|September 29, 2005
Mike Stepanovich, 661/654-2456, firstname.lastname@example.org,
or Jaclyn Loveless, 661/654-2138, email@example.com
Homer Montalvo leaned back in his chair at California State University, Bakersfield, to reminisce and the memories came flooding back – retired colleagues, good times, tough times, funny times.
Soon he’ll be part of that legacy; he’s retiring from CSUB on Oct. 14 after more than 35 years as an administrator.
He didn’t have the cheery, spacious office that he now has when he started back in July 1970, one of the first administrators hired at what was then a fledgling campus. Heck, it wasn’t even a campus then; it was still under construction.
“George Hibbard was hired first, then Dick Swank then me,” he said wistfully. “Back then we were in an office at Third Street and Chester Avenue. President (Paul) Romberg was in an office on California Avenue east of Chester, before you got to Union Avenue.
“One day Paul called and said, ‘Let’s go look at the site.’ I hadn’t been to the campus yet, and driving out here there was nothing here. He said to me, ‘Can you just see it?’ He was speaking of his vision, but I kind of shocked him because I took him literally and said, ‘Where is it?’”
Montalvo hasn’t had any trouble finding the campus since then – he’s been one of the constants at the university as it sprouted, then grew to maturity. As the associate vice president of admissions and records he has seen thousands of students come and go, and many of his colleagues – Swank and Hibbard among them – retire or move on to other jobs. Now it’s his turn, and he’s looking forward to it.
“We’re going to stay in town,” he said. “My wife is involved at the Guild House downtown. Our kids are here. I’ll probably do some consulting, and we’ll do some traveling. My wife is ready for that!
“My only regret about leaving is that I have a great staff, a really great staff. But I have to face up to the fact that I can’t be here forever.
They’ll be just fine.”
That Montalvo plans to stay in Bakersfield should come as no surprise:
he’s spent most of his life in Kern County. He grew up in Delano and graduated from Delano High School before attending Bakersfield College.
After a year at BC, he enlisted in the Air Force, became an officer and went through pilot training where he learned to fly jet aircraft. After three years of active service he returned to BC to finish his studies there before transferring to CSU Fresno where he earned a bachelor’s degree and his teaching credential in 1960.
Following graduation, he took a job teaching fifth grade in Porterville for three years, then broadened his classroom and administrative experience at other schools in the Valley. “I even drove the bus sometimes,” he said.
Montalvo was a school principal and district superintendent when he got the call from Romberg. He had met and worked with both Romberg and Hibbard when he served on a community advisory committee. During the late 1960s, intense political activism and found its way even onto elementary school campuses, as farm-workers organizers, idealistic young teachers and community members clashed. Romberg admired Montalvo’s skills at bringing together disparate groups.
Romberg first tapped Montalvo for a position in the Chancellor’s Office, then located in downtown Los Angeles, but then brought him to CSUB to help develop the student-services program, with a wide range of assignments from outreach and student recruitment to establishing and organizing the admissions and records office.
Right after he joined the new campus, he began working on his doctorate at the University of Southern California. “I drove back and forth to USC, and got it done in three years,” he said.
Interestingly, he recalled a professor at BC who took an interest in him and encouraged him to complete his education. Years later, at USC, he made an appointment to meet with the chairman of his department. He was astonished to find it was “the same guy; he never did lose track of me.”
His memories of CSUB and how it literally sprang from farmland are both poignant and amusing. He’s seen people and events that inspired him, and seen things that left him in stitches. But his story is the story of CSUB.
The campus was farmland when construction started, so the trellises that grace the walkway near what is today the Administration West complex “were instant trees,” he recalled with a chuckle. He remembers that the contractor had trouble with Faculty Tower. “They hadn’t built a building like that before. It was fun – stepping over two-by-fours, the dust… “The first day we opened we expected 600 students; we had 900. Nobody had ordered chalk for the chalkboards – that’s what we had then. We temporarily closed classes because we had not anticipated that many students. We didn’t have enough classrooms. We brought in portables, like the building by the tennis courts. It was one of those portables. Now it’s plastered over, a permanent building, and we’ve had it all these years.”
The early years weren’t easy, he said. “We started with the philosophy of being a small liberal-arts university,” he said. “But that clashed with the community colleges and the transfer students. Because of that we had no uniform articulation agreements with the community colleges, so Bakersfield College students had trouble viewing us as a viable place to transfer. It took a few years to shift our focus to a comprehensive regional university. President (Jacob) Frankl and then President (Tomas) Arciniega pushed us in that direction, and today that’s where we are. But when we started there were a lot of problems.”
Working with community colleges and the CSU eventually solved those problems, Montalvo said, but others were not so easy. “We were supposed to be at 15,000 students by 2000, but our curriculum was not in line with what the community wanted. It didn’t mesh. The community wanted agriculture and engineering; the lack of those programs has been a hindrance to our growth.”
While the university has twice nearly launched engineering, twice that effort has been derailed by fiscal constraints brought on by recessions.
“I remember one year then-Gov. Jerry Brown paid things in psychic dollars,” he said laughing. “But these days I don’t foresee the trustees or the Legislature pushing for us to get those programs because money is always a problem.”
While curriculum development may have hindered enrollment growth, he said, little has hindered “the evolution of our athletic program. It’s been tremendous. It’s such a marketing tool for the university, putting the national spotlight on the community. It’s very significant.”
The move to NCAA Division I is “a natural evolution,” he continued. “When you’re a national powerhouse at Division II, the fans are asking for more.
It will mean national recognition. We’ll go through a period where we’ll get banged around, but we’ll come out of it. In the long run, going Division I is a long-term investment for the campus and the community.
It’s a real plus for us.”
Montalvo has fond memories of his years at CSUB, many of them amusing.
The most bizarre enrollment story may just be the Indonesian air marshal’s son. Montalvo recalled that it was about the time that construction began on the Doré Theater, around the late ’70s.
“I got this call from Northrop Aviation; an executive there says he has a general who wants to enroll his son at CSUB.
“I said, ‘Bakersfield? Not Berkeley?’ They guy says, ‘Yes, Bakersfield.
He’s sending his son up in a limousine with a driver.’
“Well pretty soon the limo shows up, and the air marshal of Indonesia steps out – he’s wearing his uniform and it’s full of medals. He said he wanted his son here. I said, ‘Are you sure?’ He said yes, definitely. He said he was in the United States to buy some used aircraft, that he had done his pilot training here in Bakersfield, and that he used to eat at Bill Lee’s.
“Then he said he wanted to send over four polo ponies for his son. He asked, “Do you have polo?’ I said, ‘No, sorry, we don’t.’ He said, ‘Well, OK.’
“Then he said, ‘Where do I pay?’ I said, ‘Well, you have to apply first.’
He said, ‘But I want to pay right now!’ He pulled up this briefcase, and opened it, and it was full of $1,000 bills. I was thinking, ‘What the heck do we do with cash?’ The accounting department had fits.”
The air marshal’s son was named Rocky Sugandi. “He did well,” Montalvo said. “He graduated, and now he’s an executive with American Express. He still e-mails me once in awhile.”
Another time, Montalvo was trying to encourage junior high school students to plan for college. “I was doing some recruiting, and took some junior high kids to art class. I was trying to squeeze them in the door, but I couldn’t see what was going on, or why all the (junior high) kids were clustered by the door. There was one of those folding screens there, and I said, ‘C’mon, c’mon, let’s get in here,’ but when I got beyond the screen, there was a nude model that the class was drawing. I said, ‘Oh my gosh!’
and got the kids out as fast as I could.”
Then there were the streakers. Back in the mid-70s, when streaking was all the rage on college campuses – students running around nude – Montalvo and a community member were in a meeting in the president’s office. “President Frankl was facing the window, when all of a sudden he’s startled when two women streaked by. Then he shrugged and said, ‘Just a couple of naked women jogging by,’ as if it happened every day. The police looked for them but never found them.”
Montalvo thinks the campus’ growth, long expected, is finally occurring.
“I think we’re experiencing a lot of growth, and there’s no question we will grow,” he said. “And if we get engineering, we would be able to expand our offerings and we’d grow so much more. The new president hopefully can convince people that we need to do the things we want to do.
My hope for the future is that we’ll see a great university moving forward for the young people of this area.”