Rey Kero


Rey Kero 

Jim Thorpe would be better able to say why I was hired because he interviewed me. I was teaching at Imperial Valley College down in EI Centro. Before that I was at a high school up in the Bay Area. After two years at Imperial Valley College, two colleagues came up and applied for the athletic director and the football coach here at Saddleback, and they were telling me I should come and apply. I said, "I stand a snowball's chance in hell, you know." Then I said, "Well, where is it?" So I went up and put in my application, and then I got a call to come up for an interview with Dr. Bremer and Jim Thorpe. Then a week later I came up and interviewed with Roper, and I was hired. Neither of my colleagues who had told me about the job got one.

Why I was hired? I think probably because I was able to do more things. I taught both biology and chemistry. When I interviewed with Dr. Bremer, he asked if I had any questions, and I just happened to have, you know, a list that 1'd brought along. I asked all my questions, and I sounded gullible enough to do all the work that had to be done. I ended up getting hired the first year.

When I came to interview, the administrative offices were just where you turned in off of La Paz Road to go to Mission Viejo High School. It was on the left side where that gas station was. We were just in the portables at the "hospital site" there for that first year. And of course, we had to get all of the equipment and supplies for teaching. You had pretty much a list of chemicals that you would need to get started in the first year at least. So we had to unpack and inventory and put all of those things away. The summer that they pulled the portables to the permanent site, Lee Rhodes and I were in Oakridge, Tennessee. We had National Science Foundation Summer Science scholarships at Oakridge Associated University. He was in biology and I was in chemistry. And we had to ask and got permission from Dr. Bremer to show up a week late for classes. As it ended up, they were a month late in finishing the campus, so we were actually here three weeks early instead of a week late. Then, of course, we were putting all of the things together again, packing and unpacking and doing the inventory again.

We had a full lab. The building we were in was biology on one side, and then there were the chemistry and physics spread out on the other half of the building. We had the chemical storage room and the physics equipment storage room, and then we had the balance room as a separate room. We had problems at first with the fume hood to get rid of the fumes. When I was teaching the Chem 1C class, we had hydrogen sulfate fumes that were so bad in there that essentially I have lost all my sense of smell. I couldn’t smell what gasoline smells like! Couldn’t smell any perfume or any of that. Secretaries were getting ill with fumes! One of the students here, I think, had called the pollution control, and that sort of put the leverage on to have the fume hood installed right. After that, we didn't breathe the fumes as much.

Early on, we started out with only about 15 in the classrooms. Some classes I was looking at around 18, 20, 22, but they were actually some of the better students back then. There was such a thing called the draft for the military. So no one dropped classes.

We had 50 different solutions to be mixed up in chemistry, times eight little dropper bottle samples to be filled and labeled. That's 400 bottles, and we had no lab techs. We had to do all that work ourselves. So it was a seven-day-a-week sort of job.

I think it was hard just trying to fit everything into the day. Teaching really isn't a job, it's a way of life. You don't work by the hour. It's not time-oriented; it's project-oriented. And whatever time it takes, you know, you do it. So you have your preparation for your classes and your marking of papers and correcting labs.

Then there was also what you owed to the institution, the governance of the institution. The second year, we decided we were going to form the Academic Senate, because under Title V, governance had leverage. The faculty and the associate faculty didn't have any rights at all, and so we were going to form the Academic Senate. Dr. Bremer was against our forming the Academic Senate. He said, "Well, I will not come to the faculty meeting." Jim Thorpe was the first President. I was Vice President. Frank Sciarrotta was on that. It's what they called SMET, Science Math Engineering Technology. We seemed to be involved in most leadership. Then at the end of the first semester, Jim got involved in politics down in San Juan Capistrano, and he figured there might be a conflict of interest with his being Academic Senate President, so he dropped out. So I then took over as President for that year and then President for the second year. For the first year and a half, I was those first two years' Academic Senate President.

Then, you owe to your discipline. You have to be involved in that. I attended the California Association of Chemistry Teachers Conference. In 1981, I was asked to run for the Board of Directors. There are two sections, the Southern section and the northern section. On alternate years the President of the Southern section would be President of the statewide organization in one year, and the next year it would be the Northern, so they alternate years. I planned the statewide conference in 1985. I had two Nobel laureates as speakers.

But back to Saddleback I think of one student that I had who is, I think, a medical doctor now, Bob Cox. He had the best knack of asking test questions on the day or two before the test. Of course, he didn't know they were on the test or anything. I made them up myself. So I'd give him the answer, and all the other students had the same advantage, if they were listening. There was another one, Evans. When he started, I had him in Chem 3 and he just barely got through it with a low C, and then he went into the Chem 1 A and Chem 1B and by the time he was in Chem 1C, he was a top student in the class by far.

I think one of the funny things, though, was when we were in the first year on this campus, we were still in temporary buildings. We were chemistry on one side and the physics on the other with the stockroom in between. I was going into the stockroom to get something, and Bob Parsons was there in a classroom. Pretty soon he started backing away from the blackboard, and he backed away to where the students were. I stuck my head in the door and I said, "What's wrong?" He said, "There's a hornet." There was a hornet right over by that blackboard where he was writing. So I just I walked over in there and I took one swipe and knocked it down onto the floor, went over and stepped on it. Then I said, "Any of your students causing problems?"

When we first started, we were a small group of only 28 or so the first year. We were a family. On Friday afternoons, after classes were over, we'd usually go down and play pool at some place and have a beer or two. Then as the school kept getting larger and larger, you sort of lost those things. I think when the college first started it was a strong academic school. This was so the first 10, 12 years at least. Then after Proposition 13, when we started losing funding from local taxes, things changed.

The Chemistry Department never lost their standards. My standards were the same when I left, but the students were not as good. They weren't willing to pay the price it takes to be a student. There was one year when I said, well, by the looks of things, I'm gonna have to put a mirror in the back of the room to have someone to lecture to by the time this year 's over! At one time a student could just get a withdrawal right up to the rime of the exam. It wasn't a WP or WF. you just withdrew. So there was no reason for them to make a commitment. They always had the escape hatch. Later that changed to at least a WP or WF, and that helped a little bit. I had a student, he was a good student, and he went on and got his Ph.D. Well, there was a test, and he handed in the test, and I asked, "What score do you think are you getting?" "Well, I think I got a 44," he said. I said, "Well, I think you got a 41." When I marked the test, he had a 41. The next test, it was the same thing. I said, "Well, give me a number." It was exactly the number again. The third time he took a test, he said, "What do you think I have again?" I said, "You tell me, and I'll tell you if you’re right." I got it exactly right the third time! So for the final exam, I said,

"Well, do you want to take the final or should I just write a mark down for you?"

You got a feeling for what they were going to do. When we first started, we would usually open the labs on weekends, and the students could come in in the afternoons and sometimes we would be here until, you know, 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. Someone would go out and get something to eat. After about eight weeks of it, we got called in and reprimanded by Dr. Bremer because we hadn't made arrangements a week in advance to open the labs. So we cut that off. But in the early days we could do those sort of things.

Back in the early days, we all participated, at least at first. When we first started football, it was at Mission Viejo High School, because they didn't have the stadium here. And when the first game came and they were looking for some people to help, I volunteered. I was on downs marker. And for the first 26 years at the college, I held a goals marker at every home football game they ever played. I ran the chain crew and recruited the chain crew. And I would run the clock and the scoreboard at basketball unless I had a night class at the time when the game was. So when I was going to retire, I thought, "So what's gonna happen to the chain crew?" Well my daughter and Bart's [Ryburn Bartlett] daughter would help on the chain crew, and the neighbor across the street from where I had lived before, and I think they're still pretty much doing that.

A lot of people look at science as the ivory tower. You know, they think that it's a world of its own. You have to be able to connect with students. You can do that in athletics. Then, you know, athletes can be great athletes but not the best students. I had one who failed chemistry, and George [Hartman] was really, really irate with me because his player wasn't eligible for playing. Even the player said he should have gotten an "F." I said, "What are you griping about then?"

When I think back to what makes Saddleback special, I thought it always had a good reputation as being an outstanding education institution. And I think that one of the things you look at is the type of people that were hired. The faculty were involved in education on a statewide basis as well as in classroom teaching.