Memories of SSU
Professor of French Language & Literature, 1964-1998
Vice President, Academic Affairs, 1970-1974
Early SSU Reminiscences
On March 8, I accepted an associate professorship. It was a beautiful spring day, Waldo Rohnert’s seed fields north of “campus” were multicolored acres of zinnias as far as the eye to see. After my interview, I drove east to see where SSU was to be. Only the field house had been built; it rose like a Greek temple out of the plane (first things first!). Between the campus-to-be and embryonic Rohnert Park lay a densely brilliant, yellow expanse of wild mustard I have never forgotten.
I had expected to set up a French program ab ovo, which 40 years ago meant literature century by century strongly reinforced by history and culture. A call from Jim Enochs, the V.P., informed me that I would be hearing from a student, Robert de la Vergne, who wanted to begin his upper-division work, having exhausted SRJC. Of French descent, schooled in France, he spoke French fluently and already had a sound academic background. We met in July at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco to work out a curriculum for his degree. A superb student on all counts, he had no trouble earning his B.A. within the year, and SSC had its first graduate in French .
At my first faculty meeting we were perhaps 40 in the stock room of the future Sissa’s SuperMarket with folding chairs and tables and no windows. No one greeted us new faculty (among us: Frank Siroky, Sally Ewen, Peggy Donovan-Jeffry, Clem Falbo, Wes Ebert and Bud Gralapp). I sat down next to Peggy Donovan-Jeffry. We greeted each other, discreetly exchanged vitals, and from that moment became the fast friends we remain to this day. She, fresh from Stanford, and I from Mills College, wondered what in the world we’d gotten ourselves into.
We knew we had come to help make a new college, but had no notion what that would entail. Our academic experience was rooted in institutions deeply staid in their traditions and customs. Neither of us has ever regretted coming to SSU.
More students enrolled in French than I could handle alone. Jim Enochs told me to line up a part-timer for the overflow. Phone calls to colleagues elsewhere were of no avail. My first real problem: under no circumstance was I going to turn away a single French student. Then, it came to me that night, in the bathtub: Sally Ewen! We had met earlier at the faculty meeting. She had come to teach part-time in English, and was fluent in French besides. For Sally, language—any language—was a box of jewels: each word, each expression, to be held up to the light, as if it were a thing to be turned this way and that, so as to see its beauty from every vantage point. Sally Ewen was a very great teacher, as great as SSU has ever known. For several years, until she was needed full-time in English, and French needed a second full-timer, Sally Ewen guaranteed the success of the French program.
I knew well enough that I had been hired to set up the French major, but, given my previous experience, it did not occur to me that I was to come up with it all on my own. I wondered from time to time when a curriculum committee would come to discuss a French major with me. It was a surprise, then, when Jim Enochs called: “Toots, when are we going to have a French major around here?” I could do anything I wanted as long as it met requisite norms. And I did.
When I arrived at SSC, it had moved from Santa Rosa to Rohnert Park. Classrooms and faculty offices were housed in a group of skimpy two-room, two-story apartment buildings. My office was the bedroom and bath, and Wright Putney and Bud Gralapp, the art faculty, had their “studio” in the living room with a bachelor kitchen stuck up against one wall. Big men, they rumbled around like two immense, good-natured bears, wonderful about sharing with me their art and their coffee (“Yvette, come see this great new paint I’ve made with mayonnaise!”)
Bud was not only a successful artist, but a novelist as well, and Wright was a superb portraitist. His portraits of Amby Nichols, a posthumous one of Sue Jameson, early student body president, and of Red Thomas, among others—are masterpieces.
Fondest Memory Through the Years
My fondest memory of SSU is its happy egalitarianism where faculty, staff and administration worked and played unaffectedly together, side-by-side. We were united in our commitment to provide our students the best possible education, each offering his/her competence with a generous spirit. And we enjoyed our conviviality too. There were the lunches at the Washoe House, Friday afternoons at the Cotati Saloon, and later in Paul Juhl’s Rohnert Park apartment, where we gathered for well-watered potlucks. Eventually Larry Schlereth set us up with a University Club right on campus for easy gatherings.SSU is a special place, and I am convinced that its ingenuous egalitarianism is what makes it so.