A face-by-face history of Riverhead High School

yearbooks in Riverhead
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Tim Holls of Wapingers Falls, a Riverhead High School graduate class of 1963, has been working on digitizing all of Riverhead High School yearbooks from 1938 to 1972. 

Why would a man from Wappingers Falls, N.Y. , dedicate himself to creating a comprehensive digital version of Riverhead High School yearbooks?

Tim Holls, 68, took on the project partly because he’s an RHS alumnus, Class of 1963. But it really started when his mother misplaced her own high school yearbook, and he began to wonder, “What if you don’t have your book anymore? What if you don’t have a book or it’s been damaged?’” he said.  “At the time, I was thinking that was one of the motivations for why I would want this.”

Mr. Holls focused on math in high school, but took a typing class during his last semester. That came in handy when, after graduating from Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, he found few career opportunities in math and decided to go into computers instead.

“I figured I’d be typing a few letters and papers in college,” he said. “I never, ever, thought that I was going to spend the rest of my life in front of a keyboard and love it.”

Mr. Holls worked at IBM in Poughkeepsie until retiring in 1994.

Wearing a 1963 RHS alumni T-shirt, Mr. Holls, in town two weeks ago for his 50th high school reunion, sat behind his laptop in the lobby of  Riverhead’s Hotel Indigo and explained how the yearbook-gathering process began.

In 2002, a year before his 40th class reunion, he scanned his own four yearbooks, plus two from his older sister. Then, after learning how to build a basic web page, he created a digital record covering the years from 1958 to 1963. He said his background in computers helped him develop a searchable system for the digital yearbook. The design came for the digitized yearbooks editions came easy: white background, blue for the clickable links of each person’s name — the colors of his alma mater.

After sharing the first version of his digital yearbook at his 40th reunion, an old acquaintance sent Mr. Holls four more yearbooks, which helped him complete the 1960s. Judge Thomas Stark also contributed to the project, he said, which helped him complete the 1940s.

There have been four high schools in the district’s history, Mr. Holls explained. When he graduated, the high school occupied what’s now Pulaski Street Elementary School. Before that, starting in 1900, it was in a wooden building on Roanoke Avenue. After that school burned down in 1923, it was rebuilt and the high school remained on Roanoke until 1937. The high school is currently located on Harrison Avenue.

His collection now covers the Pulaski Street years, from 1938 to 1972. The yearbooks range from 60 to 200 pages and it takes about 80 hours to digitize each one. Since the Class of 1938 didn’t have a yearbook, Mr. Holls used group shots and class photos instead.

Mr. Holls shares his digital yearbook, which he describes as a “labor of love,” for free via CDs. He doesn’t charge, he said, because the nostalgia brings joy into other people’s lives. He also understands that his creation could easily be duplicated. Now that the Pulaski Street years are complete, Mr. Holls said he’s plans to add the junior high school’s “memory books” from 1963 to 1969.

He also wants to add the Roanoke years to his collection. Mr. Holls said he’d rather research the earlier years because the hunt is more exciting when dealing with rarities.

“There are no yearbooks before 1939,” he said. “There’s a possibility they have group class photos. That’s the best they can hope for.”

For more information about the project, email Mr. Holls at [email protected]com.

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