'An Historic Year': Merced College celebrates a milestone

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 21, 2012 

Merced College has seen much growth over the years and this weekend will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

The college started offering classes at the Merced County Fairgrounds in fall 1963 with only 15 full-time faculty members. Today, the college has 476 full- and part-time faculty.

Its first graduating class was in 1964 and had just 35 students.

"This is an historic year in the life of Merced College. When we look back, we see a proven track record of educational excellence," Merced College President Ron Taylor said.

"It's demonstrated in the lives of hundreds of thousands of students who have experienced richly rewarding lives because Merced College gave them a solid foundation," Taylor said. "When we look forward, we see challenges, but also opportunities to continue to impact our communities in ways no other institution can."

Dedicated in 1967

In June 1964, construction began for what is now the Merced College campus, said Robin Shepard, executive director of the Merced College Foundation and spokesman for the college.

The boiler building went up, then the science and classroom building, followed by the administration building, communication building -- which used to house the library -- vocational and student union buildings, he said.

The campus construction was completed in 1967, and the college had a dedication with a community celebration on April 23, 1967, Shepard said.

"Fifty years later we are no longer a small college. With the student growth that we have experienced over the years, we've moved into a medium-size college," he said. "The culture of the college is changing and that happens in institutions, and I think that change will bring a lot of success for us as we move into the next 50 years."

A series of events begin today to celebrate the impact that the college has had in the local community in the past 50 years.

A concert featuring legendary San Francisco rock and funk band Lydia Pense and Cold Blood will kick off the festivities today at the Merced Theatre.

The event, organized by the Merced College Foundation and sponsored by the Educational Employees Credit Union, will include a performance by local blues band Mike Hammar and the Nails, winner of the 2009 Monterey Blues Festival Battle of the Blues Bands.

On Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m, the foundation will host its alumni barbecue, classic car show and homecoming football game at Don Odishoo Field. The event is being sponsored by Joseph Gallo Farms and the Peter J. Gallo Foundation. It will include a tri-tip lunch and admission to the homecoming game at 1 p.m. against Feather River College for $10.

Historical exhibit

Merced College will partner with the Merced County Historical Society to present an exhibit of the college's historical artifacts and memorabilia. The exhibit will be on display from Oct. 11 to Jan. 27 at the Merced County Courthouse Museum. A public reception will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 11.

In the spring, the college also will be collecting artifacts to place inside a time capsule. The time capsule will be opened 50 years from now, when the college celebrates its 100th anniversary, Shepard said. It plans to have a rededication of the campus on April 23, 2013.

Merced college also plans to host a gala banquet to wrap up the anniversary celebration. "We have been such an important part of the community," he said. We've literally touched the lives of every person in this community either directly or indirectly."

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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