Meet Your Neighbor: Nell Rowden enjoys 55th year as PVHS alumni reunion organizer

Nell Rowden, owner of Blythe Florist and Gift Shop, prepares a bouquet for a local customer. The 1960 graduate of Palo Verde High School (PVHS) has been organizing alumni reunion activities every year since 1963. (Photo by Connie George/Palo Verde Valley Times)

When Palo Verde High School (PVHS) and the community of Blythe celebrate 2018 Homecoming next week, one long-time resident will be centrally involved – just as she has been for the past 55 years.

Nell Rowden, owner of Blythe Florist and Gift Shop, has been organizing PVHS’s alumni activities since only a few years after her own graduation from the school in 1960.

“I started working on the Homecoming planning committee in 1963 and it just grew from there,” she explains. The group, the PVHS Alumni Association, includes four other alumni volunteers. “We have a good crew and everyone does their part, and everyone’s been doing it for so long that we don’t question each other,” she adds. “So far so good, for a long time.”

Rowden’s responsibilities include preparing the invitations and contacting alumni. She works from a lined yellow notepad with handwritten names and phone numbers of designated contacts for every class, going back as far as 1948. Once the individual classes have the basic details about when Homecoming will be held, she says, it’s up to them to decide what sort of presence they may want to have at the event.

Most common are reunions for classes that graduated five, 10, 15, 20 – and so on – years ago, although every Homecoming includes a dinner and dance for graduates from any year that generally attracts more than 300 attendees.

“Homecoming is quite a big deal here in Blythe,” she acknowledges. “First of all, it’s unique in that so many classes are involved. Everyone comes home. If you were born and raised here, eventually you’ll come back.”

When younger alumni come back for their first Homecoming celebration, Rowden has observed, “they don’t always know what to expect, but they find they enjoy themselves, so they come back,” which continues the tradition of so many graduates from so many classes participating in the annual gathering.

Rowden also serves as emcee for the dinner-dance and says that, for her, it’s the highlight of Homecoming Week. “Where can you go that you can talk to someone who graduated in 2018 or 1948? I don’t know of any other place.”

From the stage at the event, she explains, “I get to stand out in front of everybody and see who’s there. It’s just a unique opportunity to see everybody.”

With roots in the area going back to 1905 when her great-grandfather and grandfather moved here from the Riverside area to farm, Rowden is now representing several generations of family who attended PVHS, including her own children and grandchildren, one of whom is due to graduate in 2019. In fact, her maiden name is Scott, as in the high school’s Scott Stadium, named for her great-grandfather who donated the land for the arena.

Throughout her life in Blythe, Rowden has served in numerous roles for civic and community organizations. Currently president of both the Palo Verde Valley District Library and Palo Verde District Music Association boards, she has also served with the Junior Women’s Club, 4H, Little League, the Soroptimist Club and California Women for Agriculture, among other groups.

But her continuing involvement with PVHS alumni activities is a thread that maintains her connection with family and friends who all share the important life passage of teenage experiences at same high school. Her nostalgia for those memories is also represented by her collection of about 50 different yearbooks from the school.

“I love it,” she says. “I’ve kept in touch with probably 80 percent of my class this way. I get excited every year. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be doing it all these years.”

The 2018 Homecoming’s all-class alumni dinner and dance will be held Saturday, October 27, in the Jaycee Building at the Colorado River Fairgrounds, 591 Olive Lake Boulevard in Blythe. A social hour opens the festivities at 6 p.m., the banquet begins at 7 p.m., and the dance starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $30 for the dinner and dance, $10 for the dance only. For more information, call (760) 922-4196 or (760) 922-5451.

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