EL CAJON Nostalgia touched Cuyamaca College’s convocation this week, the traditional first meeting for faculty and staff to kick off the new semester.
A departure from the usual welcoming addresses from college and district officials, the audience of about 200 was witness to one man’s heartfelt tribute to teachers from bygone years.
Slowed by nearly a decade of back ailments and surgeries, retired business executive and college benefactor George E. Anderson hearkened to his grade school days of diving under desks in nuclear-attack drills and playing football in high school. Known back then by a nickname, “Porky,” the former mortgage lender shared anecdotes from his hardscrabble youth, recalling a pivotal year in Delton Reopelle’s sixth-grade class at Lincoln Acres Elementary School. He spoke of years in high school, as well: the sophomore English class taught by Pat Peace Browning; and his junior year playing varsity football under Coach Tom Parker at Sweetwater High School.
Anderson, now 66 and a resident of Tucson, Ariz., described the lasting impact the teachers have had on his life, and how the three helped shape a man who started his days as a “raggedy-jean kid” in a working-class neighborhood in National City in San Diego’s South Bay. Also sharing in the tribute were 15 of his former classmates, among them Jess Vandeventer, former mayor of National City and Barbara Hunsaker, former National School District board member and a longtime community leader in East County.
The three teachers, now in their 70s and 80s, were greeted with standing ovations as they each made their way to the podium to accept commemorative plaques and a warm embrace from their former student, who never forgot the wisdom they imparted, despite the passage of a half-century.
Just prior to the tribute, Cuyamaca College officials announced plans to establish a permanent memorial on campus honoring their own teachers, an idea made possible by Anderson’s largesse to the college. A major supporter of the college’s ornamental horticulture, or OH, program and of its coordinator, Brad Monroe, Anderson donated about an acre of land in East County’s Singing Hills to the Cuyamaca College Foundation.
“(The Andersons’) donation is not just one of monetary support, but also one that reflects the most sincere appreciation for the work that community college educators do,” Dr. Cristina Chiriboga, vice president of instruction, told the audience. “Through their efforts, we will be able to memorialize the contribution of all outstanding teachers at Cuyamaca College.”
The memorial design presented at the convocation consists of a series of bands carved into plaza’s concrete pad, ripple-like in appearance. As proposed by a project architect, the names of outstanding Cuyamaca College faculty would be inscribed in the bands, along with the names of Wednesday’s three honorees. That idea and others will be considered in meetings between building and landscape architect and the college facilities master plan committee.
As for the $100,000 that went to the OH program, Monroe said that will help fund an industry-standard greenhouse costing about $250,000 that has long been on the department’s wish list. Double the size of the current greenhouse, the new facility would provide retail sales space with proceeds going to the program.
Monroe said he first met Anderson three years ago and a bond was quickly struck as they shared their thoughts about what education has meant to their lives. That conversation culminated with the property donation a few months later the single largest donation to the college and on New Year’s Eve of 2002, the sale of the parcel.
“It was during that (first) conversation that George related how much several teachers in his past had inspired him and he talked about wanting to give back to education,” Monroe said.
The son of a truck driver and a mother who worked as a housecleaner, Anderson said outside of Wednesday’s convocation that financial straits kept him from going to college after graduating from high school in 1957, but the support and confidence-building of his teachers gave him the boost he needed to start up the corporate ladder.