J.M. Cook, former San Fernando Valley resident

(J.M. Cook sent us this story by e-mail)

Congratulations to CSUN for fifty years! I have enjoyed looking at the CSUN website and going through the timeline. It brings back many memories. I live in northern California now and get down that way very rarely.

I have a small CSUN story, although I never attended there. My family lived on Nordhoff Street between Encino and White Oak, and I attended Prairie Street Elementary School (in case you don’t remember it, it was at the southwest corner of Zelzah and Prairie, long since gone to create parking for CSUN) 1958-1964, Northridge Jr. High, Holmes Jr. High and Cleveland High. We were guinea pigs, if you will, for the SFVSC education students. SFVSC was a constant part of the background reality of elementary school, being that the college surrounded the elementary school on three sides.

Prairie Street School students learned early on that a row of folding chairs set up in the back of a classroom meant that a class of education students would arrive shortly to watch our lesson. Our teachers never told us in advance that the students were coming. When we came into the classroom, either first thing in the morning or from recess, there would be those chairs. The students would file in, take their seats, and watch what happened in our class. They only observed, never spoke, during the proceedings. The only time I saw my fourth grade teacher Mr. Klenes sweat was when we had SFVSC students in the room.

I had several student teachers from SFVSC over the years, from elementary through high school. One who made a great impression on me was Richard Speights, who taught my government class at Cleveland High. Even as a student teacher, he was able to make his points creatively and effectively. On one occasion we were discussing literacy tests for voters, and he demonstrated vividly how such a test can be used to separate people into groups. He went around the room asking each student one question about the Constitution. Students who answered correctly stayed in their seats, and those who answered incorrectly went to the back of the room. When he finished, most of the boys were in their seats and most of the girls were in the back. He had asked the boys the easy questions and the girls got the hard questions. That small lesson has stuck with me ever since. No lectures on discrimination would have made the point as clearly as that spontaneous demonstration. I think Mr. Speights must have become a very fine teacher as his career progressed.

My daughter is in college now, and is considering going to CSUN for her master’s degree. Funny how life goes, isn’t it?

Virginia Elwood-Akers, retired Library faculty

Virginia Elwood-Akers
Virginia Elwood-Akers

Ok, I’m sitting in my original office which I just think is fascinating, because lots of people have been here since. I was hired in August of 1972, just out of library school (Oregon is where I went to library school). But I wasn’t young, I mean I wasn’t a brand new “baby” librarian because I had had other careers first, which was the reason they hired me, because I worked in public relations. And they wanted somebody who had a background in public relations because Norman Tanis — who was the director of the library at the time — was starting a development program. And he founded a group called the Bibliographic Society, which was kind of the precursor of the Friends of the Library. So it was called the Bibliographic Society and the first president of that group was the head of the Southwest Museum [Carl Dentzel], so it was very prestigious. And they needed somebody who could write press releases and newsletters and brochures, and that was me, so they hired me.

Anyway, so they had programs they invited poets and writers and famous scientists, like Francis Crick. They invited people to come and speak and they had — we had, I should say — a publishing program called the Santa Susana Press, which published gorgeous books. And everything was swell and fine as long as there was money. And then the money began to get tighter and tighter, and I know one person who used to say that the state university used to be supported by the state, and now it is acknowledged by the state. Probably in the early 80s the money just started to dry up. It was probably connected to Proposition 13, when education money dried up all over the state. And so the Bibliographic Society gracefully died, but not totally. The press went on and they still published beautiful books.

Well there was the great library party of — I can’t remember what year — when Ward Ritchie, the publisher — do you know Ward Ritchie? Well, Los Angeles used to be very famous for fine press books. Glen Dawson did one, Ward Ritchie was a printer who did one. Anyway. . . they did an exhibit of Ward Ritchie press books, and his girlfriend, — using the word “girl” very, very loosely — was Gloria Stewart, that was in Titanic. They were already in their eighties, I believe. Anyway they had this party out in the lobby that was just wonderful. It had music, it had dancing, it had drinking, it had raucous wonderfulness, it was a great party.

Bonnie Giles and Claire Ovrid, CSUN staff family

Bonnie Giles and Claire Ovrid
Bonnie Giles and Claire Ovrid

(Bonnie) My father, Ted Ovrid, started working here in 1961 when it was the San Fernando Valley State College, and he was employed here until 1989 when he retired after 26 years of service. He was the PPM [Physical Plant Management] Material Fabrication Specialist Supervisor, and in 1983 he constructed the time capsule for the CSUN 25th anniversary, which has been opened now for the 50th anniversary. I would like to add that one of the reasons I am employed here: my father had already retired, but his experience here was a very good experience, and he was very proud to be contributing to CSUN. And so when I was looking for places to be employed I gave some thought to the type of environment that I wanted to be in, and so I applied here and fortunately they did hire me and I am very proud now to be employed in the President’s office and really be contributing to the campus today.


Ted Ovrid with the CSUN 25th anniversary time capsule, 1983.

(Claire) That’s 25 years ago, and I remember that he was very excited about being involved in that project. There was a ceremony when they actually were presenting the time capsule, where it was going to be buried, and so forth and so on, and I was there at that little ceremony. And then he [Ted] was the last person to see the time capsule, because he sealed it and buried it. There was a $25 charge for anyone that wanted to put something personal into the time capsule. $25, 25 years ago was more than it is today — we spend that to go out for dinner now. And I said to him, “You know you’re going to be the last one to see this time capsule, you’re going to close it up, you know couldn’t you just slip something in from our family, like a little photo or something?” And he said, “Oh, no — people that are putting personal things in have to pay the $25. So now I was quite interested with the opening of this time capsule, if in fact he did put something in; but we have spoken to the young man that had opened it and has the contents and it seems like my husband Ted Ovrid did not give in to his wife’s wishes. It seemed like he was going to follow the rules. And that is really in keeping with my husband’s character. In his mind, that wouldn’t have been fair. Other people had to pay $25 to put personal items in. And even though he could do it without anybody looking, he would be honorable.

Stan Charnofsky, Educational Psychology faculty

Stan Charnofsky
Stan Charnofsky

I was a graduate student at USC [University of Southern California], and a guy named Phil Monroe, who was a professor of Physical Education, asked me to come out and interview for — amazingly– the baseball coach’s job. Because I’d played professional baseball with the New York Yankees. Meanwhile, I was working on my doctorate at USC in Counseling/Psychology, and then I get offered this job as the baseball coach. So I consulted with my advisor at USC, and he said “Well, it’s a professorship. That’s hard to get — so, take it if you can, and then later maybe, you can switch over.” Well, that’s exactly what happened. I was a coach, and I taught Physical Education for five years, and then they needed me in the Educational Psychology department, and I switched over.

Dr. Prator used to come to the Physical Education building to work out. He was the President, and I’d run into him there because he’d be in the faculty dressing room and we’d talk, and talk, and I got to know him fairly well. When it came to the point that they said, “Well, we only have fifteen Latinos on the whole campus, a dozen Blacks on the whole campus, [so] we’re going to try to recruit minorities,” [Prator said] “Stan, I’d like you to be the first EOP [Educational Opportunity Program] Director, because students get along well with you, and you understand them.” I mean, I had a good relationship with the students. He said, “I know you don’t know much about the other aspect of it, but maybe we can do that.”

So what I did was, I called in Miguel Verdugo – Mike Verdugo, who was head of what they called UMAS at that time – United Mexican American Students; and I called in Archie Chatman, who was head of the BSU, the Black Student Union. And I said, “You guys go out and find students – I don’t know how to find them.” [They asked,] “What are the criteria?” [I answered] “Bring them over, and we’ll see.” The interesting thing to me was, we brought kids in who were failing in the eleventh grade, and then all of a sudden got As and Bs in the twelfth. Their overall grade-point average wouldn’t have permitted them to get in here, but we saw something in them. They must have had a terrible eleventh grade year – you know, maybe trouble in their family, maybe a loss, maybe jail – who knows what? So we looked for people who showed some little glimmer of promise. And that first year we brought in 123 Blacks and Latinos – mostly Black students – all from Central LA, or Sylmar, or San Fernando.

On November 4, 1968, a group of black athletes and Black Student Union activists at SFVSC seized the sixth floor of the Administration Building seeking demands for educational reform and an end to perceived racism in the Athletic Department. Dr. Charnofsky was EOP Director at the time, and witnessed these events. A extensive account is given in John Broesamle’s book, Suddenly a Giant.


After the takeover in November of 1968, the campus was pretty disrupted for several weeks, and there were other incidents around the campus : they broke a door in the administration building at one protest, and there were other arrests made after that. But what happened was, they brought in ministers from South Central LA – Black ministers– they brought in Latino, Chicano men – and a couple of women too, I think– I don’t think Delores Huerta was around yet then – but Cesar Chavez’s people – people like that came in, and they all wanted to try to ameliorate the situation. “How can we get this to work? How can we have this thing work?”

The demonstrations were unfortunate, but sometimes power is the only– You show power is the only way you fight power. The power structure doesn’t give up power voluntarily, in any situation – very rarely. [It’s not] “Oh, you want something? We’ll give it to you.” You know– they’ve got to feel pressure. So that’s what happened. And I think the best thing was, we have a diverse campus. We have campus of diversity. My own Master’s program now – we have people from all over the world that come here. We have a lot of Muslims, we have middle-easterners, Israelis, Iranians, Iraqis, Russians, a lot of Armenians. We have people from all over, everywhere, that come to our program now. I know that’s not the cause and effect — but because we have an open campus, people are attracted to us. So we have a very diverse campus, which I really like.

DeWayne Johnson, founding Journalism faculty

DeWayne Johnson with Betsy Stelck (interviewer)
DeWayne Johnson with Betsy Stelck (interviewer)

I was on the tag-end of the first wave [of faculty], or the front end of the second wave.  And it was quite a thing to recognize it when I came on campus.  There were a lot of people with fine backgrounds that were already in the nucleus of the faculty that was of San Fernando Valley State College.  I was hired by a man by the name of Erling Erlandson. He was the founder of the Journalism department here,  and he had come from USC, where he was on the faculty, and had been honored at USC as a distinguished professor in journalism.  So he came here, and he indeed was a distinguished professor, and it was an honor to join Erl in that experience.  So there were the two of us who were beginning the journalism program here. 
. . .
I was hired by Ralph Prator, and Ralph Prator was a fellow who was easy to know.  He was so outgoing. From the beginning, as a faculty member, I respected the administration, but was not in awe of the administration — they don’t know all of the answers.  But Ralph was really a wonderful man to know, and he treated me as a friend, and well as a faculty member.  But if I had opinions as a friend or as a faculty member, he was a good person to talk to.
. . .
(addressing Mrs. Stelck) You went as my guest at the 50th anniversary gathering of journalism alumni.  It was on the pier on Santa Monica, in the shadow of the wonderful merry-go-round.  One of my former students, Russ Bernard, owns a restaurant right adjacent to that merry-go-round in Santa Monica. So we went there for the 50th anniversary gathering.  And — I don’t know how many — it seemed, hundreds of students, but in that noisy restaurant — I  just stood there by the [bar], but the former students came round to shake my hand, and say how great it was to see me, and to my credit, I remembered them  Sometimes I had a little help on their names, but, coming back, 50 years later, here are people and they’re — “what are you doing now?” Well, they were newspaper publishers, they were writers, they were  any number of exalted positions — public information officers. . . I tell you, just a cross-section of journalists in this country were there.  And it was just great, because I would recognize them, and then — “what are you doing?” and boy, I tell you, it was just wonderful.

Betsy Stelck, founding History faculty family

Betsy Stelck and DeWayne Johnson (interviewer)
Betsy Stelck and DeWayne Johnson (interviewer)

I decided — along with a lot of other faculty wives who’d just arrived — that it would be wonderful if we could get together as a family and get our children playing together, and maybe taking swimming lessons together, and doing those kinds of things. So we organized the Faculty Wives group. And everyone was very, very eager to participate in this, and we had wonderful activities. We had a huge Christmas party for our children, and we had swimming lessons, we had parties. . . And then we had our faculty band, and we had our own parties at the Cafeteria — decorated the Cafeteria beautifully. Char Sellers, one of our very artistic members would decorate this so beautifully, and that’s where we would have our Christmas party. And we were so fortunate to have that, because we were all very, very broke. . ..

Well, we decided that there were many students that wanted to come to this University, but just didn’t have the money, and if we could help them in any way– So we decided we were going to give scholarships, but we didn’t have any money to give the scholarships, so we’d bake cakes. We had a lot of bake sales on the campus. The cookies went so fast, and the cakes went so fast, that we could hardly get them on the campus before they were gone. And then we decided to give rummage sales, and they were very, very popular. So we were able to raise quite a bit of money, and we had to turn it over to the [University] Foundation, and the Foundation invested it for us, and it was a very, very good time for investments — they did a very good job. And before long, we were ready to give our first scholarships, which were $100 scholarships. And for years and years, now we have given four scholarships of $1,500 each.

Anne Kogen and Beth Wolfson, founding Library faculty family

Anne Kogen with daugher Beth Wolfson
Anne Kogen with daugher Beth Wolfson

(Anne) I arrived — we arrived in San Fernando Valley – in Northridge, actually — in 1956. And I have to add that my heart was not in it. … I had not seen the campus until we moved up here, and it was a shock. Well, first of all, there was no campus. It was nothing. There were no buildings. There were Quonset huts . . .. Those were the buildings. And that was the start of the state college, which at the time, in 1956, was a – may I say, “stepchild”? — certainly, a subordinate unit of Los Angeles State College in Los Angeles. We didn’t have a name — we didn’t have “Northridge” in our name. And it was really kind of disheartening. We moved out here at the end of August, and it was hotter by far than today, and it wasn’t at all built up. I mean, one can say, “Well, there were orange trees and walnut trees, and horses. . .“ and make it sound beautiful, but it wasn’t – at least, in my eyes. However, I have to say, going from then to 52 years later, that there is some very special feeling watching something grow up from that stage of nothingness – from very little more than conception – to the very mature institution, successful institution that the college is today.

But I have certain personal memories of the valley, one of which — I laugh, every rainy winter. . .. I spent a lot of time dragging my husband to and from his office, which was in the library. He was the first – I don’t know if he was the only, but he was the first — Assistant Librarian of what is now this incredible building. And we had to go down Zelzah Avenue from the house we were living in in Granada Hills. It was totally unpaved – I mean, it was not just an unpaved, but a completely dirt road. And when you drove from Granada Hills to the campus, it was — When I think about it, it was like a pioneer with a covered wagon, and two and two-thirds children. So, I mean, it was really quite something. But you know — it was ok. As I look back on it, it was more ok than it was at the time.


(Beth) There’s something I think is really moving to me that I’d like to briefly talk about. In the late 80s I took some studio art classes here. I took some sculpture classes in what was then called the sculpture annex. And that year – I think it was ’88 – there was a fire. Just that building burned down. It’s where we did welding. I don’t know exactly what the cause of the fire was. There are some other studio buildings in the same place right now. And it was really devastating to everybody, and it really brought into relief what a special community we had there. It was just a really special place. People loved to go and work and see what other people were doing, and I’d only been in one other little studio community like that, where people had that kind of feeling. And it was a great loss.