Westmont Magazine Westmont When
By Jerry Gill ’56
Over the past couple of years, I have been reading the Westmont magazine rather regularly and I have been struck by two things. First, it is amazing to me what a really fine college my alma mater has become. I have occasion to visit the campus twice a year and these visits strongly confirm this impression. Second, I am both surprised and disappointed to see how few alumni from before the 1960s provide updates about themselves, and how little information there is about “those good old days” when the college was young. So I thought I would offer a few memories to fill in this gap.
I attended Westmont in the early 1950s when student enrollment was around 300 and the faculty must have numbered about two dozen. Westmont had only recently moved its campus to Montecito from the Los Angeles area and accreditation was still several years away. Nearly all activities were held in Kerrwood Hall, which, along with the front circle area, looked almost exactly the same as it does today.
The academic life in those days was, of course, far more limited than it is today. Only three or four professors held doctorate degrees, and those were mostly in theology. All the classrooms, except for those for chemistry and astronomy, were in Kerrwood Hall, as were all the faculty and administrative offices. The library was housed where the business office is today, and the dean’s office was where the current restrooms are near the entrance to Kerrwood. Chapel was held in what is now Hieronymus Lounge until the porch facing the formal garden area was enclosed to make a large classroom and chapel space. Today the admissions office occupies this area.
Dr. Roger Voskuyl was president and the most respected professor was Dr. Kenneth Monroe. Willard Harley was both professor of psychology and registrar, and the faculty included Lucy Campbell in education, Ken Richardson in English, Frank Hieronymus in history, John Hubbard in music, and Drs. Howard Cleveland and Ed Bouslough in religion. Although the faculty was capable enough, there were no publishing scholars as there are today, and the intellectual climate was far from energetic.
Most students majored in education and went on to be teachers, principals and even school superintendents in the Santa Barbara school system. Outstanding graduates, such as Dwight Anderson ’52 and Russ Carr ’56, are prime examples of the high quality of the education program in the early days. A few graduates, like me, Jim DeSaegher and Barbara Howard, became college professors, while others, such as Johnny Crew and Tommy Fisher, became doctors and dentists. Many graduates went on to be ministers and missionaries.
Student life was very different from what it is today. Estate homes were used for dormitories, including Emerson Hall, which housed the women students and was located a couple of miles from campus, and various small-frame buildings and wartime quonset huts housed the men. The dining hall was located where the registrar is today, and all the upstairs offices in Kerrwood were classrooms. The formal gardens were much the same as they are today, but there were none of the fine buildings that grace the present campus and serve students so well.
The president’s office is still in the exact same place. I remember it well because one evening, while we were waiting in line for supper in the hallway outside of this office, I decided to slide down the banister of the main staircase. Just as I flew off the rail at the bottom of the staircase, Dr. Voskuyl came out of his office and narrowly escaped being knocked down flat by this overly rambunctious freshman. His only comment was “We’ll have none of that rah-rah stuff around here, young man!” I doubt that more recent presidents have had to worry about such dangers.
Student social life was rather limited. Aside from the home basketball games, which were played downtown in the local armory, there was not much to do. Sometimes there were local church get-togethers and various student clubs sponsored occasional banquets and presentations. The college choir and men’s quartet frequently performed on campus or in the area and these events were well received. Sometimes a group of students drove down to a restaurant on the highway, or climbed up to the forbidden tea garden on the hillside.
In those days, student social life was seriously restricted. We all signed a pledge that we would not dance, drink, smoke, gamble, or go to the movies. Also, very few students had cars. So we studied a lot and played innocent card games like Fish and Pit. It all sounds very boring, but we did not seem to run out of things to do. A good deal of my own social life centered around the home of Rathburn and Peggy Shelton, which was actually located on campus. Rath was then the public relations and alumni director, as well as the baseball coach, and his home was often full of students. I used to baby-sit the Shelton’s sons, Ron, Dave, Steve, and Jeff, all of whom eventually went to Westmont.
One of the most common (now most embarrassing) social activities was the Gospel Bomb Rolling Party. Whenever the basketball team, choir, or men’s quartet was about to go on a road trip, students rolled up tracts in colored cellophane paper for the traveling students to throw to people on the street from the windows of their cars and vans.
Other ways of engaging in Christian witness included singing and preaching at the jail on Sunday mornings, conducting services and doing counseling at Juvenile Hall, and teaching Sunday School at various local churches. A number of students worked in Young Life Clubs in the area high schools.
In fact, a great many Westmont students, then as now, were themselves products of the Young Life programs throughout Southern California. Some of us were even given preaching responsibilities in small, local Bible churches.
By far the most important dimension of my own Westmont experience was the athletic program. These were the days before soccer, any women’s sports, and such things as tennis, golf, and swimming teams. We had a basketball team that was better than it should have been because of the presence of three or four outstanding players, such as Dwight Anderson, Johnny Crew, and Tine Hardeman. One year Crew averaged 26 points a game and we played the likes of Occidental, Long Beach State, and UCSB. In 1955-56 the team went 21 and 9 because of such outstanding players as George Terzian, Chuck Smith, and Dan Heinrichs.
Most of us on the basketball team, however, had not been able to make our high school teams, so all we could contribute was hustle and teamwork. Whenever we played UCSB their band would break out into “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In” because they regarded us as a bunch of Bible-toters. It was only after that 1955-56 season that Westmont became a real force in Southern California basketball. The coach in those early years was Jack Siemens, a wonderful coach and father-figure for many of us. We made a couple of trips to the Pacific Northwest and got beat by some of the best teams up there, like Lewis and Clark, the University of Portland, and College of Idaho.
The baseball team was pretty rag-tag, with only a few men who really knew how to play the game well, such as Dwight Anderson and Tommy Fisher. By far the best was Russ Carr, who later became a national standout as a soccer coach. My great friend Russ had never played any soccer at all when he was hired to be the Westmont coach in 1966. He had been teaching in Germany and England, and he wore a Tam O’Shanter cap, so everyone figured he knew a lot about soccer. What he knew was sports and how to coach players.
The track and field team was also not much to brag about, though Ed Hayes and I managed to win the hurdles and long jump, respectively, pretty regularly. In 1956 I was lucky enough to be asked to coach the team, and to everyone’s surprise, we won the Southern California Small College Championship meet at California Polytechnic in San Dimas. Here again the big turn-around came that year because of an influx of outstanding athletes. Chuck Smith in the weights, George Terzian in the high jump, Tim Spencer pole vaulted over 13’6″, and Jerry Varnell ran the quarter mile in 49 seconds. Other contributing team members were Bill Shrode in the hurdles, Mel Hughes in the sprints, Royce Cox and Kenny Paul in the distances, and the Carpenter brothers Wayne and Blaine in the javelin.
In those days we had to practice and play basketball games at the downtown Armory, play baseball at Laguna Field down by East Beach, and run track at the La Playa field near the Mesa. Our equipment was not much to speak of, either. The maroon colors of our uniforms often faded into the white, and there were a limited number of balls, bats, sneakers and towels. Our athletic scholarships consisted of extra milks at dinner and bag lunches on road trips. Nevertheless, we always found a way to be competitive and to enjoy the privilege of playing for Westmont.
Westmont has come a long way from its early days in the 1950s. It really has been a rags-to-riches story. In our day it was never really clear whether the college would be able to survive the years ahead, and many things were held together with baling wire, a lot of attention, and even more faith.
When I reflect on the incredible obstacles and hard times that those who believed in Westmont’s future endured, I am greatly humbled. And when I consider what the college has become today because of the sacrifices and investments of so many teachers, administrators and supporters, I am extremely grateful and proud.
In my own thought and years of service as a college professor I have, to be sure, come to alter some of the teachings and practices I learned at Westmont, even as the college itself has undergone significant changes. However, the degree of commitment to Christ and the service of others that came to indwell me in the years I spent on campus have not and will not change. The lives and faith of my professors and classmates will continue to serve as a reminder of how much can come from small and seemingly insignificant beginnings.
At the close of every major function we used to sing what was then the college’s official anthem, the hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” For Westmont, the words of this hymn continue to be true.
A retired philosophy professor, Jerry Gill works with Borderlinks, an off-campus program based in Texas.