After two years’ absence, alumni of La Sierra University in Riverside, California, United States, were able once again to gather on campus for Homecoming, to reminisce and reconnect while celebrating the school’s 100th anniversary.
Roughly 300 people registered for Homecoming 2022, which was held April 29-30 under the theme “Celebrating a Century.” Traditional alumni weekend programs were offered as well as special events capped by a Saturday-evening fireworks show that commemorated the university’s founding in 1922.
It was a welcome return to in-person activities — the COVID-19 pandemic pushed last year’s alumni weekend events online and resulted in the cancellation of 2020 events as the pandemic stormed through the nation and region.
“It was a wonderful alumni homecoming weekend,” David Pendleton, classes of 1989 and 1990, said. He is an attorney and partner with the Law Offices of Bradford & Barthel, LLP in Anaheim, California, and previously served as a state legislator in Hawaii’s House of Representatives. “How very special it was to be able to get together in person and to meet classmates, former professors, and even children of classmates — and classmates who are now professors on campus.”
Honored for Impact
More than 170 people attended the Recognition Banquet held in the Troesh Conference Center of the Zapara School of Business. Some award recipients provided brief comments on the meaning of the recognition and of their years studying at La Sierra.
Paul H. Douglas, who is the current treasurer and chief financial officer of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, received a special recognition for his impact. Douglas noted his experience as a student in La Sierra’s business school nearly 40 years ago and as a resident in the men’s dorm at Sierra Towers.
“Each day, I found my confidence by the little quotation that was on the top of [Sierra Towers’] Meier Chapel that said, ‘Do not let anyone despise you because you’re young. Be an example to believers in your conduct, in your speech, in your love, in your faith and in your purity. I’m not so young anymore,” Douglas said, “but I hope that I will continue to be an example to the believers in my conduct, in my speech, my faith, and my love and my purity. I have been a part of La Sierra’s past, and I am now a part of La Sierra’s present with my daughter who is a freshman in the business school. By God’s grace I will continue to be part of [its] future.”
A Special Homecoming
Several La Sierra alumni who are members of the Harding family attended the banquet — sisters Pamela Harding Libby, class of 1977; Mary Ann Harding Schaepper, class of 1978, with her husband, Hans Schaepper; and Julia Harding King, class of 1985, as well as King’s son, who graduated in 2014; and Russell Hoxie, class of 1982, the sisters’ cousin. The sisters’ father, psychiatrist George T. Harding, graduated from La Sierra University in 1949, and his four siblings also attended La Sierra. George Harding was unable to participate in this year’s alumni weekend events but passed along his best wishes to attendees through his daughters.
Julia Harding King, who is also a member of the university alumni board, commented on the significance of Homecoming 2022, particularly in light of the university’s centennial.
“I think my biggest [excitement] … was to share it with my dad,” she said. “My sisters and my cousin and all of us who have really been here and enjoyed [La Sierra], and my son, who was the last one to graduate, so many generations, so many people that were influenced and benefited from La Sierra. So I was excited to have that opportunity to do this special event. It keeps going back to my dad. It’s so important to him that we all experience what he experienced, and what he valued so much, we value.”
Pendleton noted the university history presentation he attended on April 29 by La Sierra University professor of history Andrew Howe. “It really put the university in the larger context of its own history, from very humble beginnings as an academy 100 years ago,” he said. “[Howe] then discussed how the university made bold decisions and over time transitioned from a campus that had a lot of agricultural land to one that then leased that agricultural land in order to create an income stream and put the university on a sound financial foundation. We really have to thank the leadership of former president Larry Geraty for that.”
For some alums, their visit to their alma mater this spring was the first return to campus in many years, and they noted its metamorphosis.
“I could not believe the changes even in 10 years [since last visiting]. It’s incredible. Just to drive over here and see the changes since we were in school. So totally different,” Lorayne Barton said. She graduated with the class of 1961 with a biology degree. Barton noted that many of the campus trees seemed to be the same trees that adorned the college when she was a student. She is a pediatrician and neonatologist with additional graduate degrees in public health and health administration. She also serves as health ministry director for the Pacific Union Conference.
Barton’s four adult sons attended La Sierra University in years past, and she is hopeful that her six grandchildren may also one day study at her alma mater.
“Well, of course the physical campus looks pretty much the same, but when I look at teachers, they’re all too young,” Wallace Minder, who earned La Sierra undergraduate and graduate degrees in 1959 and 1984, quipped. He was also the dean of the School of Education from 1987 to 1996. He recalled hiring current school dean Chang-ho Ji. “Great guy. School’s doing good,” Minder said.
Of Memories and Hopes
And for many, favorite memories surfaced of college days gone by, when youthful spirits searched for fun wherever it could be found.
“It was the most amazing funny stuff we did,” Barton said. She recalled a prank she and her friends played on another student while living in the dorm. “A whole bunch of us girls banded together. We’d been collecting newspapers for weeks. And we’ve got about 10 of us together and we crumbled up all these newspapers in our room and put them in our closets … and when she [the student] was out one day, we filled her entire [dorm] room full newspaper. So, when she opened the door, there was nothing but a whole room full of newspapers.”
Rodney Vance, film and television production professor and founder of La Sierra’s Film & Television Production department, graduated from La Sierra in 1978 with a theology degree. He recalled observing the many changes the campus had undergone when he returned in 2012 as a faculty member to lead the new film and television program. He also remembered the fun he and his friends had during the 1970s as dorm students.
“I lived on the fifth floor of Sierra Towers, the men’s dormitory, and myself and a couple of other guys who live down the hall. One of them, his father was a member of the Newport Marina [at Newport Beach],” Vance said. “So we would go out on Friday afternoons after church history class, and go sailing out of Newport Harbor. The challenge was that we had a very hard time getting back to campus in time to attend Friday night vespers, which was required. So three theology majors were consistently in trouble for missing Friday night vespers because we were sailing.”
Their reasons for attending alumni weekend were varied, but some of the school’s former students expressed the importance of maintaining connections with their alma mater and also their hopes for its future as the university rounds the corner on its first century.
“It felt really good [to attend during the centennial year],” Barton said. “I think it’s important, especially if you’re still Adventist, to stay involved with your school. I don’t do it often, but you know, I feel strongly about it. And I feel that we need to do it in order to inspire others.”
“Just keep doing what they're doing. And expand on it. You know, it’s just a great school,” Minder commented when asked for his perspective on the university’s future.
Noted Pendleton, “My hope is for La Sierra to continue in the next 100 years to prepare young people not only for their professional careers but for genuine service in making the world a better place, advancing social justice, fighting poverty, waging peace around the world, valuing our environment,” he said. “La Sierra is a place where people learn how much God truly loves them — and in turn they love the world.”