Exchange student from 1960s gives back to future Vale grads

Goetz Muhlhauser, center, graduated from Vale High School in 1961 while he was in America from Germany as a foreign exchange student. In this photo, Muhlhauser is celebrating his 70th birthday in Germany, with Vale classmates Max Buxton and Ray Hartley.

VALE — Nobody knew when Goetz Muhlhauser graduated from Vale High School as a foreign exchange student in 1961 that he would one day decide to come back and make an impact for future graduates.

The German man recently became a lifetime member of the Vale High School Alumni Association. Membership dues for the nonprofit group, which was incepted about seven years ago, benefit graduates of Vale High School in the form of scholarships to continue higher education. In fact, in seven years, the organization has contributed $53,800 to 72 graduates.

Muhlhauser attended the school as a senior in 1960-61, staying with the Seaquist family in Vale, according to Max Buxton, member of the alumni group.

Buxton and Muhlhauser graduated Vale High School together. The two, along with another classmate Ray Hartley forged a friendship that even the Atlantic Ocean couldn’t keep apart.

“The friendship has continued to grow and grow and grow,” Buxton said.

In fact, according to Buxton, after graduating from Vale, Muhlhauser returned about 10 years later for a class reunion, then continued to come back to the area multiple times. Some times Muhlhauser traveled back to the area alone and, eventually, he ended up bringing his family from Germany to eastern Oregon.

Throughout the years, Buxton and Hartley have also made the trip overseas to visit their friend. About 20 years ago they went with a group of about 26 people, comprising mainly former classmates and some of their significant others.

And Buxton recalled a humorous story about a trip taken to Germany to surprise their old classmate for one of his birthdays.

“Goetz’ wife and son contacted Ray and I and asked us to come over [to Germany] as a surprise for his seventieth birthday,” Buxton said. “We had the time of our life.”

Laughing at the memory, Buxton recalled how he and Hartley stopped on the way from the airport at a store to pick out some disguises, including wigs and coveralls. After answering the door and staring them down for about an uncomfortable minute, Buxton said Muhlhauser lowered his glasses and looked them in the eyes, exclaiming his surprise when he recognized them.

Buxton has also gone over to Germany to go skiing “with Goetz and his friends in the Austrian Alps.”

Buxton said he didn’t think skiing the Alps was more technical than skiing at Sun Valley, Idaho, adding that there was just a desire to keep going back.

“There’s just something magical about being there,” he said.

And there’s a pull that keeps people coming back to Vale, too. This includes Buxton who lives in the Boise area now. He said when friends ask him why he’s a member of the alumni group in a place he doesn’t even live any more, his response is simple.

“That’s my roots,” Buxton says.

Even before the Vale Alumni Association was formed, Muhlhauser talked with his friends about whether there was something like that around. Buxton said Muhlhauser has been a member of the association for several years now, but the German man made the point to become a lifetime member on his most recent trip, in which he returned a surprise visit to his friends. Buxton said Muhlhauser’s recent trip was made especially “as a surprise to Ray [Hartley],” who is struggling with health issues at this time.

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