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Memories of SSU

Evangeline Drury Geiger

Professor of Education, 1968-1978

Memories of Sonoma State

            Probably no other department at the new college had such an immediate and dynamic impact on the local community as the Department of Education. Faculty members were immediately pressed into service by the teachers, administrators, and Boards of Education throughout the North Bay districts. The community faculty were eager to participate (learning and sharing) with the many new materials and techniques being introduced to the curriculum through the State Department of Education.

            Into this scene the college provided already nationally known educators including Thor Carlson author of “Success In Spelling” a California State adopted text, Bjorn Karlsen, the major educational test author in the United States, and myself, author of “Reading Activities,” editor of the “California Reader” and a textbook consultant for the State Department of Education.

            Faculty members became very active in the local and state Reading Association, donating individual expertise in developing new programs which were later used by other institutions in their training of teachers for the new Reading Teacher Credential being offered by the State at that time. State wide Reading Conferences had the Sonoma State “imprint” on many of their sessions.

            My first office was in the basement of the music building next to a large well-lit room in which we held some of our classes. With the completion of the Stevenson Hall we moved to our permanent quarters on the third floor. I shared an office with Bjorn Karlsen. Thor Carlson, Eva Washington, Bernice Goldmark, and other members of the Education Department were nearby.

            My room was especially spacious. Since reading methods and reading materials were my specialty, I developed a reading library in the rear of my room. The next year the state had a major textbook adoption in the area of reading and literature for 1st-8th grades. Districts had to make selections for each individual classroom in their district. The college immediately answered the need by establishing courses and workshops on the selection of material. The publishers responded by sending complete sets of their material until our room was floor-to-ceiling with boxes of text books, making it necessary to hire someone to organize and maintain the selection. One late afternoon I had an appointment with six teachers from Fairfield to help with their selection. I received a late telephone call only to find that they had spent 30 minutes driving around the city of Sonoma looking for our campus. (We did have a location-identity problem at times). Many on the education faculty did weekend courses (Friday afternoon, Friday evening and all day Saturday – 1 unit) in Mendocino and Lake Counties. It was a wonderful experience. As we had to stay overnight, the college allowed $2.70 for dinner and $1.30 for breakfast.

            Things ran smoothly at the university until a small but loud and disturbing group of students decided to challenge the administration. One of the young men wanted to attend a faculty meeting. We told him “of course he was welcome.” One visit was enough! He was so bored he never came back. A member of the rebellious group asked if he could speak to one of my classes, which he did. My students crowded around me after class to assure me that he did not speak for them! Fortunately this period of unrest did not last for long but it was disturbing and hurt people, especially a fine man and president, Ambrose Nichols, who finally decided to resign – a bitter loss to the university.

            The experience became more challenging as we added graduate courses, since the classes were composed of local teachers, administrators and others who were working on their masters degree. The discussions were filled with experimental contributions and exchange of ideas. Faculty members, individually or as a team, were invited by local school administrations to evaluate and to provide conclusions for areas of the instructional program, such as a reading survey for the Vacaville Unified School District by Bjorn Karlsen and me. Many faculty teams assisted districts in Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino and Napa counties.

            One very personal and amusing event that comes to mind was the result of a three week summer session course I taught. For the first week I wore a different dress each day. My husband wondered if I planned to do so the second week and so it became sort of a game between us. I held out to the end of the course with some effort and when I walked into the classroom on the last day – I stopped dead! Everyone was clapping and cheering – I guess I looked startled because one of my gentleman students said “You Made IT! You wore a different dress every day. We have a ‘pot’ going to see if you would make it” (I guess this course came under the heading of “Rapport with one’s students”).

            I rest each night knowing that during my time at Sonoma State College we provided the community with superbly educated teachers and administrators schooled in the best techniques and methods for teaching the language arts (reading, phonics, spelling, language and literature).

            It was a memorable 10 years for me at a college which started in temporary quarters and progressed to a full-fledged university in fine new building.


Evangeline Geiger died in 2010.