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On to fame and fortune (and prison):
CHS alumni in the public spotlight

The futures of the 530 plus Claremont High School students who graduated on Thursday are wide open. Some know what path lies before them, with their sights set on a specific, longed-for destiny. Others may know what the very next step is—college, for example—but beyond this looms a big question mark. Still others, nearly one week post-commencement, are wondering “What now?”

Some alumni will deliberately choose their profession; others will stumble into it, a random and surprising mix of experiences paving the way. Some will keep a low profile during their lives; others will stand in the public spotlight in one way or another.

For the purposes of this article, the COURIER sleuthed out some of the spotlight-standers in the high school’s history, CHS alumni who have gained various levels of fame or infamy since they tossed their maroon graduation caps high in the air.

Celebrity Claremonters appear to fall into 2 main categories—entertainers and athletes—with a few other slants on fame mixed in. 

Among the professional athletes who attended or graduated from CHS is Justin Germano, currently a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. Young in his career, he already has several claims to fame, including being the first Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher to throw a pitch in China during an exhibition game (the ball that now resides in the Hall of Fame in New York); and, in local lore, he broke Mark McGwire’s Claremont Little League record for most home runs in a season. Known around town, Mr. McGwire, who spent his MLB career with the Oakland Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals and is currently the hitting coach for the Cardinals, attended nearby Damien High School.

Also in the line-up of CHS athletes turned pro are Alex Hinshaw, a pitcher for the San Diego Padres; Tony Beltran, a CHS 4-year varsity soccer player under Coach Fred Bruce-Olivier now playing Major League Soccer with Real Salt Lake; Mark McGwire’s brother, Dan McGwire, a 5-year National Football League (NFL) quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins in the 1990s (incidentally, at 6 feet, 8 inches, he is the tallest quarterback drafted to the NFL to date); current Seattle Seahawks tight end Cameron Morrah, who was quoted on the Seahawks’ website as having entered professional football because he wanted his grandmother, who has heart problems, to see him compete in the NFL: “It’s important for me to give her any kind of spark she can have for whatever time she has left,” Mr. Morrah said. And lastly (with grace requested if we have omitted someone), Dave Rice, currently the men’s head basketball coach at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Not on the field but on the stage or screen is an all-star cast of former CHS students now in the entertainment industry in some fashion. Among the more well-known celebs are highly-acclaimed singer-songwriter, record producer and film director Frank Zappa; the actress Jessica Alba, whose long list of credits include the TV series Dark Angel (for which she received a Golden Globe nomination) and the film Fantastic Four (and who appeared, bikini-clad, on the cover of Playboy in 2006, with the mega-magazine naming her among its 25 Sexiest Celebrities and as Sex Star of the Year); and, of course, singer-songwriter and musician Ben Harper, who performs around the world and owns the Claremont Folk Music Center.

Making the celebrity list not as well known by name, but perhaps by movie, is the duo known as the Hughes brothers—twins Albert and Allen Hughes. Film directors, producers and screenwriters, as teenagers they began working on music videos for rap artists such as Tone Loc and Tupac Shakur, and they have directed movies such as Menace II Society, From Hell and Dead Presidents.

Other entertainment industry professionals who once walked the CHS breezeways include Elliot Graham, a film editor whose work on the movie Milk was nominated for an Academy Award; Dileep Rao, an actor who has had starring roles in the films Drag Me to Hell, Avatar and Inception; singer and dancer Aundrea Fimbres, who found her fame as a cast member of the ABC/MTV reality television show Making the Band 3, which resulted in selection by Sean [Puff Daddy/P-Diddy] Combs for membership in the hit band “Danity Kane”; Anastasia Horne, a stage and television actress and singer whose most recent role was “Lori” on the MTV show Undressed; the Gunsmoke character Kathleen “Kitty” Russell, Amanda Blake, who was still “Beverly Neill” at her 1947 CHS graduation: and Martin Hewitt, Brooke Shields’ romantic partner, David Axelrod, in the 1981 film Endless Love.

Fame of a different kind—the murderous kind—has come to 2 CHS students. In 2009, Robert McGill, class of 1972, killed his wife, Shirley McGill, in their cruise ship cabin on his 55th birthday, by “strangulation and blunt force injury to the head and torso,” according to the San Diego County medical examiner’s office. Drunk at the time, according to the Huffington Post, Mr. McGill told FBI investigators that a scorpion in a bottle of Mezcal he halfway-downed (along with 7 or 8 beers) set him off.

Mr. McGill is the son of the late Robert McGill who taught English and Latin at CHS for more than 30 years, beginning at the Old School House on Indian Hill and Foothill Boulevards. News accounts state that the McGills were former high school sweethearts that reunited decades later, suggesting that Ms. McGill was also a CHS student, but the COURIER could not confirm this, though the Huffington Post stated, “They wed after reuniting shortly before their 30th high school reunion.” Mr. McGill was sentenced to life in prison last December.

Another outlandish and tragic spotlight illuminated Kristin Rossum for the 2000 murder-by-poison of her husband. Fentanyl, a powerful painkiller, was found in the body, and investigators found a large amount of the drug missing at Ms. Rossum’s job: she worked as a toxicologist at the county medical examiner’s office. Also, according to her Vons card history, she had purchased a single rose at a time coinciding with the murder. In 2002, she was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Ms. Rossum’s parents, Ralph and Constance Rossum, are professors in Claremont. 

On the other end of the spectrum—helping lives, not eliminating them—is CHS grad Peter Thum, a social venture entrepreneur, business executive and humanitarian who founded Ethos Water to raise awareness and funding for safe water, sanitation and hygiene education programs. The idea for Ethos Water was sparked while working in communities in South Africa that lacked access to clean water. In 2005, Starbucks purchased Ethos Water, and Mr. Thum then managed Ethos and other businesses as a vice president with Starbucks and as a director of the Starbucks Foundation until 2008. He continues to work in business and philanthropy, advising companies and nonprofits on social ventures and corporate social responsibility. 

CHS can also boast having educated Cameron Munter, a US diplomat and Foreign Service officer who most recently served as the American Ambassador to Pakistan. Mr. Munter has served other ambassadorships and worked in various political relations capacities in numerous countries, including Serbia, Iraq, the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany. Last month, he spoke at the Pomona College commencement ceremony.

Will the CHS class of 2012 lengthen the list of local celebrities? Lead quiet, contented lives? Flounder and flail or soar and succeed? Keep the COURIER posted, alumni, we’re rooting for you.

—Brenda Bolinger

brendabolinger@claremont-courier.com

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