CSUN alumni reunite for annual Founders’ Day celebration

 CSUN alumni reunite for annual Founders' Day celebration

Shira Moskowitz

Jill Fager (Right) and Ann Skjervheim (Left) graduated from CSUN together in 1963. They joined the 50 Year Club at Founders Day. Photo credit: Won Choi / Daily Sundial

Former students, faculty and staff gathered today for CSUN’s annual Founders’ Day celebration, a day dedicated to honoring alumni and paying tribute to 30 CSUN inductees who were commemorating 50 years since graduating from what was once known to them as the San Fernando Valley State College.

Greeted by the friendly faces of CSUN’s Matador cheerleaders, alumni members had the chance to look at old university newspapers, revisit their old college buildings, and reconnect with old classmates at the University Student Union (USU). Following these festivities was a luncheon celebration for the alumni joining the “50 year club”.

Janet Burri-Widen, a CSUN alumni who received both her bachelor and master degrees  in french literature in 1973 and 1981 respectively, said that CSUN is not only her alma mater, but it’s also where she and her now ex-husband were married in 2005.

“We both went to CSUN, and thought that the botanical garden on campus was beautiful, so we wanted to get married there. When it ended up raining on the day of our wedding, we moved it to the Orange Bistro and had our wedding there instead,” Burri-Widen said.

Now a retired French and Spanish teacher, Burri-Widen says she cannot be happier.

“Retirement is amazing.  I wish I could have retired 30 years ago. I am having a blast… teaching is a really good profession because you get your pension afterwards. I am very busy and I am very happy,” Burri-Widen said.

Sitting at a table in the Grand Salon trying to choose which campus tour they wanted to do after the luncheon was husband and wife Jean and Mary Rue, both CSUN alumni, attended Founder’s Day to celebrate Jean being inducted into the “50 year club.”

“He was an accounting major who graduated in 1963 and I was a liberal studies major who graduated in 1980. I told him we had to come today to celebrate his 50 years, since mine is not happening for awhile,” Mary Rue said.

Smiling and wearing his CSUN Matador t-shirt and hat that his granddaughter, a junior currently attending CSUN, bought him, Jean Rue is proud that his family is part of the CSUN community.

“My granddaughter came home from her first day of school here, and she smiled and told me she is carrying on the CSUN tradition,” Jean Rue said.

Walking into the luncheon, alumni members were greeted with beverages as they each found their way to their assigned tables, all facing the stage with a banner that read “Founder’s Day,” where the 50 year inductees would later be honored.

The entire room filled with thirty tables of eight, was packed with alumni, some with their spouses and even their children, who conversed over lunch and dessert.

Rusty Swisher, a CSUN alumni from 1970 attended the university on a baseball scholarship and called his experience at CSUN a “social revolution.” He recalls standing on what was then called “the free speech area” by the library, where students of all backgrounds protested for what they believed in.

“Black students wanted to have pan-African studies, Mexican-American students wanted to have Mexican-American studies, and we didn’t have it, so we pushed for that. The Vietnam war was also going on at that time, so we did a lot of protesting here on campus,” Swisher said.

CSUN was a social revolution and it was not always supported by authorities. There were times in 1969 when Swisher couldn’t even get out of his car to walk to class before seeing police officers holding guns ready to fight any riots that might start because of the protests against the war, Swisher said.

Swisher also recounts when he found out through a few “radical professors” on campus, that all the money from the concession machines at CSUN were being given to the Bank of America, who then invested that money into the Dow Chemical Company, the company he says was responsible for making the fire bombs for the war at the time.

“We were quite pissed off. We disarmed all the concession machines on campus numerous times,” Swisher said.

While Swisher was avid about bringing social awareness through protesting, he was also a well known athlete on campus. Swisher lead the campus baseball team to  a national championship in 1970 and is proud to say he is in the CSUN Athletic Hall of Fame.

One of his fondest memories at CSUN was seeing bands such as the Grateful Dead play their music, all for 50 cents a ticket. He even had the chance to personally meet musical legend Quincy Jones.

“Quincy Jones was an instructor here on campus and I would go into his class in the evenings and listen to jazz,” Swisher said.

Some of the alumni at the event not only graduated from CSUN, but continued their professional careers there as well.

Joy Linden, a CSUN alumni who graduated in 1960,  taught in the special education department at CSUN for 30 years. She specialized in deaf studies and is now the president of the Association of Retired Faculty at CSUN.

Linden says that although she is retired CSUN might ask her to come back in the spring to supervise student teachers.

“I am really excited about the potential to come back in the spring. I feel like this is home and I feel very tied to the campus. I grew up in Northridge on an orange grove nearby, so this really is home for me,” Linden said.

Veteran and CSUN alumni Bob Beach, who graduated in 1961 with a business degree was at Founder’s Day to support his friend who was being inducted for his 50th anniversary. He  remembers campus consisting of only a few bungalows and a cafeteria as the main hang out spot in between classes.

“It’s unbelievable to come see what [CSUN] is like today. It’s nice to see what has happened. It’s gone from a orange grove college to a really meaningful state university. They made their mark and it’s amazing,” Beach said.

Sitting next to Beach and jokingly bantering over who has the most interesting experiences to share, was his fraternity brother and close friend, Gary Hoppe,a  50 year club member as of today.  The university he attended wasn’t as liberal as CSUN is today, Hoppe said.

“The school has a much more liberal attitude now than they did when I was in school.  When I was in school, they taught you that you were there to learn. Now a days, they seem to want to induct more liberal ways of thinking ,” Hoppe said.

Hoppe, also a retired veteran, is now a docent at the Ronald Reagan library and says he enjoys talking to people and educating them about the Reagan era.

Even alumni who didn’t know anyone at the event came to Founder’s Day to support their university and to support each other.

Judy Tejada, a 50th year anniversary inductee, who says she didn’t know anyone at the celebration,  remembers being one of the only women in her accounting night class when she attended CSUN.

“I took night classes up until I was 9 months pregnant, and once I had the baby, I came back one semester later,and the people in my class couldn’t believe it,” Tejada said.

Tejada later came back to CSUN to get her masters degree in business education, where she walked across the stage during for her graduation for the first time.

“I didn’t walk for my undergrad, but I did walk for my masters. I wanted my kids to see me finish that process and set a good example,” Tejada said.

Before the induction ceremony took place, vice president of university advancement, Robert Gunsalus, president of the alumni association, Francine Oschin and vice president of student affairs and dean of students Dr.William Watkins all said a few words showing the universities appreciation for all of the alumni.

Dr.Watkins encouraged CSUN alumni to “spread the word about the university.”

“The world should know about us. We are preparing students for personal and professional success,” Watkins said.

President of Retired Faculty, Joyce Linden, finds herself in the CSUN 1960 graduation album. Linden majored in elementary education and worked on campus for 30 years until she retired. Photo credit: Won Choi / Daily Sundial