Computer scientist, rocket scientist, woman who succeeded with no arms among newest in hall of Fame

            Six Taft Union High School alumni will be inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame on April 24.

            The honorees for the fourth annual induction are: George Gianopulos, the late Mountford “Monty” Reedy, John Silcox, the late Dr. Francis A. Sooy, Gilbert G. Weigand and Mary Simon Wilson. The recipients will be honored at a reception and their photographs and short bios will be permanently displayed in the high school’s entryway.


Gianopulos, who joins his older brother Pete in the school’s hall of fame, literally is a rocket scientist. This son of Greek immigrants spent 40 years working in rocketry, guided missiles and the unmanned space program. During the country’s bicentennial celebration, he was the Director of Mission Control for the nation’s first space shot to Mars. The first of two land rovers landed on Mars on July 4, 1976, to explore the surface of the red planet. Later, as Project Manager for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he led an effort to automate methods of intelligence gathering and analysis for the modern army battlefield. He managed a budget of $1 billion and was in charge of more than 3,000 engineers.


            Giannopoulos, from the class of 1945, was nominated by John Patterson and trustee Stan Barrett.


            Reedy, a star quarterback, helped the Wildcats beat the Bakersfield High Drillers and capture the school’s first Valley championship. He went on to be a star for the University of California, Berkeley Bears. He was an Army captain during World War II and later served as a park ranger at Lassen National Park. But he is best known for his decades at Taft High as a coach, teacher and administrator. He and his wife, Mary Jane, served on the faculty and promoted a golden era of Wildcat Pride for more than half a century, according to Joan Reedy of Bakersfield, who nominated him. Known as “Monty,” Reedy, from the class of 1931, was inducted into the Bob Elias Hall of Fame. The Monty Reedy baseball field is named in his honor.


            Silcox, son of Donald and Keith (Lee) Silcox, grew up in Taft and graduated from Taft High in 1944. His father ran Standard Oil’s chemical lab in Taft. John pursued a career as a geologist, earning his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California, Berkeley, then joined Chevron.  His career was filled with expanding responsibilities in a company renowned for its worldwide exploration and production of oil. Following management assignments in many western states, he was promoted to vice-president, exploration of western operations, his work centering on the development of oil in Alaska. From there, he was placed in charge of Chevron’s upstream activities in 30 different foreign countries. He managed the company’s affairs during the Sudanese Civil War in 1968. In 1984, he was named president of Chevron Overseas Petroleum Inc. In 1988, Chevron assigned him responsibility for leading its trade mission to Moscow where he helped create the American Trade Consortium with Russia. Today, Silcox represents Chevron as a director of the Afro-American Institute. 


He was nominated by Stan Barrett.


            Sooy was another Berkeley grad made good. He spent 50 years associated with the University of California. He graduated from Berkeley Phi Beta Kappa in 1933 and was in the top 10 percent of his medical school class at UCSF in 1941. He survived two years of combat service with the Navy during World War II. Immediately thereafter, he joined the clinical faculty of University of California-San Francisco. He became chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology (head and neck surgery) in 1967. The field is one of the most competitive specialties to enter for physicians. He created a fully balanced, wide-ranging program of education (Ph.D. program), full-time research laboratories, and clinical and diagnostic services. His quality of leadership continued to permeate his professional life, leading to his election as head of the statewide Academic Senate from 1969-70 and, in 1972, appointment as the Chancellor of UCSF from 1972-1982. Sooy modernized physical facilities, created a School of Dentistry, constructed a new hospital on campus and molded UCSF into a nationally recognized center for health-science research.


            Despite the diversity of his professional demands, he maintained both clinical and surgical practice in otolaryngology. He was fascinated with flying, constructing his own aircraft and he thrilled to the adventure of pushing machinery to its limits. Although Sooy often took recreational risks which caused friends and family to pause, he was well aware of margins of safety, and philosophical about it.   One such flight took his life in a private plane crash on September 12, 1986 in the town of Rio Vista.


The Sooy Lectureship is an endowed program in the Department of Otolaryngology that honors his memory. Sooy was nominated by Barrett.


            Weigand, class of 1968, earned his Ph.D. in research and development from Purdue University in 1978. He works in computer technology in Virginia. But he is perhaps most famous for serving as the deputy assistant secretary for strategic computing and simulation for the Department of Energy from 1996 to 1998. He worked on speeding the development of high-performance ultracomputers that broke the 1 trillion-calculations-per-second barrier. His job also entailed developing technologies for monitoring the aging of the country’s nuclear stockpile. Weigand received the inaugural James R. Schlesinger Award from Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman for conceiving and implementing the Department of Energy’s Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative. This accomplishment combined government programs and national laboratories to build the world’s best high-performance supercomputers used in all areas of science and engineering. Schlesinger, the nation’s first Energy Secretary, was present of the 2008 awards ceremony.


            Weigand was nominated by Pete Gianopulos


            Wilson, perhaps, has the most astonishing life story of the lot. Mary Simon (her maiden name) was born without arms. A birthing nurse believed she was better off dead and threw the baby against a wall, according to biographer and nominator Lee Sweeney Taylor of Acampo, CA. Mary survived and, with the assistance of Shriners, had several surgeries at a San Francisco hospital to correct the damage done by the nurse and to give her full use of the two limbs she had, her legs. Her parents moved to Taft and she graduated from TUHS in 1952. Taylor remembers the day she met her classmate in geometry. “I looked over to see Mary slough off her book bag, reach in with her feet, get paper and pencils and prepare for class. She looked over at me, introduced herself, then pulled out her knitting and started some work before the bell rang. Normal, vivacious, outgoing, always positive, there was nothing not to like about Mary Simon.”


            With her feet, she played xylophone, advanced to a marimba and excelled to the point where she needed advanced lessons twice a week in Los Angeles. She won a live television talent show and appeared for several years on another live TV show in Bakersfield, “Teen Age Kapers,” featuring teen musicians. She survived three bad marriages, successfully raised two boys and proved to state inspectors that she could run a child care home. Today she is happily married to Bakersfield attorney Dennis Wilson. “Mary is not famous, but just surviving and living a full life qualifies her to be recognized for what she has done,” Taylor wrote.           


            A public reception honoring the inductees will be held in the school’s main entryway at 5 p.m. April 24, followed by a dinner and induction ceremony hosted by the Board of Trustees at 6 p.m. at O.T. Cookhouse and Saloon. The dinner is expected to fill up fast. Tickets cost $25 and may be reserved by contacting the superintendent’s secretary Sheri Gregory at 763-2330 or sgregory@taft.k12.ca.us.


            The Board of Trustees, at the urging of trustee Stan Barrett, established the program in 2007 to honor outstanding alumni and to inspire current students to work toward similar accomplishments. A selection committee consisting of staff and alumni reviewed a large number of nominees and selected this year’s six inductees. They will join the original 10 from 2007, the four inductees from 2008, and the seven inductees from 2009. Their photographs and short bios adorn the entryway into the high school.