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Memories of SSU

Charles H. Rhinehart

Professor of Education 1961-1993
A founder of COAAST (Californians Organized to Acquire Access to State Tidelands)
Co-composer of music and lyrics of SSU hymn (1962)

Chuck Rhinehart, a co-founder of Californians Organized to Acquire Access to State Tidelands (COAAST)

Chuck Rhinehart, a co-founder of Californians Organized to Acquire Access to State Tidelands (COAAST)

(From conversations with Dan Markwyn in October 1990, and Barbara Biebush and Lucy Kortum in May 2008)

            In 1960, I had been an Observation Teacher at San Francisco State’s Freddie Burke Demonstration School for four years. I had previously met George McCabe, director of Santa Rosa Center of San Francisco, and then met him when his family and my family were camping and fishing in Marble Mountains. I was interviewed and was offered a position to teach a summer outdoor education class at the Center. During that year, we met Amby Nichols, newly appointed president of the not yet established Sonoma State. He interviewed everyone at the Santa Rosa Center. All together, 22 faculty and staff members transferred to Sonoma State; all but one made that choice. The students, too, had a choice—where did they want their credits to go? Only one student chose SF State over Sonoma State.

            We were a small group, for years we had gatherings in individual homes. We also gathered for lunches on campus. Those were fairly exciting times because the whole faculty and staff would be there. One joint project of that time was creating a school hymn. I wrote the lyrics and music, Eugene Shepherd orchestrated it, and Red Thomas played it. Amby said, “It’s kind of traditional, isn’t it?” And I said, “Well, yeah, it’s a hymn, it’s supposed to be traditional.” It received student body approval and was performed at the first graduation and several other graduations. The carillon on campus now plays the hymn at 12:00 p.m. on Thursdays.

            Those were interesting and very exciting days. Not until 1966, when we moved into the current campus, did the core group from the Center set a mood for getting together and established themselves as a pretty liberal group. I was the first faculty to grow a beard. There were some, well, I have reluctance to call them difficulties, as a consequence of being a liberal group as we expanded. I always thought of it as a process.

            When the program offerings were small, George was the head of the Psychology Department and the Education Department combined. Then as we got bigger, there was a separate Psychology Department and Education Department. At SSC, I taught a math class, music for the classroom, social studies, language arts and outdoor education. Later, I taught Theory of Arithmetic out of the Math department, a GE class and other courses through the Education Department, including introducing the Cuisinaire math rods developed by Caleb Gatteno and based on the metric system.  I visited schools throughout Europe and Canada when it seemed a possibility that the U.S. might convert to metric, and emphasized metric in my math classes. I taught a music class using the Orff method, and a computer class for teachers, introducing Apple computers for classroom use.

            Many of our first students were people who had no credentials, but were teaching. Some already had formulated theirs ideas and strategies, and we tried to provide them with more information and knowledge. Later, we began getting freshman and our own students moving up and getting into the credential program. Some came up through the University and became our own faculty.

            In terms of our relationships with the community, I think the ideas of divisions are overblown. I can just say that they were really happy years, to have been here and grown with this University. I always knew I was going to be the only member of my family who went on to college, but I had not pictured spending my life as a college or university faculty member. I can’t think of a better thing I would have wanted to do, though when I was a kid, I was going to be a forest ranger.

            I also was able to become involved in issues that don’t have anything to do with the University at all. We formed COAAST—an acronym for Californians Organized to Acquire Access to State Tidelands. I always believed that the ocean was not something that you could just take away from people. At Sea Ranch and later Bodega Harbor, we didn’t always get as much access as we wanted, but they didn’t become entirely exclusive.

            I think that we—the University—have become a member of the community. I do have concern about the growth of this place, almost establishing a new city, not being concerned enough about water, water runoff, air pollution, toxic waste on our parking lots, hard top parking lots.  I think our greatest mission is to fit in and use the resources on a fair share of use and disposal, to grow in a really sensible way. A lot of people would say that we’re a nice industry to have, we’re clean and so on, but look at our use of water, a place to put our water and toxic wastes, and traffic. My desire would be that this University do nothing but mass transit. We could turn out to be a different kind of university.

            But, all in all, it’s been a happy time. I see students now—it’s wonderful, just wonderful, to meet students who remember you and the opportunities given to them by Sonoma State.       

Chuck Rhinehart died on October 26, 2008.