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Southwestern Academy Celebrates 100 Years of Enduring Impact

From military roots to a diverse, global community, the school reflects on a century of transformation as alumni reunite

Published on Tuesday, April 9, 2024 | 10:57 am

As alumni from across the decades gathered at Southwestern Academy’s 100th anniversary celebration, their stories and memories painted a vivid picture of the school’s remarkable journey and enduring impact on students’ lives. 

More than 200 former students returned to the San Marino campus on Friday evening to kick off a weekend of festivities marking the school’s centennial.

Founded on April 7, 1924, by Maurice Veronda amidst the orange groves that characterized the area, Southwestern Academy has undergone a significant transformation over the past century. The school, originally named Southwestern Military Academy, began with a military-style education, with its earliest students and faculty constructing the first building, Lincoln Hall, in 1925.

During the 1930s, the school began attracting international students from Mexico, Central America, Asia, and Europe, marking the start of its diverse student body. 

The World War II era saw the academy expand its academic programs and drop its military heritage to accommodate a broader range of students.

In the early 1960s, following the passing of Maurice Veronda, his son, Kenneth Veronda, took over as Headmaster, continuing the school’s vision and expansion for nearly six decades. 

In 2020, Robin Jarchow became the third official Head of School and the first woman to hold the official position (Maurice Veronda’s wife Claire took on the position for a very brief moment after he passed away and before Ken Veronda was installed as Headmaster).

“We are all connected here at Southwestern Academy,” said Lou Pulgencio, director of International Studies, addressing the crowd at Lincoln Hall. “Whether parents, students, staff or faculty, we are all connected here.”

The school’s campus, originally part of the greater Los Robles Ranch settled by former Union Army general and California governor George Stoneman, was known for its orange and avocado trees. Pioneer Hall, Southwestern’s original campus building, was designed by renowned architect Myron Hunt for Stoneman.

“I am so thrilled. Our turnout is really exceeding my expectations,” said Jarchow during the weekend festivities. She has been at Southwestern for 36 years. “It’s so exciting to see so many former students, and I’m so excited to hear about people’s life experiences, and memories. This is a big family.”

The anniversary weekend continued with a celebration dinner on Saturday, a brunch with the Head of School on Sunday, and alumni Girls’ and Boys’ basketball games Sunday afternoon. 

The highlight was the Centennial Birthday Celebration on Saturday evening, where alumni reconnected with classmates and teachers while reflecting on the school’s rich history and envisioning its future.

Southwestern Academy boasts notable alumni who have made significant contributions in various fields, including entertainers Tom and Dick Smothers, former congressman Pete McCloskey, former professional football player Riki Ellison, Medal of Honor winner George Ruhlen, and Polish model Nikola Stajszczak.

Throughout its history, Southwestern Academy has maintained a commitment to providing a supportive and enriching educational environment. Its small class sizes, diverse student body, and emphasis on individual attention have helped it rank among the top 20% of private schools in California for its low average acceptance rates and its status as one of the oldest founding schools in the state.

As Southwestern Academy enters its second century, the school continues to uphold its founding principles while adapting to the educational needs of a changing world. This ensures that its impact on students’ lives will endure for generations to come.

Southwestern Academy is located at 2800 Monterey Road in San Marino. For information, call (626) 799-5010.

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