Through the decades……Saddleback celebrates 40 years of excellence

MaryAnne Shults

While walking on Saddleback College campus today, one doesn’t think twice about seeing a student wearing flip-flops or sporting skin covered with tattoos. This is because today’s student enjoys those personal style choices. However, in 1968, those same students may not have even been admitted because their appearance was not socially acceptable for a college student.

This year, the college will celebrate its 40th anniversary. The kick-off began Monday at the South Orange County Community College District Board of Trustees meeting with a video presentation highlighting a historical account of the college, with photos and footage throughout the years. On Tuesday afternoon, the scene around the Student Services Quad went retro as the community had the opportunity to compete in a Saddleback trivia game show while enjoying music, games, prizes and a barbecue, as well as the chance to dig out those late 60s-era fashions for the prize of best dressed.

Upcoming events include the 40th Anniversary Homecoming Game Oct. 4 at 6 p.m., and a Foundation Gala on Nov. 1, from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. at the Mission Viejo Country Club.

Governor Ronald Reagan assisted in the dedication of the college on the first day of classes for the 1,300 students registered to begin the fall term on Oct. 15, 1968. The ceremony drew more than 1,000 members of the local community.

“We are here to dedicate something more than just another college. We are here to dedicate an institution of opportunity and fulfillment,” Governor Reagan said during the dedication.The concepts of the college’s beginnings were spawned as part of the development of the planned community of Mission Viejo.

In Feb. 1967, voters approved the formation of Saddleback Junior College District, elected a board of trustees, and a site was chosen. Saddleback Community College was officially named on Feb. 26, 1968. In June of that year, the board approved the Gaucho as Saddleback’s mascot, and school colors as cardinal and gold.

On Sept. 23, 1968, President Fred H. Bremer and a faculty of 32 members welcomed new students to the 11-building interim campus located off Crown Valley Parkway where Mission Hospital stands today.

Physics instructor Bob Parsons has been teaching since the beginning. After receiving his master’s degree in physics from the University of California, Long Beach, Parsons began as a physical science instructor at Saddleback in 1968.

Back in the day, Parsons was a prankster.

“The biggest scam I pulled was when we were on the lower campus. The power would go off, but I knew where the power switch was and I needed power in physics. So, I would turn off the power in the administration building and turn it back on in the physics building,” Parsons said. “Ultimately, they caught me and said ‘you can’t be doing that’, but I thought my priorities were appropriate.”

The early administration took their dress policy seriously.

“There was a strict dress code in those days, almost as if it were a parochial school,” said Saddleback alumnus John Williams, current vice president of the SOCCCD Board of Trustees. “It covered everything from how to dress to the length of your hair.”

During the first years after the college was established, student Lindahl King and two other male students were not allowed to register or attend class because their hair didn’t meet the dress code that stated, “Hair which falls below the eyebrows, covers all or part of the ear or hangs entirely over the collar of a dress shirt.”

The students filed a lawsuit against the college. On Jan. 6, 1970, the District Court issued a preliminary injunction preventing the administration from keeping the students away.

The Saddleback Junior College District filed an appeal in April 1970 with U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, where the preliminary injunctions were reversed. Documents from the case show that King and the other students “are not required to cut their hair. They may comply with the regulation as long as they avoid ‘hair which falls below the eyebrows, covers all or part of the ear or hangs entirely over the collar of a dress shirt.’ This presumably may be accomplished by such means as hair styling or wearing of head bands.”

In 1970, the new 200-acre permanent site for Saddleback College was dedicated on Marguerite Parkway.  The district’s name was changed to Saddleback Community College District.In 1971, the institution received accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

That same year, a young football player and track star named John Williams proudly accepted his diploma and an associate’s degree in social sciences. Williams has been on the Board of Trustees since 1992.

Williams moved to Mission Viejo in 1969 when his brother David, a receiver for the St. Louis Cardinals, purchased a home and needed a caretaker while he was on the road. He registered for classes at Saddleback, competing in both football and track.

“It was fun in those days and I liked the small class sizes,” Williams said. “During the construction of the lower campus, we watched as the portable buildings were brought in on trailers. In the fall of 1969, the sidewalks had not been poured and when it would rain, they would lay down planks to walk on.”

Across the Pacific Ocean, the focus for Americans was the Vietnam War.

“If you didn’t go to college, you could get drafted,” Williams said.

However, in December 1969, the draft lottery was reinstated. It didn’t matter if an individual were in college or not.

Political activism was prominent on campus, both negative and positive.

“Every day at 8 a.m. the campus had their flag salute,” Williams said. “The national anthem played and students had to stop what they were doing.”

Williams said the student government tried to organize a war protest, and didn’t want the track team to get on the team bus. Another time, a rumor was flying around that some “hippies” were going to come to Saddleback to steal the American flag, so some of the football players stood around and guarded it. The “hippies” never showed.

“Many of the students were veterans,” Williams said. “There was a large military presence at Saddleback. Most were on the GI Bill and were Marines stationed at either Camp Pendleton or El Toro Marine Base.”

The college has many notable alumni and past attendees including artists, actors, musicians, and even the 1984 Playboy Playmate of the Year, Barbara Edwards. Sadly, one former student lost his life while serving his country in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004.

Tran Quoc Binh graduated from Mission Viejo High School in 1994, and then attended Saddleback to study mechanical engineering. After serving in the U.S. Army, he joined the California Army National Guard. On Nov. 7, 2004, he died when an improvised explosive device exploded near his vehicle while conducting convoy operations. A few days later, Governor Schwarzenegger issued a state decree that the California Capitol flags were to be flown at half-mast in Binh’s honor. He was first the Vietnamese-American killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom that year.

The list of professional athletes who attended Saddleback is long. Washington Redskins quarterback Colt Brennan moved on to the University of Hawaii after leading the Gauchos to a conference championship in 2004.

As a high school dropout, Denver Nuggets point guard Anthony Carter was discovered in 1994 on a neighborhood basketball court in Atlanta and recruited by Saddleback’s basketball coach Bill Brummel. Convinced that Carter and the college would both benefit, Brummel persuaded Carter that he could come and play for Saddleback while earning his GED. He went on to score the most points of any California junior college players in 1995 and 96.

“This was my second chance,” Carter later told the Denver Post. “I took full advantage of it.”

The college’s Alumni of the Year of 2007, Tim Wallach, played third base from 1980 to 86 for the Montreal Expos, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Anaheim Angels. Wallach attended Saddleback from 1976 to 77.

Actress Lynn Holly Johnson was nominated for a Golden Globe award in 1980 for her lead role in 1978’s “Ice Castles” and went on to play roles in both movie and television until the mid 90s. She was a nursing major at Saddleback from 1990 to 94, and maintained a remarkable 3.7 GPA while continuing her acting career.

Since it’s beginning in 1968, enrollment has grown exponentially. What was once a brush-covered hillside on a ranch in Mission Viejo is now a 122-acre community college that this fall welcomed nearly 25,000 students this fall.

“People constantly try to get me to say that students are not as good, but I don’t buy that,” Parsons said. “They are pretty much the same, except there’s not dress code and everybody’s got a cell phone in their ear.”

The high-necked, ruffled, long-sleeved shirts worn with the sweeping mini-skirts, sports jackets and shiny dress shoes of 1968 have now been replaced with tank tops, board shorts and flip-flops. Other than that, students at Saddleback are still the same; all seeking a quality community college education and experience.

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