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05/02/2014 | Created by Darla Martin Tucker

They converged upon La Sierra University April 25-27 from regions near and far, more than 500 alumni, their spouses and families gathering for Homecoming 2014.

Pastor John Brunt, class of 1964, delivers the Alumni Weekend message on April 26 at La Sierra University Church.
La Sierra University President Randal Wisbey holds an early recording by the Wedgwood Trio in introducing the group for an April 26 Alumni Weekend performance.
The Wedgwood Trio with fiddler and La Sierra alum Christina Thompson performs for Alumni Weekend. Left to right, Bob Summerour, Don Vollmer and La Sierra alum Jerry Hoyle.
The La Sierra University Golden Anniversary Class of 1964.

They came to celebrate their alma mater, to recall inspiring teachers and fun college pranks, and to rekindle friendships of bygone days during a weekend of activities organized under the theme, “Possibilities +.”

Participation swelled as the weekend commenced. “Our Homecoming attendance was larger than expected,” said Alumni Director Julie Narducci. “We made over 400 pre-registered name tags and we ran out of blank name tags for all the walk-up attendees. We had over 500 lanyards and ran out.”

John Brunt, a member of the 50th anniversary class of 1964, addressed the reasons La Sierra is home during a morning sermon on April 26 at a packed La Sierra University Church. He serves as senior pastor of the Azure Hills Seventh-day Adventist Church in Grand Terrace and is a collaborating Divinity School faculty member at La Sierra. “It can’t be the campus that makes it home. It can’t be the curriculum. It can’t be the people,” because faculty and students change, Brunt said. “It is its commitments that give it character and continuity, [commitment] to its values, those values God has said He is looking for,” to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.

He added that it is La Sierra’s stories “that give shape and flesh to those commitments.” Brunt recalled William Landeen, who served two stints as president of La Sierra College during the 1960s, and Landeen’s decision during a political campaign to be fair to the candidates in the face of opposition. He recalled the influence of religion professor and La Sierra alum Royal Sage during Brunt’s time at La Sierra. “He gave me a love not only for Greek, and later for Hebrew, but for scripture,” Brunt said. Sage developed multiple sclerosis and taught from a wheelchair until his retirement in 1971, an example, Brunt said, of walking humbly with God.

And Brunt cited the stories of Service-Learning students who visited a nursing home and painted the nails of the women who lived there, likening their kindness to the humble ritual of foot washing during communion. “These stories made La Sierra what it was, and make La Sierra what it is today,” he said.

Brunt also recalled La Sierra’s deep impact on his life in other ways – he met his wife, Ione at La Sierra while they were both grading papers in the office of religion professor Fritz Guy. “I proposed to her 50 years ago yesterday,” Brunt said. “I owe my very existence to La Sierra. My folks met here, too.”

The memories and stories carried on throughout the weekend in conversations during Friday’s festive banquet and vespers, Saturday church services, afternoon open house activities and much-anticipated Wedgwood Trio concert, and on into Sunday morning’s pancake breakfast.

Koklian Lim, also a member of the class of 1964 and retired medical group administrator for Kaiser Permanente’s Riverside Medical Center talked about the friendships he forged during his studies at La Sierra, ties that formed through a faith heritage transcending racial and cultural differences. “There was a common bond that drew us together,” said the former theology major during a Saturday afternoon visit to the newly renovated Gladwyn Hall. Lim, who lives in Rancho Cucamonga with his wife, Carol, has two adult children. He earned a degree in physical therapy from Loma Linda University and a Masters of Public Health. The spiritual lessons he learned while at La Sierra he deemed “foundational” and later incorporated them into a management model he called ‘Galilean’ in reference to the teachings of Jesus.

Maryland resident Emita Miller Rich who attended La Sierra between 1950-52 remembered her communications and speech instructor who led a dramatic production of end-time events in which Miller Rich participated. The group gave a performance at Paulson Hall at the White Memorial Medical Center campus in Glendale. “It was very meaningful and Friday night after rehearsal we went to her house for supper. She had fresh-baked cookies,” Miller Rich said with a smile. She also recalled a dean who supplied the dorm girls with cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate as a Sabbath morning treat. “It’s good to remember that,” she said.

Miller Rich and her husband, Ellis Rich attended the Wedgwood Trio concert Saturday afternoon at the La Sierra University Church. University President Randal Wisbey introduced the legendary Adventist music group by holding up three vinyl records of their early recordings and recalling their concert at La Sierra in 1967 at old college hall. “The cavernous gym was filled to the rafters and the atmosphere was electric. The Wedgwood Trio had come to town,” said Wisbey. “They changed Adventist music forever.” He recalled that their music was one space where he and his parents were in agreement.

Vicki Ludders attended La Sierra between 1960 and 1962 and is now an Idaho resident and devout Boise State University Broncos fan along with her husband and alum Darrell Ludders. The couple had a first date during college at a community concert, then went down separate paths. “Twenty-three years later we had a second date,” Darrell quipped during the alumni weekend pancake breakfast on Sunday.

Vicki had lived near La Sierra since the age of 5 and remembered when Palmer Hall functioned as a grade school until it burned, and when the School of Education and its grounds housed a campus swimming pool and physical education facilities. She played flute in the band and orchestra and studied Spanish and pre-nursing. “It’s beautiful,” she said of the current and expanded campus. “They’ve done a beautiful job of keeping it up.”

Darrell, a 1964 graduate and musician who later became a physician in obstetrics and gynecology was the university’s second math graduate. He remembered studying with program and department founder Hilmer Besel. “He was very bright, and a very nice person,” Darrell said.

“We did a lot with the teachers and students. It was like a family. We used to fill old college hall up there,” said Bill Napier, famed coach and physical education degree program founder at La Sierra who brought the likes of 7-foot-1-inch basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain to campus and as well as Olympic gymnasts seeking a workout facility. The gymnasts liked La Sierra’s vegetarian cuisine. “They raved about the food here,” Napier said.

Napier said he and his wife are writing down their La Sierra stories to pass along to their grandchildren. “We remember so much more than we thought we did,” he said.

Carole Sue Van Noty Bowes, a nearby Riverside resident and 1967 alum, remembered when former First Lady Nancy Reagan visited and provided her family recipe for Rancho California rice during a conversation with students who were providing refreshments for her appearance. The recipe was included in a cookbook that was sold during a 1967-68 fundraiser. 

Her husband, Ron Bowes also a 1967 alum and former La Sierra public relations director recalled other campus events involving political candidates including Ralph Nader’s speech in the new Alumni Pavilion around 1970. Bowes described his efforts through a young newspaper reporter to inspire Nader’s involvement in a local water contamination issue, an effort that ultimately proved successful, and his invitation to George Christopher, a 1966 Republican Primary rival of gubernatorial candidate Ronald Reagan, to speak to the students.

For the Harding family, attendance at La Sierra is a long-standing tradition. Jo Ann Loveless, class of 1947, married Loma Linda psychiatrist and 1949 La Sierra alum George T. Harding IV. Jo Ann said the two met while she was studying nursing. “He had three brothers and one sister who came here also,” she said. Her brother, Phil Loveless, father of La Sierra University English professor and drama director Marilynn Loveless, also attended La Sierra College.

The Hardings’ five daughters attended La Sierra as well – Pamela in communications, Mary Ann in pre-medicine, Carolyn in English, Julie in education, and Elizabeth in business. This June, the Hardings’ grandson will also graduate from the family’s university.

George Harding recalled the student Republican group started on campus the year Thomas Dewey and Earl Warren were among those vying for the Republican presidential primary. The group held mock elections. “We developed a college Republican club on campus, Warren Johnson, Marshall Horseman and I. We thought it was of interest to let the students have some sense of what a presidential election was about,” Harding said. He and other students heard Dewey and Warren speak at respective events in San Bernardino and Riverside.

“We had some wonderful times, learned a great deal and developed friendships that endure,” Harding said.