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Ventura College Alumni to Relive Memories of 1955

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was 1955 in Ventura. The city limits stopped at Five Points, where Thompson Boulevard and Main Street merge and where, most important, the Merle’s Drive-In sat.

Some of the 1,000 students at the new campus of Ventura College would take off after classes and head to Merle’s, or to another drive-in at the spot they called Salad Bowl Curve, where Thompson takes a sharp turn into Garden Street and where local vegetable trucks would sometimes overturn.

Dave Stork of Ventura, who was in the first graduating class at the new college, cruised his black, 1941 Chevy sedan with 14 coats of lacquer to campus, to work at the old Santa Cruz Market and to Merle’s.

“You drive down to Merle’s, have a Cherry Coke, talk to some people,” said Stork, recalling his daily routine. “Then you drag Main out to Salad Bowl Curve, have a Cherry Coke, talk to more people.”

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This weekend, Stork and his contemporaries will have a chance to relive some of those moments when graduates of the first classes on the college campus gather for a 40th reunion.

Fred Buenger, who now lives in Santa Paula and owns a group of stores called Coast Chandlery, will be there.

“Maybe it has something to do with recapturing those moments that were so good to us,” Buenger said. “Compared to today, life was a lot simpler and straightforward then.”

Ventura College first held classes at the old Ventura High School beginning in 1925, but it was still part of the high school district. It wasn’t until the spring break of 1955 that the college and its students moved to the new campus.

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Among Buenger’s most fond memories are the nights at Merle’s, as well as the time spent hanging out in the old student building at the high school on Main Street, which the group knew as Pirate’s Cove.

“The cafeteria at the new campus was supposed to replace it, but it didn’t have the burnished walls or the feeling of the old place,” he said.

Today, the campus has 10,000 students and 25 classroom buildings in addition to its communal buildings, such as a bookstore, theater, campus center and financial aid building.

But what were then the new digs on 110 acres east of the city limits featured three main buildings, a library, the campus center that included the cafeteria and the gymnasium--all built for less than $1.5 million.

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There were also classroom buildings for arts and crafts, electronics, agriculture, trade, chemistry, physics, engineering, home economics and business and child care.

A temporary administration building was also moved from the old campus. There were also several support structures for agriculture, including a Quonset hut for a tool shop, a hay barn, a glass house and lath house, used for growing certain types of plants.

The trees were new and small and there was lots of dirt yet to be landscaped, with sidewalks built where no one intended to walk.

“The first winter, I can remember walking to classes with an inch of water coming over our shoes,” said Dolores (DeDe Bennett) Taylor, now Ventura County hydrologist. “But I never missed the old campus. It was pretty creepy really, that old brick building, with those ancient chemistry labs and those old windows that were so hard to open when the room would fill up with that sulfur smell.”

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Taylor, who graduated from Ventura College in 1956 and finished her engineering degree at UC Berkeley, was then the only woman in the engineering department. And she was surrounded by older men, who at 24, were returning from the Korean War.

“I really appreciated that they never discouraged me,” Taylor said. “In those days, it was very common to divert women into teaching or a lab science, and I experienced nothing but support.”

Taylor and other students said the education they received at the community college stood them in good stead when they got to universities.

“Ventura College had a real good reputation,” Stork said. “I didn’t have any trouble getting into Cal Poly.”

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Former teacher and local commercial property owner Bill Martin was the impetus behind the reunion. He was one of the older students who came to college on the GI Bill after serving during the Korean War.

“You didn’t have the problems back then that you have today,” he said.

Weekend activities planned include a brunch today, during which former instructors are to be honored, and homecoming festivities tonight.

Orley Casella, who was chairman of the biological science department, remembers the students in those years as a few years older and a little more serious than other times during his 32 years teaching for the college.

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“The older ones were more interested in their work and less interested in fooling around,” he said. Casella said he “enjoyed every bit” of his years working at the college. “I still go out and visit what’s left of the faculty from when I was there.”

Edna (Bauer) Mills said the times were very different from today. She, and all the women wore skirts and tailored blouses with cardigans, no jeans.

“The kids dressed better, behaved better and people had more respect for each other than they have today,” she said. She was planning to go to law school after finishing up at Ventura College when she met the man she would later marry.

“He didn’t want a working wife and that was fine with me,” she said. “That was 38 years ago and I’m still happily married . . . to the same guy!”

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FYI

Members of the classes of 1953 through 1956 are being honored, but everyone interested is invited to attend the weekend events. Today’s brunch begins at 10 a.m. at the College Campus Center. Cost is $10. Tonight the homecoming barbecue at Larrabee Stadium begins at 5 p.m. and continues until the homecoming game starts at 7 p.m. Tickets for the dinner and game are $7, $6 for seniors and $5 for students. For more information, call Barbara Hall at Ventura College at 654-6348.


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