four daughters. He currently travels
domestically and internationally, lecturing on the
Wand, a computer-generated anesthetic delivery
Class of 1966

George Hurley attended Taft schools before
graduating from Taft Union High School in 1966.
He attended college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
on an athletic scholarship for football and started
for three years on the offensive line. He was an
all-conference player in 1969 and 1970, and after
college graduation, was hired to teach and coach
at Newbury Park High School in 1972. He is now
in his 43rd year of coaching football for the
Newbury Park High School Panthers. Since
retiring from teaching (but not coaching), Hurley
has been active with several community groups in
Ventura County.

As an athlete, Hurley was all-league offensive
tackle on the 1965 SSL Champion Wildcat
football team and was offensive center starter for
28 of 30 football games for Cal Poly, selected All
CCAA twice. He was also a rugby player for 12
years with several club and all-star teams. As a
coach, 19 of his 43 years were as head football
coach and included 130 wins (top 10 all-time for
Ventura County), seven Marmonte League titles,
11-time CIF playoff participant, including two title
games and a championship in 1993. Hurley was
selected league Coach of the Year nine times,
county Coach of the Year five times, L.A. Times
area Coach of the Year twice, and Don Shula
NFL National High School Coach of the Year in
1998. He also coached wrestling for 12 years,
refereed wrestling for 25 years, acted as staging
coordinator for the wrestling venue at the 1994
Olympic Games in Los Angeles and officiated
Track & Field Meets from 1979-2005.

George married his wife Berta Morris in 1969, and
together they have three children (Erin, Ethan
and Ryan) and nine grandchildren. — with
George Hurley.
Class of 2002

Perhaps Taft Union High School’s greatest runner,
Billy Nelson graduated in 2002, and ran his way all
the way into the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the
3,000-meter steeplechase. While still a senior at
TUHS, he won the Division IV State Championship
in cross country, and set still unbroken school
records in the 3,200 meter (8:54), mile (4:15) and
3,000-meter steeplechase (9:35) in track. He was
also the 2003 USA Junior Cross Country
champion, won three Big 12 Conference individual
titles, is a six-time NCAA All-American (four for
track and two for cross country), and a runner-up
at the 2008 NCAA Outdoor Championships. In
2011, he claimed his first career title in the
steeplechase at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field
Championships. Nelson retired in the summer of

The former Olympian is now an assistant coach
and recruiting coordinator for the University of
Colorado Buffaloes, where he competed in college
and where he was inducted into the Colorado
Running Hall of Fame. Nelson has not forgotten
his roots, returning to Taft High to give
motivational talks and to praise his coaches,
David Dennis and Tonya Mauldin, who “never
thought it was a pipe dream to make the
Olympics.” Nelson lives in Boulder, Colorado, with
his wife Alisa and three children; Arabella, Noah
and Lonnie.
Class of 1955

Dick was born in Taft in 1937, and graduated
from St. Mary’s Grammar School, Taft Union High
School, and Taft College. He went on to get both
a BS and a PhD from the University of Colorado.
He had an outstanding career as Professor and
Chair of the History Department at the University
of Wisconsin at LaCrosse, where he retired after
35 years of service. During his tenure, he taught
and researched twentieth century American
politics. In 1988, he made a major contribution to
our knowledge of the 35th President of the
United States by organizing an award-winning
symposium, The National Conference on John F.
Kennedy. The book he edited from this
conference, entitled John F. Kennedy: Person,
Policy, Presidency, was cited as particularly
useful for those interested in restructuring their
view of the Kennedy Presidency.

Also while at LaCrosse, Snyder broadened the
History Major to encompass more than just
American and European History. He created five
courses in areas as diverse as the American
West and the Vietnam War. He also served the
student body for six years as Director of Summer
Programs, a portfolio arranging offerings of
student summer camps (both athletic and
academic) for adult personal development

Dick is quite artistic and his retirement has
allowed him the time to write lyrics for two albums
of songs. He has also authored two books, both
based on his life in Taft. He has traveled
extensively and has written several blogs about
his trips to places ranging from China through
the Baltic to Alaska. Dick is a driving force behind
TUHS Class of 1955 activities and served as
Chair of the Taft Union High School Hall of Fame
Committee for four years.
Class of 1955

Growing up on an oil lease, John Wilt learned
to do most everything on his own. If he
needed something, he built it. This skill and
determination paved the way for a successful
career in engineering. Wilt graduated from
Taft Union High School in 1955, where he was
active in Block T, Key Club, and Art Club. After
graduation, Wilt attended Taft College for one
year, then joined the Air Force in 1956. After
basic training, he was sent to the Army
Engineering School, and graduating third in
his class. The Air Force assigned him to the
55th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at
McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento.
While in the service, he married his wife
Carolyn and started his family.

Wilt began his career providing technical an
engineering support for the Navy with the
development of the Polaris and Poseidon
ballistic missiles. Wilt advanced to a highly
responsible position with Aerojet where his
first major assignment provided research,
design, fabrication, and manufacturing of the
first and second stage liquid rocket engines
astronauts would ride into orbit. Wilt
personally worked with astronauts Neil
Armstrong, Frank Borman, and Buzz Aldrin,
among others. Later, he spent nearly eight
years as a technical member of a top-secret
team that untangled serious program and
design problems. For some 20 years, he was
the Director of Technology for the Aerojet AF
Plant Representative Office, responsible for all
Department of Defense and NASA contracts
with Aerojet.

Amid many other scientific accomplishments,
Wilt was a professor at Golden Gate University
and worked many tennis tournaments as a
professional tennis official. John and Carolyn
continue to organize and present the World
Wide Marriage Encounter program. The Wilts
also established GraceBound Music and
continue to work with Nourish the Children, a
program that donates meals to orphans
around the world.