This year, St. Mary’s High School celebrates its 100th anniversary. The first and oldest Catholic high school in the state, the downtown Phoenix institution was founded in 1917, just five years after Arizona attained statehood. The school opened with 17 students, five boys and two girls. As an integral part of Phoenix, St. Mary’s and the city have grown alongside each other.
The school has transitioned from its beginnings as a coeducational institution to separate boys’ and girls’ schools and then in 1958, back to co-educational. Its first coeducational school campus was located on Polk Street, and in 1989 the campus was moved to its present location on Third Street. In 2007, the school completed the Virginia Piper building, which houses fine arts classrooms, computer labs and the 275 Wiegand Auditorium.
St. Mary’s attracts a diverse population of students from every corner of the Valley. Students represent more than 90 feeder schools, including public, charter and Catholic schools, and this year’s enrollment is in excess of 540 students.
In the fall of 1996, the incoming freshman class included Beth Wischer and Peter Wand. Beth was from Paradise Valley; Peter, from Buckeye. During their first three years of high school, they were seated alphabetically; his was always the desk directly behind hers.
The pair shared common interests. They were both athletes; Beth was on the tennis team, and Peter played baseball. They were both members of student council.
She found him annoying.
“I always had to study,” says Beth. “He never seemed to study, and he always aced the tests.”
His test-taking ability didn’t go unnoticed by his teachers either. “They actually made him take his tests in the hall for a while, thinking he was cheating,” Beth says. “But he still aced them.
“Some of us came for athletics and scholastics,” Peter laughs. “I came for sports.”
By the second week of their senior year, they started dating. They both went to the University of Arizona, and after graduation in 2005, they married. They moved to Washington D.C. when Peter was accepted to Georgetown for law school. Beth worked in database marketing in Washington and continued with the company when they moved back to the Valley in 2007.
Peter started with Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie that year and is celebrating his 10th anniversary with the firm. Beth keeps busy as the director of operations at Sunland Water Company in southern Arizona and with her budding content-marketing business, BW Concepts. They have two children, Baylor, 7, and Augustus (Auggie), 4, who attend St. Theresa Catholic School.
Upon their return to Phoenix, the Wands began to give back to their alma mater. Peter has served on the St. Mary’s advisory board for two years, and Beth will be co-chairing the 100th Anniversary Gala with her friend, Barbara Bandura, whose children attend St. Theresa with the Wand children. Bandura is first vice president at MidFirst Bank.
Wand and Bandura began their efforts for the 100th Anniversary Celebration in August 2016. While Bandura didn’t attend St. Mary’s, many of their committee members did. Natalie Caperon, class of ’96 and parent of a current student, has stepped up to create the décor for the evening. The silent auction is co-chaired by Ali Crickmore, who Beth’s sister and a member of the class of ’99, and Elizabeth “Liz” Zeig, class of 2000. Alumni have contributed auction items and sought sponsorships.
A Roaring ’20s Great Gatsby theme will set the tone 100th Anniversary Centennial Gala on Oct. 21 at the Sheraton Grand Phoenix. The co-chairs’ goal is for a productive fundraiser that is a fun event, a true celebration. “Let’s celebrate the last 100 years while we prepare for the next,” Beth says.
The evening will include silent and live auctions, cocktails, dinner and big brass band The Lucky Devils. Funds raised from the evening will be directed toward remodeling and updating the chapel, supporting the academic program by remodeling classrooms to be more conducive to discussion-type teaching and expanding the campus to build a new athletic center.
PHOTOS COURTESY ST. MARY’S HIGH SCHOOL