Memories of SSU
Professor of English 1967-1997
Sonoma State Memories
Two of the first friends I made on campus in 1967 were Joe Lesch and Gonzalez Jones, both custodians. I taught evening classes and began taking my break with these two, who were as old as my father. That initiated for me a career-long affinity with various members of staff…Doy Mayfield, Bob Young, Jo Morahashi and Kathy Stuckey, among others. When the annual Faculty-Staff Picnic rolled around, I was quick to join the faculty’s tug-o’-war team, and its softball squad. When the picnic was abandoned the college lost much of its conviviality but gained a certain pompousness.
In 1968, I suggested to president Ambrose Nichols that SSC initiate an ethnic studies program before one was demanded; he fiddled with his pipe and asked how I would propose to go about that. I didn’t know how, but I said something like, “Can’t we just start offering courses using our current faculty, then build?” He said, “Let me run this by Jim [Enochs].”
A month later interested faculty were assembled by E.P.C. to discuss what was and wasn’t possible. Colleagues like Gary Sposito, Clem Falbo, Yvette Fallandy, John Palmer, and Francisco Gaona endorsed the idea to varying degrees, as did students such as L.E. Wagner, Sue Jameson and Jim Higgs, and the program was born.
After Amby [Nichols] left office, a formal presidential search was initiated by a faculty committee. During that period I received a call from my old professor S.I. Hayakawa asking that I join him for a breakfast meeting. I hadn’t heard from him since his ascent to the presidency at San Francisco State, so I was intrigued and agreed. When I arrived at his office, I walked in and was introduced to Glen Dumke. “This is the young man I told you about,” said Hayakawa. Over coffee and rolls the Chancellor quizzed me about this and that. Finally, he asked, “How would you like to be president at Sonoma State?” I had no such ambition, but I stammered something and he told me to send a C.V. to his office.
As I drove home that day, I grew agitated because the presidential-search process my colleagues at SSC were struggling with was being subverted. I reported to my wife what had occurred and she asked, “Don’t they know you?” They didn’t but she did. I hated meetings and am terminally disorganized. I also tend to resent any self-inflated authority. I sat down that evening and wrote Dumke a letter in place of the C.V. he’d requested. My central point was that at a time when we were struggling to convince students of the importance of rule of law, he was seeking to skirt established processes. No thanks.
I had been an athlete (of sorts) in college and was still running competitively when I was hired at SSU. Before long I found training partners such as Gene Schaumberg and Doug Rustad. One day Gene and I were looping the baseball diamond and surrounding greensward when, on the berm behind the backstop, we encountered a naked man sitting in a lotus position. We stopped and asked what he was doing. He said, “Photosynthesizing, man. My brother the sun will provide.” I responded, “Provide skin cancer.”
On another day we jogged by a pup-tent-size pyramid at the south end of the football field. The third or fourth time we passed it, a young man stood outside the pyramid and motioned for us to stop. When we did, he gravely informed us that a serious experiment in pyramid power was underway and we were disrupting it. “You sure it’s not triangle power?” we asked. He scowled and we laughed and continued to run.
On yet another run, where the soccer field now stands, it appeared that most of the student body was dancing, many stripped to the waist (or lower) while the Bronze Hog blasted music: a scene out of Brueghel. I recall, that the Bronze Hog often played for Friday’s noon dances in the quad at Stevenson, and that Brewster Ames, the oldest college student in America, did slow motion boogies with attractive young coeds.
Far more memorable, were memorial services of two of my closest friends, Sam Bullen and Lionel Williams. The last time I saw Sam, who had been my first office mate in 1967, was in front of Nichols Hall one morning a week or so before his suicide. We chatted and he seemed fine.
Lionel and I shared an office and we had great fun when students interested in Early Afro-American Literature, a course I taught, would enter, notice a black man, and immediately walk to his desk. Lionel, who specialized in Yeats and Irish Renaissance, would briefly listen, then nod toward me and say, “Ask the Okie.”
Of course, I miss many other colleagues, too, but the apotheosis of bittersweet occurred for me at the “farewell party” for the terminally ill Dorothy Overly. What could have been remorse was joyous because Dorothy was an inherently joyous person. For instance, she said that her weight loss was caused by her disease, “I’m a size ten now. I haven’t been that petite since puberty.” She also sang “Stars Fell on Alabama” to the accompaniment of Warren [Olsen] and Red [Thomas]. Dorothy understood how to live fully, but none of us could live quite as fully without her, and we haven’t.