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Burlingame’s class of 1949
August 19, 2013, 05:00 AM By Sue Lempert

In those post-World War II years, 93 percent of the students at Burlingame High School were college prep. In the 1949 class of 320, for example, 27 were admitted to Stanford and 27 to UC Berkeley.

Four of those ’49 graduates have remained close friends even though they have pursued different but rewarding careers. Mary Massey, Barbara Rosberg and Win Griffith, lived within eight blocks of each other, attended McKinley Elementary School and then Burlingame High School where they were joined by Peter Grothe.

Rosberg’s father, Carl, immigrated from Sweden in 1898 when he was 25. He started Peninsula Auto Rebuild in San Mateo in 1928. The building still stands on San Mateo Drive. After World War II, he and a friend started Town and Country builders of custom homes. Mary Massey’s father was a newspaper man and managing editor of the San Francisco News. San Francisco enjoyed four newspapers in those years — two morning papers, the Chronicle and the Examiner; and two afternoon papers, the News and the Call-Bulletin. When the News folded along with most afternoon dailies, he became editor of newspapers in the Richland, Hanford area of Washington state.

Meanwhile, his daughter Mary Massey followed in his career footsteps. She worked for a variety of local papers including the Palo Alto Times, the Times-Tribune and the San Francisco Chronicle. One of her articles was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Her friend Barbara Rosberg took a different path. She started off as a corporate home economist, then taught home economics in East Bay schools for 32 years. When she retired she became a U.S. customs agent. Today, she runs an antiques and collectibles business.

Win Griffiths became a journalist, wrote several books including “Humphrey: A Candid Biography” and articles for the New York Times magazine but spent a good part of his career as a political press aide. His bosses included U.S. senator and vice president Hubert Humphrey an unsuccessful candidate for U.S. president) and California’s Superintendent of Instruction Wilson Riles.

In college, Peter Grothe was a stringer for the Chronicle’s green pages. He wrote “Great Moments in Stanford Sports” while at the same time finishing a doctorate in political science. He served as a foreign relations adviser to Sen. Humphrey. At Humphrey’s request, Grothe drafted the bill that created a program which ultimately became known as the Peace Corps under President John F. Kennedy. Grothe was among the first group to serve in Ethiopia. After leaving the Peace Corps, Grothe taught at San Jose State University, Odense University in Denmark and the State University of New York, Stony Brook. In recent years, he was an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of International Policy Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. In addition to teaching and mentoring, he financially helped 145 international and minority students pursue their education. Grothe died last year but the other three are still in touch and frequently share fond memories of their high school years.


There’s a place for peaceful reflection away from busy Burlingame’s bustle just below but on the Kohl Mansion’s 40-acre estate. While Mercy High School, occasional weddings and Music at Kohl Mansion locate at the historic mansion, two dozen members of the Sisters of Mercy live at Mercy Center. This is a quiet place on beautiful grounds even though it also serves as a conference center and hosts groups from around the world. Its location near SFO and reasonable rates have attracted conferences from Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the Philippines. The rate is $125 a night for modest accommodations (shared bathroom) but also includes meals and access to the center’s meeting rooms.


A popular event, open to the public, is Taize which originated in a French village and has spread throughout the world. At Mercy Center, Taize is celebrated the first Friday of every month in a candlelit chapel. The service includes quiet chants, prayers and other musical offerings.


Charles Frederick Kohl (Freddie) built the existing mansion of 53 rooms for his second wife. Before that, he lived with his family in a 40-acre estate in central San Mateo, now the site of Central Park. Freddie was the ultimate playboy and spent his time fox hunting and polo playing when he was not hosting and attending parties. After his wife left him, he moved to San Francisco and hired caretakers for The Oaks, as the mansion was called. In 1924, the Oaks was sold to the Sisters of Mercy, where it remains one of Burlingame’s finest pieces of real estate but no longer home to wild parties.

Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at



Tags: grothe, school, mercy, years, mateo, mansion,

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