If there’s one event James “Mac” McPherson hates missing, it’s the annual alumni picnic at Santa Monica High School.

The 1955 alumnus always looks forward to bumping into old friends, reminiscing about old times and supporting his old stomping grounds.

And he’ll certainly be in attendance at this year’s edition Sept. 17, when he will receive the “Spirit of Samohi” award for his years of dedication to the high school.

“It really means a lot,” McPherson said of the honor in a recent phone interview. “I don’t work for plaques, but it means a lot to me.”

McPherson, 80, has supported Samohi throughout his adult life. He’s met with principals, raised money for a variety of programs and attended numerous sporting events, even serving as a volunteer assistant coach on the Vikings baseball team over the years.

His work with local youths has extended beyond the high school and into Santa Monica sports leagues, where he has mentored children in football and baseball throughout the last five decades.

McPherson recalled a time he ran into a player who had challenged his authority some 20 years earlier. The player thanked him for teaching him a lesson.

“I always wanted to be a coach,” the former football player said. “I like to teach. When I was teaching Little League, the fundamentals were very important. The big thing about me is, it’s not about the championships. Would kids come back and say how much they appreciate what I’ve done? That’s what drives me.”

McPherson has kept busy since graduating from Samohi more than 60 years ago. After high school he served in the U.S. Army for three years, sustaining a knee injury that kept him from playing football at a city college.

McPherson landed work in quality control for electronics, but he seized an opportunity to learn about painting when a previously arranged contractor failed to show up. That fateful scenario led to a long career for McPherson as a painting contractor, which took him from Mandeville Canyon to Manhattan Beach and beyond. And he has contributed his painting skills to beautification projects at Samohi.

McPherson still lives near the intersection of 21st Street and Delaware Avenue, his home neighborhood since he was 12 years old. He still rides his bicycle. And he still offers private Little League lessons.

He and his wife will celebrate 55 years of marriage next month, a milestone that might not have arrived without a little persistence on McPherson’s part. He remembered driving around town, seeing her on the street and pulling over to ask for her phone number, which she didn’t share. So he obtained her number through a church directory, got in touch and met her family before taking her out on a date. The rest, McPherson said, is history.

McPherson’s legacy at the high school lives on through his progeny. His children and grandchildren, including a current sophomore, have also called Samohi their scholastic home base. He’ll be surrounded by loved ones and friends at this year’s Samohi alumni picnic.

“My wife and I go every year,” he said. “It’s something I really look forward to.”