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President Highlights Centennial at Chamber Talk

Date: February 26, 2013

Remarks by HSU President Rollin Richmond

Arcata Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner
February 23, 2013

Thank you for inviting me to speak with you this evening. My apologies to our friends whom we invited to join us this evening with the requirement that they listen to me talk yet again.  And congratulations to the Arcata Chamber for hiring Sandy Scott as its Executive Director.  We work together on United Way of the Wine Country, and I am most impressed. 

I am very honored to be your speaker, and I think the fact that you asked me to talk to you says something important. It speaks to the close relationship that Humboldt State University has with this community. We have something unusual and special here, and it is something we should all be very proud of.  So before I say anything else, let us have a big hand for everyone who has been a part of creating and building these many connections. (Applause)

I moved to Humboldt County to begin serving as President in 2002. I remember several things including being dunked on the plaza for some organization to make money.  Can’t remember, fortunately, who got the money.  I got cold and promised myself not to do that again. I do remember many community people welcoming Ann and me to the community and wishing us well.  I also remember the pleasure of riding to school with students along the Old Arcata Road to emphasize the need to reduce car usage.  It was a good way to learn about our students’ focus on social and environmental issues that makes our university special in several ways

These and other events taught me quite a bit about this place. We have a community here that is very different than most places. We look out for one another. For example, the Fire and Light folks, the McClurgs, Humboldt alums, are always providing their beautiful glass pieces for clubs and people in Arcata and the University.  The city’s and university’s police work together to help keep our community safe.  And perhaps most importantly, many Arcata businesses provide opportunities for students to gain important experience that often helps them find their first jobs.

Being President at HSU is a great experience. It is a fantastic job. And I have really good proof of that, aside from my own perspective. Here it is: As Humboldt State is preparing to celebrate its Centennial, its 100th year, I am just the sixth President the University has ever had.  In fact, the campus has had as many different names as Presidents although please remember that I haven’t been involved in changing the name recently. 

So it is a real honor, and a real privilege, to be President at HSU.

Tonight I would like to share with you a little more about Humboldt State’s history. I also want to tell you a bit about our plans for a Centennial Celebration that begins in August of this year and extends through Commencement in 2014.

It was just over 100 years ago that the citizens of Humboldt made a very important decision. Led initially by the Eureka Chamber of Commerce, they began lobbying for a Normal School here. Remember that the term “normal” was for an institution that primarily trained elementary school teachers.

The reasons were practical. New requirements had been put in place for teacher preparation, and at least two-thirds of the teachers in this area were not certified. The nearest normal school was 200 miles away in Ashland, Oregon.

In the early part of the century, that was quite a trek. In fact, most of the passenger traffic to Humboldt at that time came by water. The rail from Sausalito to Eureka was not completed until 1914. Roads to Redding were barely worthy of the term, and there was something called the “Humboldt and Mendocino Wagon Road” heading south.

As you might guess, the process of convincing the state to establish a campus involved lots of the arm-twisting and favor-trading. Politics does not really change all that much over the years. It also involved a bit of a spat among Eureka, Fortuna and Arcata over the location of the school – but that is all ancient history now.

Eventually, the Legislature approved a measure to create Humboldt Normal School, which was signed by Gov. Hiram Johnson on June 16, 1913.

Now, and this is important … along with the politicking, the other thing that made Humboldt State possible was a pledge of financial resources and land from local citizens. They committed to funding the school before the state did. And it is an investment that has really paid off. Humboldt State would not exist without this community’s support, and I think it is fair to say that this community would be far different without Humboldt State.

Residents knew they were doing something big. But I doubt very much they knew just how big.

Classes began on April 6, 1914. There were 62 students in a temporary building near the Arcata Bottoms. Initially, there were teacher education programs, but within a decade there were programs in economics, business, foreign languages, natural sciences and more.

What about those early admissions requirements? Well … it was not about grades or test scores. Prospective students had to be at least 16, reasonably mature, in good health, and have good moral character.

• Our first president was Nelson Van Matre. He started a tradition among Humboldt State Presidents by spending much of his time struggling with budgets – including threats to close the campus during World War I.
• Early on, all the guys pretty much had to play on the football team. Our first game was a drubbing by Fortuna High School. Whatever the score was, official records seem to be missing.
• A better fact from early athletics – Elta Cartwright was a track star who, in 1928, was part of America’s first women’s Olympic team in Amsterdam.
• In 1914, William Preston and the Union Water Company donated 51 acres for a permanent site for the campus. Temporary buildings went up quickly, and Founders Hall was eventually built in 1922.
• In 1924, the campus established an Associated Students and held its first homecoming. Things were really rolling …

I cannot resist sharing this portion of a 1927 letter home from a new HSU student. It shows that some things never change. She wrote, with a touch of sarcasm, “After a long walk from the stage depot, one arrives at the foot of a hill, upon which the school is located. It is true, is it not, that gaining an education is ‘up-hill’ work? But reaching the foot of the stairs leading to the entrance, I patiently – a step at a time – counted to forty-four before I found myself within the building. Good fortune attended me for there stood a most efficient-looking lady, of whom I quickly inquired my way to the Girls’ Dormitory. In a most businesslike manner she replied – ‘Right down the hill; first detour to the right.’ ”

Someone told me recently that HSU stands for hills, steps and umbrellas.  Although,we haven’t had to use our umbrellas too much this year.

So it was a far different campus than today, just like Humboldt County was much different. I am talking about wood heated dorm rooms, work parties in addition to classroom learning, locomotives rumbling by and bringing classes to a halt.

World War I wasn’t the only time when it looked like Humboldt State might not survive. The Depression saw drops in enrollment and funding, and it continued through World War II. While Founders Hall was painted a drab color to make it more difficult to spot in case of an attack from Japan … really … the real danger was lack of funding.

During these tough times, the community regularly stepped in to help. Individuals provided financial support, jobs and housing for students, scrap wood for those dorm woodstoves … and so much more.

Humboldt State has always been a particularly student-focused campus. The faculty, the staff, the community – everyone has been intent on helping students have a good experience and be successful. Our alumni, in fact, often say that the classes and the campus were just a part of their college experience – living here in Humboldt was the other part.

One of the great examples of this student focus was Pop Jenkins, who taught industrial arts. He was known for a makeshift kitchen in his shop, where some Depression-era students would get their only hot meal of the day.

After World War II, it was a different story. Humboldt State saw dramatic growth. Like many colleges, we expanded to accommodate the returning GIs, and growth continued well through the 1960s. New academic buildings and student housing sprang up. In 1959, history was made … when Lucky Logger was adopted as the school mascot.

I could share this historical trivia with you all night, but I will spare you. You can find more for yourself in the big HSU history titled “A View from the Hill.” Or there is a newer, photo history of the campus called simply “Humboldt State University.”  I bet you can buy them both at Northtown Books.

Humboldt State has become a full-fledged university, and a campus of choice for students from throughout California and beyond. Enrollment has been up and down, but has been strong in recent years, surpassing 8,000 last fall. Academically, we have now organized ourselves into three Colleges – Natural Resources and Sciences; Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; and Professional Studies.

But while we have definitely grown up, we have also kept our unique character. We march to our own drummer, nobody would call Humboldt State a cookie-cutter university. Humboldt State has a unique mix - location, personal attention, hands-on learning, commitment to the environment and social responsibility. Our students, as I have said many times, are decidedly different from students at other universities where I have worked. They are more willing to jump in and try new things; they care more about making a difference in the world.

And look at what investing in higher education has done for Humboldt County. Look at the returns!

Today, if I may be so bold to say it, Humboldt State is the intellectual heart of the North Coast. We are one of the area’s largest employers, a source of educated professionals and entrepreneurs who fuel our economy, and we are a major center for the arts. Our economic impact alone – just the result of our operations – is $190 million per year, we also generate $10.5 million a year in taxes and create over 2300 jobs. Most importantly, students come here from all over California and the nation; and, increasingly, from all over the world which enriches all of us in the community.

All of you see Humboldt State and feel its impact in the community every day – so much so that you probably do not always recognize it.

HSU faculty and students were deeply involved with creating the Arcata Marsh and have done research and projects to enhance the Arcata Community Forest. We operate KHSU, the local community radio station and NPR affiliate. Thousands of local residents each year attend lectures, concerts and athletic events on campus, and through Center Arts we bring nationally known performers to the local stage. We are in Eureka with the First Street Gallery and Aquatic Center – where you can also spot our research vessel the Coral Sea. We are in Trinidad with the Telonicher Marine Lab.

HSU offers professional development through Extended Education, and enrichment classes through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. We have a variety of specialized programs and institutes that serve the community and assist small businesses. And though they occasionally cause consternation among us administrators, we all enjoy the frequent campus and community performances by the WORLD. FAMOUS. MARCHING. LUMBERJACKS.

We are going to be celebrating our Centennial soon. The Celebration starts at the beginning of the Fall 2013 semester and goes through the end of Spring 2014 semester. This fits with our history – the legislation creating the school in mid-1913, and the opening of the school in April 1914.

I hope you will be a part of it, and there will be many opportunities. There is a big kick-off birthday party set for August 24, the Saturday before Fall classes start, on the Arcata Plaza. Homecoming & Family Weekend will be the last week of September, with much to do, including being part of a massive “Human 100” photo.

Throughout the year, there will be events and activities. Plans include a Centennial Speaker Series, concerts featuring original works composed for the Centennial, a new play about the life of Von Humboldt, and a limited edition art print. Alumni will gather for special birthday events scheduled throughout the year in different parts of the country. The Colleges and our Library will have designated months to show off their programs. A new ceremonial mace, being created by a faculty member, the Art Department’s, Kris Patzlaff, and her students, will debut at Commencement 2014.

There is much more, and you can find out about it on the website – Humboldt.edu/100, where there is also a link to the Centennial Facebook page.

Another thing you can do at the website is submit stories and photos. I know you have lots of good ones; you have shared them with me many times at events like this one. So take a few minutes, and share them with a bigger audience – at least the ones that are appropriate for public airing.

I mentioned earlier that Humboldt State has been known by many different names over the years. Before I finish, let me share them. They are, in order:

• Humboldt State Normal School
• Humboldt State Teachers College and Junior College
• Humboldt State Teachers College
• Humboldt State College
• California State University, Humboldt
• Humboldt State University

Slight changes, really.  At the heart of them all has been “Humboldt.”

We are so appreciative for all this community has done for us. You gave us our start, you have supported us, and you have certainly helped us through difficult times.  We are proud of our place here, and proud of all we do to make this community stronger.

If I may, I would like to finish with a toast:

To all of us here tonight, and to all those who have given so much – thank you for a great first century at Humboldt State University, and for the special community connection that has grown and flourished. We have done much together this last century, and may it be the first of many great centuries to come. Thank you!


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