Bill Holston (1969)


Bill Holston

When were you hired? What brought you to Saddleback College?


At that time I was in my seventh year of teaching.  I was at a continuation high school in a ghetto, which is a whole different experience for me. I grew up a typical American white male in the 1950s and it was just a whole different world that opened up. I think that's where I learned to teach because I was communicating with people. I had kids that read at the second third grade level and they were 18. Other kids that were very bright but had been kicked out of a high school or were coming back from California Youth Authority trying to get back in the mainstream. I had to deal with all of that in one classroom.  One of the secrets of good teaching, I think, was a smaller classroom where you can deal with people individually. By the time I retired I was dealing with classes of a hundred and twenty five. You don't get to know people on the same way you did in small classes.  I don't know how to go back to smaller classes given the cost of things these days.

I taught high school during the day and at Long Beach City College at night where I had been a student and president of the student body. Then I got a job at Orange Coast College teaching a large section. They actually offered me a job but it was teaching world history. I told them, I can teach U.S history or California history or anthropology but not world history. I'm not qualified. At which point, Saddleback was advertising for a position in US history so I was interviewed. I was amazed they hired me in 1969. Then when I got the job, they said we have a very small faculty and we're going to be in temporary buildings/trailers actually. You'll have to teach more than U.S history. Can you teach California history? I said, “Oh yeah, that's really my major.” How about anthropology? And I said, “Yeah that's my minor.” Can you teach physical anthropology? "Yeah." How about sociology? "I had a sociology class but it was several years ago."  I ended up teaching five different majors topics the first year. I reduced myself to my wife on weekends because I was busy writing and reading to get these things during the whole week. But we got through it and it was fascinating. We started in temporary buildings. Actually our faculty was about 30 people. And literally, the entire staff of the college could and did meet in a double car garage. We got to know each other very well, we had good parties which helped us get to know each other.

Do you a fond memory, a favorite story or a favorite student that comes to mind?

They put us in temporary buildings here on the lower campus. This was our final resting place. They moved us around a little bit before that. The buildings were, I'm not sure if they were double or triple wide trailers but they were set up off the ground.  We would get frogs under the building. At night they would croak when you're trying to teach a night class. And then we had what I call critters, various sorts of mammals that would run across in the ceiling, including rats. The fellow in the room next to me finally got a large broom and he would bang on them when they went across the ceiling. They ran across plastic panels and the lights were above the panels but you'd see the shadow of a little animal going across so he'd reach up and bang that thing. He did that one night and I'm teaching in the next room and all of a sudden there's this incredible odor. It was a skunk that was there so we had to evacuate to other classrooms.

What was your position(s)? How long did you work or have been working here?

We had one porta potty when we were starting out so it was very democratic. We all lined up to use the thing, faculty and students.  All in this area, roughly where we are right now in this building [the Cinema/TV studios]. I'm looking at all the mature trees. We're now this huge campus. We had literally about eight trailers in the middle of what had been a sheep ranch the first year. The Basque sheep herder would bring sheep onto campus. We had no cafeteria, we had a food truck that pulled onto the campus and we all would have bought food from that.  And it has changed! Amazingly just amazing.

See 1969 to 1998, a long time long time but good years. Always in the same capacity I know I got rid of the extra classes and settled in U.S. history and physical anthropology. Then as years went by, we hired a very good staff. I let the new faculty have the really good (small) class in U.S. history where you we assign a paper. I taught History 22 which is the large section that doesn't or didn't transfer. I don't know if it does now. It did not transfer to the university level when I taught it. I assumed that these were students for whom this may be their last educational experience. Let's make the class as interesting as possible but not as difficult as a regular US history class would be.

I had an anthropology class and I mentioned that monkeys and apes are different creatures and that physically and genetically humans are much closer to apes than they are to monkeys. Monkeys have tails, apes don't. I didn't realize one of my students worked in an animal rental agency.  They rented animals to TV productions and movies. Without me knowing it, she (the student) brought a spider monkey to class about that big with a long tail. Spider monkeys have a tail that's called prehensile, that means they can grasp and hold onto a tree limb or something, hang by it actually. She showed that she put her fingers out and the monkey held up. She also had a baby chimp that was about a year old. It was very cute and it loved the attention. The students not only got to see a monkey as being different from an ape, they got to touch them and the animals responded. I never got to say a word for a whole hour because the students were interacting with the animals and this animal trainer. About four or five days later I got a call from the administration. They were in a panic because their lawyers had informed them we're not supposed to have live animals in the classroom. They could bite or whatever. I explained these animals were very young and harmless. They like people. No, no you can't do that!  So the following year when it came time to tell the difference [between apes and monkeys] I went to a costume rental place and rented a gorilla costume. I came in dressed in the gorilla costume. One of the faculty members didn't know who it was in the gorilla costume. [He] stopped me in the hallway. Who are you? I pulled out my Saddleback College ID card that showed I was a faculty member Holston! The students loved it.

I had a lot of really good students and it is such a pleasure to think that I may have made an impact on some of them. Mark Cook said he was unsure about what he wanted to do in life. I spent a lot of time talking with Mark during office hours, not necessarily about the class but about his family and what he wanted to do in life. He went on to the university and finished medical school and he's now in the medical profession. Kevin Fagan drew cartoons, funny ones, for the school newspaper. I told him you have real talent and you should do this for a living. He was very nervous. I said I meant it seriously. He should send this sample drawings to King Features. They rejected them. He was all disappointed. I said your stuff is super, send it to Charles Schulz who draws the Peanuts cartoon. He sent it to Charles Schultz. Schultz was really excited, he was already franchised with King Features. He contacted King Features and got Kevin a job. Kevin's cartoon Drabble is still in major newspapers all over the United States, which pleases me. Yeah, he takes little digs at me from time to time.

My wife and I both taught. We also had a frozen yogurt business in Laguna Niguel. Kevin Fagan in the Drabble cartoon showed how his characters went into a yogurt shop from time to time to get yogurt. One day Charlie Myers was waiting his turn, he came up, of course he looks different now. He was a student of mine back in 1982, He said, when I took your class my father had told me I either go to college or go in the military. That rang a bell with me, said Charlie, because my dad told me you're a worthless beach bum because I surfed all the time when I was in high school. Charlie's dad said you either go in the military you go to college and I went to college. I made a difference in Charlie's life. He took my U.S. history class and liked it so he also took anthropology class and then the California history class. I'm trying to remember, I think I had about 18,000 students because of the large classes.  Charlie Myers said he got A's in all my classes and went to USC and graduated and got his graduate degree. Now Charlie Myers is a professor at Saddleback. You know that actually brought tears to my eyes. You wonder whether you make a difference. To find out that you did, that really is rewarding.

What challenges did you face? How was your experience when you were first hired vs. how it was when you retired (if that’s the case).

When the state informed the county that they had to have another community college district in the south end of the county, they opened up an election for the board. I can't remember how many people were running, but around two dozen. We didn't realize it until after the election was over that a very conservative group in Tustin organized a person [to run] from each of the sections of South Orange County. They ran as a team and because they supported each other, they had mailers and that sort of thing. So we had a board of five, I think two of them were members of the John Birch Society and the others were extremely conservative. They were very concerned about what was happening in universities and colleges across America where people actually were burning buildings and things. They might have this super liberal faculty in southern Orange County. We were concerned about what kind of restrictions were the board was going to put on us. Do we have to be members of their party? After they got to know us after a year or so they relaxed and realized that we weren't dangerous, that the students weren't going to ride on campus, they're really a good group of students. A couple of years went by, we were comfortable with the board although they were quite conservative. I was on a committee to see if we get a raise because we hadn't had a raise for two or three years. We went [to the meeting] expecting the worst (hat-in-hand) ready to beg. One of the board members and Hans Vogel from Tustin said, they have this philosophy that teachers should be paid very well, to expect the best from them and get our money's worth. We don't necessarily have to pay the administrators as much as we pay the teachers. So they laid out a proposal that would have made us the highest-paid community college teachers in California. We were speechless! Even my good friend Jim Thorpe was speechless.  We took it to the science fellows and Frank Sciarratta. They said this is really very fair. We've been well-paid and I think we've given them their money's worth. That board eventually gave way to other boards and the faculty increased. I think about Orange County and how it's grown and my wife and I were in high school in Long Beach. She was born in Pasadena and I was born in Hollywood. We met at Long Beach City College. Orange County was a place we came down for the beach or to picnic when we were dating. There were 250,000 people in Orange County when I was in high school and I don't know what the [population is] now. It's a couple-three million. Unbelievable! I've seen it change. It doesn't bother me. Some people are totally frightened by the change that goes on in America. It's normal. America is about change. It really isn't always about how it was. I don't know if I could give a message to the administrators and teachers and students here. Just make the best of it. Do your very best and enjoy it while you're here because it's a unique experience that won't be repeated in your lifetime. Now, I'm really pleased to drive on campus and see what's here. It's just fabulous when you see it's like having a child and then they grow up and you remember what it was when they were a child. Yes, it's great. It's not all perfect. Life isn't perfect but it's wonderful.