Dona Anderson


Dona Anderson

Like most of the faculty from the Performing and Fine Arts, I came to Saddleback through Doyle McKinney. I was at Whittier School District and Fullerton College District and taught with him for three years. He went back East, and then he was hired as one of the administrators for the first year of Saddleback College. The interview was interesting because it was in a model home. And Jack (what was his name?) was the president of the college at that time. So he asked the questions about why I thought I would be suitable for Saddleback College. I said, well, I've been in Orange County since 1953 (before Disneyland) and was very impressed with the art activities and music activities, including Bowers Museum and the old pavilion in Balboa (which was turned into a children's museum once a year). I was involved with that.

Norton Simon was in business in Fullerton. That was his headquarters and, on the grounds, he had a number of original sculptures of Rodin and Brancusi and some wonderful things. I knew him before the Norton Simon was purchased, and he said: "Well, you look like a pretty good candidate for my project. Why don't you see if you can find a building that I can buy and put in my sculpture collection and my painting collection." Well, Mrs. Simon was very involved in the fine arts in Orange County at that time along with some of the ladies from Bower's Museum.

So we rounded up all of the power that we could gather to try to convince the citizens of Orange County that we really needed to find a building because Norton Simon was willing to purchase -and then sell off his interest in it and just kind of maintain the museum in his name. And we couldn't find a buyer. We couldn’t find anybody that would sell us a piece of property and put up, you know, the facility that he needed. So Norton Simon said, "Well, phoo on you." And he bought the old Pasadena Museum. So everything was lost to Orange County. This was before the Segerstroms were interested and built the Performing Arts Center.

In addition to that, I had had some college teaching experience as well as high school teaching experience, and Dr. McKinney was my immediate supervisor as a high school teacher. I became involved with the theatre there. Did a lot of set design and costumes and that sort of thing. Both Bonnie Cogbill and Joanne Bennell, I think, were sort of involved in that all that time too.

So after the interview with Jack, whatever his name was (You see, he decided that he did not want to be the president of the college so Fred Bremer moved into that position), they selected me. I think it was largely Doyle who was instrumental in the choice.

The first facility was not on this site. The first facility is where the hospital is located now. We had temporary buildings and it was kind of interesting. We were all sort of jammed up in these little cubicles. The classrooms were in temporary buildings, that's still kind of a temporary situation. Then they discovered that the college really didn't own the property. There was some sort of misunderstanding and so they had to move 13 to 14 temporary buildings over the hill, and of course, they ran out of gas. They thought that the students had put sugar in the gas tanks. It just got to be too funny.

Anyway, they finally opened this campus, and our Fine Arts Division along with some science and math people were in cubicles about the size of this chair. The desk was about this wide, and there were open doorways and so you had very little privacy to try to counsel a student or prepare lectures or anything. But we were all excited. It was a fun place. One of the funniest things I guess happened was one of Joanne Bennett's students (I think this was probably the second year) took off all of his clothes and put a hood over his head and ran through the faculty offices. It was like "Porky the Movie." You know why I think I could identify him? Because he had a wart. So that made us all giggle.

There were some hard times like any new organization getting going. There was a little power struggle. The Board of Trustees was an interesting mix, and the faculty was a very strong, cohesive group, so the Faculty Association really sort of ran the college. I mean, we thought it did, anyway. And we had pretty much our way of doing things.

The facilities, as they were built, were interesting. The library and the science complex were first, and then it was kind of a toss-up between the PE facility and the Fine Arts complex along with the theatre. I think maybe that's about the time things really started rolling in terms of buildings. The Nursing Department and some of the tech buildings are still being used and that's, you know, going on, what, 30 years. So some of the facilities were interesting.

Some of my first classes in art history were taught in the Science building. I had a seven in the morning class in the chemistry lab between Bunsen burners and all the science equipment. These kids were trying to look at the screen at what art slides were there, and J got sort of scolded by some of the older faculty in the Science building who felt that I had no business being in there. So they shuffled me out of that building really quickly because my students were kind of rambunctious and they wanted to play with all the technical stuff. The Fine Arts building -when it went into final design stages -was changed quite a bit. We had grand plans, and we all wanted our own space; we wanted a bigger theatre; we wanted an auditorium-type lecture hall; we wanted a gallery. Of course, that was not in the state budget at that particular time. So we sort of played around with the idea, and we made classrooms that could later be changed and started out with a fairly good Art Department. The Theatre Department, I think, had not as many options, at least it didn't seem to me. The Music Department did not have as many options, but I thought it was unusual because Doyle McKinney was really a performing arts person, not a visual arts person. I think he was very fair in the division of space, so that was good.

The philosophy of the Art Department came from looking at millions of catalogs and visiting other campuses, both four-year institutions and two­year institutions, because we felt that our high school experience would prepare us for working with certain kinds of students who had just transferred in at 17, 18 years old. But realizing it was a community college, we needed to look at the four-year view as well. So we went to the nearby four-year colleges. We traveled down to San Diego, and I think I even went up to San Francisco to look at some of the physical plans and programs that went along with it. The programs should be first and the facility designed to fit the program, but sometimes it worked the other way around. For example, if we have this huge ceramic space, I guess we had better teach ceramics! It was that kind of an idea.

The philosophy was to start with transfer credit programs only. We did not do anything remedial in the Art Department. We took students who probably had some art in their high school experiences. We were able to develop beginning classes in all media -drawing, painting, ceramics, art history, appreciation, etc. And then, as the community began to mature and we had finally graduated a group or two of students with two-year degrees, then we began to investigate other avenues, and some of it went into the Emeritus Department. Some of it was very advanced, and that was good because many of our art students, when they took their portfolios to professional art schools, were given double credit. So that made us feel really good. And as students came back, gave us some feedback about their training at Saddleback College, they gave us more information about what needed to be taught. So it was, I think, a pretty thorough investigation of what community college education should be all about.

I could go on and on and on about fav06te students' stories. As teachers, we all have the problem with homework, you know -"The dog ate it," "It was run over on the freeway." I can write books about that, but I think one of the most memorable student experiences that I was involved in had to do with the Vietnam War. We had some Green Berets, and several of them were in my art appreciation class. VCI students at that time came over in buses to take down our American flag, and that didn't work out because the Green Berets stood elbow-to-elbow. My students jumped out of the classroom, started opening classroom doors, yelling, "Hey you, hey you, get your butt out here." So they stood, you know, like that and told VCI students that this was their campus and they were not gonna take the flag down. The faculty was standing around the buildings on the outside watching to see what was going to happen. But these wonderful students just took care of the situation, ushered these VCI kids back onto their bus, and away they went back to VCI.

Another really wonderful story had to do with a project that I was teaching in art appreciation for the final. I said, "I don't care. It has to be something arty." So I got to campus for the first class which was 9:00 in the morning and here were students from three or four classes all lined up all the way from the parking lot to the classroom. They all looked so smug and funny. I couldn't figure out what in the heck was going on. So they shoved me into my classroom that was filled floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall with balloons and strobe lights. I said, "How did you pull this off?" They said, "With the help of security, please, and the approval of the administration." They had filled this room with these balloons, and they had a strobe light going in there. So the game became "Who could kill the most balloons." Pop, bang, boom, bang, and this music was going! I'm sure the administration was really curious. But it wound up to be a wonderful experience. That was a time when "happenings" were taking place in the art world and theater and music.

I've had fantastic students, just wonderful students, and I guess that's what life is all about, doing something worthwhile and having success for your students. I guess my life has really been full because of those experiences with kids. Well, they weren't all kids. Some were much older than me.

There were challenges. Early on, there was the challenge of what to wear into the classroom. That was one. We were told that we could not wear slacks, capris, golfing shorts, tennis dresses, anything that revealed that we were not proper ladies. So we all had to pass this dress code. One of the questions in interviewing for the job was "Will you back us up with this dress code business?" Men can't have ponytails, you can't have earrings, boys! We all sort of laughed at that.

We were asked, the first faculty were asked to act as chaperones, not chaperones but ushers and kind of oversee the first or second graduation. It was an interesting challenge. So our friend Pat Grignon, had us ladies down to her house in Dana Point for lunch. She said, ''I'm taking all my clothes off except my underwear, and we'll put our gowns over the top, and we will go to this graduation that way." And we did-after about a quart of wine. So there we were in these black, shiny gowns with just our undies on underneath.

So that's how we met challenges. We got together and we just had fun with it. So it was never really threatening. We had a couple of really strong women, and I have to thank Jean Vincenzi for acting as our spokesperson and helping us laugh at situations, although I understand she has an ulcer over all that activity. But we kept our sense of humor, so the challenges of making the classroom work turned out to be kind of fun. We took it with a sense of humor. And in the end, we felt that we were the winners, the survivors.

The challenges then shifted from these outward attacks -what we felt were outward but kind of silly attacks on our clothing and behavior and methods of teaching -to the challenge of meeting this vast variety and ability of students we have had. Sometimes, these were students who were reading fourth-grade level! The art history book that I taught from was college-level reading. How do you reach in a single classroom students who are reading at fourth-grade level and people who are like supreme court justices -a lawyer, an ophthalmologist, a dermatologist, and other college professors -in the classroom? You have to be able to gear your teaching so that it reaches everyone. That, for me, was a terrific challenge.

I remember, if I was given a new course to teach or decided to teach a new course, for every hour of lecture, I put in between 15 and 20 hours of preparation, and that's not unusual for any new class. Most teachers do that. I worked with the Reading Department, and they would identify the reading ability of students; and then I would suggest to the students that they take the class for no credit and to take a reading class at the same time. And most of them were willing to do that, which was kind of surprising.

There was the challenge of having students give some oral responses in class. As you know, most people are terrified of standing up and talking. So we had to wiggle that around and suggest they take a beginning speech class.

Writing ability is another thing. I had to get English-as-a-Second-Language students lo write an essay. I said: "Fine. Write it in Japanese, or Korean, or whatever, and we'll find someone to translate it for you. What I'm looking for is the content. So working with a variety of students was, I think, one of the biggest challenges, particularly at the end of my career, because the student body seemed to become more and more "at risk." I don't know what it looks like now, because I've been retired for a while, but I imagine that the language problems are still a very serious challenge.

In the early years, students didn't really want to come to Saddleback College because they were in the Tustin District. When they opened the doors, and students could attend any community college they chose for the same price, then it became a challenge to just get here on time and to communicate with one another. I think the best way students can learn is to study in groups. So I would have the library hold racks and racks and racks of slides, and the students would come to the library and check these out in groups and discuss the slides. I discovered that that was a great learning tool for them. But some of them lived in Redondo Beach and some places like San Diego, so it was a struggle for them to get here. But they met the challenge, and I thought that was really admirable, that the desire to learn was strong, that they were willing to put up with the travel, the congestion, the parking, in order to learn.

Another problem I ran into was if I had a certain number of seats in the art lecture room and administration felt that attrition would sort of even things out, they would put in as many as 70 students with 52 or 53 seats. I would walk in, and there would be half of the kids on the floor. I said, "Gee, I can't really let this happen to these kids." The students would say, "Oh please, this is our last semester." So I would say, "Okay," but if the Fire Chief ever walked in, we'd have been dead in the water. Oftentimes, when finals came around 16 weeks later, I would still have students sitting on the floor taking final exams.

Being right across the arroyo from the Cleveland National Forest, we had some very interesting visitors on campus like bobcats, deer, fawns, does, and even bucks. Snakes in the Art Department! We would clean out all of the lockers at the end of the semester, and some of the doors were left open, so we had little nests of rattlesnakes. We had rattlesnakes in the classrooms. Tons and tons and tons of bunnies doing their thing, which made it very interesting.

We had a vast array of very wonderful, dedicated teachers. I think the mixture of talent at Saddleback College was awesome. I know when I would go to different parts of the state or nation representing Saddleback College in some way shape or form, people would say, "Saddleback College! How did you get there? It's just like the Harvard of a community college system." So I felt very, very fortunate to work with such talented people. I think when you have that many talented, dedicated teachers pulling together, we feed on each other's talent, enthusiasm, and background, I stole from every teacher I knew. Little bits of information. I think it was a healthy situation.

A special memory that I have wasn't an on-campus activity, but it did have to do with a college Oral Interpretation Festival. Dr. McKinney had a fabulous following -very dignified, professional people from around the USA, from Northwestern. Some of them were movie people and some of the people who knew movie people. We were entertaining at Doyle's house. Some of the antics are unforgettable. It was all good camaraderie to have people like Charlotte Lee and Lilla Heston (Charlton Heston's sister) at this party, as well as a number of other movie people and people in oral interpretation. We had several of those festivals, and I think that was very interesting watching this group of very qualified, very acknowledged in their own fields, professional people.

We did beach parties, faculty beach parties that turned out to be tons of fun. The surfing with the boys at the beach was kind of amusing. I grew up in the water and so I could body surf pretty well. When you learn to swim at 18 months in Long Beach, I guess some of it rubs off and sticks with you the rest of your life. So we had lots of fun at faculty parties in the early years.

We had student and faculty picnics on campus with tons of things, like throwing eggs at each other and catching them, riding piggy back on Frank Sciarrotta's shoulders, stomping on balloons. Really wonderful memories.

I was very active in the Faculty Association the last few years before my retirement. In the first years, it was sort of "us against them" (faculty against administration). It was the faculty feeling their way through and dealing with a lot of political issues, dealing with a lot of dictates that would not hold up in today's world. Then, as the faculty began to add more and more younger faculty, there comes another cycle. Then there came this wiggling around within the departments, a one-upmanship, that was taking place that was devastating to a lot of people. They didn't understand that this is the way an institution matures. I think that the faculty, much to their credit, were able to work out a number of things that were happening in a healthy way. I think that the faculty and the student body associations are now working very well together.

I think that we are blessed in Orange County to have an institution like Saddleback College. I am very, very proud to be an emeritus faculty.