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Memories of SSU

Leonard Swenson

Faculty, 1972-1977

            There were a number of things the attracted me to accept a position as an Extended Education Coordinator at the University in 1972. I had been a teacher and administrator in California schools for 30 years, plus a two-year stint as principal of a school for the children of our military in Madrid, Spain.

            Also my eldest daughter had been a student at SSU, which gave me some orientation to its history. So, when my best friend Chuck Wallace asked me to join him there doing extension work, I was ready for a change.

            After settling in, I learned that the Extended Education outreach to much of Sonoma County, and especially to Mendocino and Lake Counties, was limited. No courses were being offered off-campus for teachers, and there was minimal effort to entice students to the College, especially since we had no Post-BA degree programs at that time. So, something I was able to do, that may have been helpful, was to reestablish relationships in the Mendocino and Lake County schools, since I had been a coordinator there during the post WWII years. I was invited to explain what services Sonoma State could provide (dependent on my being able to convince SSU faculty to possibly travel to those areas for some courses, or to structure on-campus courses to meet their needs). This wasn’t easy, as they had been comfortable with their relationship with Chico State College – about the same travel distance as to SSU. It wasn’t an easy “sell,” with either the off or on campus teachers, but it gradually “took hold” with the cooperation of some of our great faculty.

            Probably the most memorable service I had done, to provide outreach for the College, didn’t have anything to do with my job there. My wife Adrienne and I were attending an annual conference of the Unitarian Church at Michigan State University in Lansing, Michigan. The principal speaker was Father Daniel Berrigan, who gave an inspiring and challenging presentation. I was so “charged” that as soon as he finished, I went up and asked if he was ever going to be in Northern California in the next year or two. Fortunately, he said that he would be at UC Berkeley for the fall semester. So, I asked if we could possibly engage him for a presentation at Sonoma State. He seemed agreeable, so I followed through. About three months later, the SSU event was arranged. Since our gym had the largest seating space at the time, this was booked. Word spread around our counties, and especially many of the peace activists were excited about the prospect. Kate Wolf, a well-known local singer, agreed to provide the warm-up. Well, the place was overflowing, and his presentation was exciting. It also, with the impetus of my wife and others, provided the establishment of a Peace and Justice Center in Sonoma County, which is still very active today.

            Having a speaker like Dan Berrigan come to the University helped to extend its value, as do the many prominent speakers and services, which are continuing to be scheduled there today. This provides a tremendous benefit, not only for the University campus, but also for the greater community. This is helping our University to grow in importance for the region, and also for its graduates. I was glad to have been a small part of it.