Scottsdale High School Class of ‘79 greatest prank

In May ‘79, a group of Scottsdale High School Class of ‘79 seniors pulled off the “greatest prank in SHS history,” placing two Volkswagen car bodies atop the school.

It’s touted as the “best senior prank in Scottsdale High School history,” but exactly what happened on that late-May evening in 1979? 

“We kept it very secretive because we didn’t want to get busted,” said Steve Beck, who many of his former Scottsdale High School (SHS) Class of ‘79 classmates call the mastermind of the prank. 

The details are a bit blurry but as they plan for a 40th class reunion in October, there are three details the Class of ‘79 reunion committee and a handful of the pranksters could agree on:

Two Volkswagen car frames were hoisted to the top of the school’s auditorium and cafeteria in the middle of the night; the Hobo Joe’s restaurant dog statue was stolen and placed atop one of the cars; and two of their SHS classmates were arrested.

“I don’t think anybody’s ever topped it,” said Ellen Jacobs, Class of ’79 reunion committee member. “That was the biggest, craziest, frankly most insane prank, and people still talk about it.” 

And it all started with Beck, who recalled: 

“We knew we wanted to do a prank because back then senior pranks were a big deal and everybody tried to outdo the class before them. So, we needed to do something good.”

Beck obtained two Volkswagen car bodies free of charge through friends of his dad and kept them at his parents’ home for a week.

“My mom, she knew better than to ask what they were for,” he said.

The group of about 40 guys settled on the precise day and time the prank would take place.

“The whole thing was very well organized and orchestrated,” Beck said. 

The group of guys either rode their bikes or drove to the school that night, gathering in the courtyard around 1 a.m. with all the necessary supplies: ropes and long, wooden ladders they used as ramps to slide the car bodies up to the roof.

“We stacked picnic tables into pyramids and then used Mike O’Brien’s self-made ladders to climb onto the roofs,” Beck recalled.

 “We had guys below lifting and guiding the cars — flipped on their roofs — while more guys on the roof pulled with ropes attached to multiple points on the car for stability.”

One students Gary Hamann, lost his balance and came close to falling off the roof.

“But [he] was able to jump to a nearby landing, rather than falling to the concrete,” Beck said. 

All the while, fellow classmate Tim Warren took photos — photos he still has to this day — documenting the occasion.

“I wasn’t part of the brain trust that put that together, but I was there the night that we put it up there, and I was taking pictures of us while we were doing it,” he said.

According to Dave Hutchens, one of the seniors there that night, it took about an hour to get both cars up on the roofs.

But the prank wasn’t complete without the Hobo Joe’s dog statue.

Hobo Joe’s was a popular coffee shop chain at the time with locations throughout the Valley, including one in downtown Scottsdale just down the street from where Scottsdale High School once stood.

“The whole Hobo Joe thing was the result of a drunken rogue individual who I presume thought we needed decoration for the cars,” Beck said. “A few of us know who did it but won’t reveal his identity other than he has spent his career as a public school educator and administrator.”

Though the guys were careful to avoid damaging school property, the dog ended up on top of the car body atop the cafeteria.

“Surprisingly, only a few individuals had been drinking because we were serious about our goal. We wanted to be successful and have bragging rights to the best senior prank in local history,” Beck said, adding:

 “Back in those days, senior pranks were a very common practice and pride was taken in ‘outdoing’ other classes and schools.”

The car atop the cafeteria may have had a prop, but the other car on the auditorium had its own identifier: the name “Evelyn” spray-painted on the side.

Evelyn was the name of the school’s principal at the time, Evelyn Caskey, who passed away in October 2018.

“When I went up to get my diploma at graduation, she smiled and said, ‘Did you have anything to do with those cars?’ I just grinned and didn’t say a word,” Beck said. “She was a great lady and well-liked.”

The guys may have successfully completed their mission, but the night wouldn’t end without two arrests.

“I remember hearing, ‘Scottsdale Police! Freeze!’” Hutchens recalled. 

Hutchens gave Beck a ride to the school that night, and his car was parked on the other side of the school. They — and fellow, late classmate Bill Foley — were separated from the group.

“I was fearful. I didn’t know what to do. I was not a hardened criminal by any means,” Hutchens said.

But Beck took off running. 

“I just thought, ‘I’m 18 years old; I’m fit. This guy is a cop with full garb. There’s no way I cannot outrun him,’” Beck said.

As Beck fled, Hutchens and Foley were arrested and charged with trespassing and curfew violation.

“I was in jail until probably 9 or 10 in the morning before I got home. They put us in the cell together and [Foley] was telling me not to talk to the police and don’t talk about the crime because all of the jail cells were tape-recorded and he knows this from experience,” Hutchens said. “It was all comical, really.”

Hutchens attended his classes the next day in the same clothing he was arrested in.

The day after the prank, Warren said, “Everybody got a good chuckle out of it. I don’t think my dad to this day knows that I was involved.”

The Progress ran a photo of some of the guys involved in the prank pointing up at the VW on top of the cafeteria.

“That was my favorite part of the picture, on the bottom [of the caption] where it says, ‘School officials said they have not figured out how to get the car down.’ That makes me laugh,” Jacobs said.

According to Beck, it took the school a few days to get the cars down with a crane, a maneuver that he believes cost the school several hundred dollars.

Before the cars were removed, however, Beck ran up one last time to grab the dog.

“I put it in my car, and I still have it,” he said. “My wife and I have been married for almost 30 years, and everywhere we move, it goes with us.”

Teachers, parents and students alike got a kick out of the prank.

“They were amazed it was up there,” said Kathy Shupe, reunion committee member. “The girls never really knew who did it for years.”

Though everyone calls Beck the mastermind, he won’t take all the credit. 

“There were a lot of people involved,” he said. “It was definitely a group effort.”

Beck is now a pediatric anesthesiologist — much to his former classmates’ surprise.

“He is the least person I would ever have suspected to be a doctor,” Warren said. “He was like the class clown.”

“Yeah, it was funny at the 10-year reunion; there were a lot of pretty shocked people,” Beck added. “No one had any idea that I was actually a pretty decent student. I just didn’t fit the stereotype for it and they probably thought I’d be in jail or something.”

Two years after he was arrested, Hutchens was hired by Tempe Police. 

Hutchens was a cop for 25 years and then worked with the city for 11 years doing pre-employment background investigations. 

Hutchens retired in April. 

“That is so funny,” Beck said. “There used to be show on back [then] called ‘Scared Straight!’ It was about teenage kids who would go into prison, and the prisoners would talk to them and just scare the crap out of them. So, it was the joke after Dave got caught and ended up being a cop. We’d say, ‘Oh, you got scared straight, huh?’”

As a nod to the prank still talked about to this day by the senior class, the 1979 graduating class’ 40-year reunion held in October will be ’70s themed.

In addition to an evening of drinks and dinner, the Class of ‘79 will host a raffle and donate the money raised to the Scottsdale Historical Society. 

“We’re kind of homeless,” Shupe said. “Our school has been gone since 1984, and [the Little Red Schoolhouse] has a lot of Scottsdale High stuff in there.” 

They accepted the Class of 1978’s challenge to raise money for the Historical Society. 

“We want to keep passing the box forward,” Shupe said.

The 40-year reunion takes place Oct. 26 at the Old Town Tortilla Factory, and tickets cost $85 each.

This is Beck’s first time as a reunion committee member.

“I think about the people that I hung out with in high school and some of the guys that I’d cause trouble with every weekend, [and] I think with every reunion you realize how important really true friendships are,” Beck added.

The night before, the committee is also hosting a get-together at Gilligan’s, which is owned by Class of ‘79 alumni and reunion committee member, Greg Fields.

“If you graduated in ‘79 and went to school with us, we want you there,” Jacobs said.

Information: shs1979reunion.com or email Jacobs at elj037@aol.com.