One day, while I was buried under a mountain of research material for our upcoming Merced College exhibit, Ann Bean, a museum volunteer, came in the office and showed me a photo of her late husband, Edward.
Edward, a philosophy and English instructor, joined the college faculty in 1965. Ann said to me, "Sarah, do you know that my daughter and I were the first mother-daughter graduates at the college?"
"Really?" I replied, "That was 40 some years ago." She smiled in agreement.
After college, Ann went on to have a successful career with the Merced County Probation Department.
This anecdote highlights the important role that our community college plays in providing affordable and accessible programs to train and retrain new and returning students.
Merced College got its start in 1948. A report by a special state survey committee indicated that the San Joaquin Valley was one area in the state experiencing a shortage of junior colleges.
It took nearly 10 years before an organized effort was put into action.
In 1957, another report, this time from the Division of Public School Administration of the California State Department of Education, gave a favorable recommendation for establishing a local college. Many community leaders then came together to launch a campaign to establish a junior college district.
On Feb. 27, 1962, voters overwhelmingly approved formation of the new district.
The first board of trustees included Buddy Iwata of Livingston, Byron Cunningham of Le Grand, and George Clark, John Hann and Donald Robinson, all of Merced.
The trustees elected Merced Union High School District Superintendent Clair Hopkins as interim superintendent of the district. They laid the groundwork for building a college as well as selection of the permanent campus site.
On Feb. 15, 1963, Dr. Lowell Barker was selected as the first full-time president-superintendent of Merced College. In March, the board of trustees officially adopted the name of Merced Junior College District.
By May, the Merced County Fair Board agreed to lease buildings to Merced College for the first classes at a cost of 5 cents per square foot.
Sept. 10, 1963, marks the first date of class instruction in the history of Merced College. Some 280 full-time and 167 part-time students enrolled that first semester.
Students no longer had to travel to Fresno or Modesto for a junior college education. There were 15 full-time instructors.
The pioneers of this new institution of higher education faced many challenges in the first few year as the programs and student body were developed.
Some of the original divisions of instruction included business, humanities, industrial technology, science and math, and social science. The popular agriculture program started in 1966, offering classes such as horse-shoeing, which was taught at the Bellevue Ranch.
The first graduating class, numbering 35 students, received their associate degrees on June 11, 1964.
Students who attended the fairgrounds campus often reminisce about the "story of the vanishing college." When the County Fair came, the college was dismantled and put in storage as if it were never there.
Hardships like this did not discourage the campus life of the pioneering classes.
These students were involved in student government, developed school colors, mascot, school paper, yearbooks, and took part in sports, clubs, and social events.
The spring of 1967 marked the beginning of instruction at the permanent campus on M Street. As the Merced campus grew and expanded, the need for a satellite campus on the Westside of the county became more pronounced.
Merced College began offering evening classes at the Los Banos High School in the fall of 1968.
In September 1971, the Los Banos Campus was open for full-time college instruction with both day and evening classes.
Fast forward to 2012. Merced College has 476 faculty members and more than 10,000 students.
As we celebrate its 50 years of educational excellence with an exhibit at the Merced County Courthouse Museum, a special tribute has been made to honor past and present college administrators, managers, faculty and staff for their pioneering work and continuing dedication to improving the life and education of our community.
Please join us on Thursday at the Courthouse Museum for the opening reception of the Merced College exhibit at 5 p.m.
Dr. Susan Walsh will lead a panel discussion on the college history at 6 p.m. Merced School Employees Federal Credit Union is sponsoring the reception.
This exhibit is a joint effort between the Courthouse Museum and Merced College. For more information, please contact the museum office at (209) 723-2401.