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I was just a kid running around the campus

Ann Straubinger DeWolfe grew up with UCR. Her father was an original faculty member.

by: Ann Straubinger DeWolfe '67   (December 2000)

The official letter arrived at our home in Berkeley in April of 1953. Dr. John Olmsted, newly appointed chairman of the Division of Humanities for the new UC Riverside campus, offered my father, O. Paul Straubinger, a faculty position. He was to come to Riverside that summer as an Assistant Professor of German and help establish and coordinate the Foreign Language Department.

Just completing the third grade, I overhead many conversations between my parents that year about how exciting it would be to help build an academic foundation for the new campus. Warm and encouraging letters from Gordon Watkins, Provost, Robert Nisbet, Dean of the College of Letters and Science, and John Olmsted, together with visits to Southern California, made the decision to uproot the family an easy one.

Following my father’s acceptance of the UCR offer, my mother took a train to Riverside in May and bought a modest house on Oakwood Place. My older sister, Susan, and I were excited about moving to a neighborhood with children, which we had missed in Berkeley because our house was on campus next to a fraternity house and across the street from the football stadium.

At the end of June we piled into our 1951 Plymouth (one can see Arthur Turner, Prof. Emeritus, toottling around Riverside in that old car) and headed south. Our furniture didn’t arrive until two weeks later, so we stayed at the Mission Inn! What a treat – running around those long hallways and exploring all of the nooks and crannies.

The biggest joy for us was the pool. Living in Northern California, we had never really had the opportunity to swim. My parents immediately joined the Mission Inn Swim Club. Susan and I were taught how to swim by Ho Coil, a handsome college student and lifeguard (and later a prominent Riverside attorney.)

That summer my father spent long hours in the Citrus Experiment Station’s Director’s house on the hill discussing and planning the future of the new Liberal Arts College. Those meetings also included Watkins, Nisbet, Olmsted, Turner as well as Al Boyce, Tom Broadbent, Edwin Coman, Loda Mae Davis, George Helmkamp, Jack Hewitt, Oliver Johnson, Conway Pierce, Herman Spieth and Bob Wild.

In the fall, an additional 35 relatively young faculty arrived. The campus was one big field of dirt with five buildings nearly completed. I remember the excitement of the campus dedication in October 1953. UC President Robert Sproul presided with his marvelous booming voice, and my father was the Grand Marshall (an honor he continued for many years at graduation ceremonies).

The original faculty found places to reside throughout the community. I recall good times at the Spieth’s home on Third Street. Their son, Phil, became a good friend of my sister. We spent many happy times at Arthur and Netty Turner’s house behind Sherman Institute along with their daughter, Nadine. My sister and I were included in parties at the home of Dr. Philip Wheelwright, famous for his Dartmouth Punch, as well as gatherings at the Olmsted’s Laguna Beach house.

It wasn’t long before Sun Gold developed housing behind UCR where many of the young faculty settled. Streets were named after the founders, but my father told the developer that his name would be too difficult for the residents – so there is no “Straubinger Street.”

At that time and for many years to come, gung-ho Frank Lindeburgh would help organize family picnics on “Picnic Hill,” located behind the old Citrus Experiment Station. There would be a big barbecue, games, and lots of ruckus as we kids would scramble over the boulders. My family would also picnic there after church at least once a month. Following lunch we would walk up the hill past the greenhouses or down to the campus to look at the unceasing development – a tradition that later resumed with my husband, Bill (’58), me and our children, John (’91) and Amy.

Annually, in the 50s, a great big outing was planned for the faculty families at Irvine Ranch. We drove through Orange and Tustin, past the big blimp hangar, across the open fields to the rolling hills of Irvine. Again, Frank Lindeburgh and his wife, Cora, helped plan the activities. There were always baseball games and relay races for the kids. I remember receiving a big Sugar Daddy for winning a race in my age bracket. Bob Wild would be busy basting and cooking an enormous pig in the pit.

The University Theater opened in 1964 with a production of “Hamlet.” Before then, all theater productions were performed in the little theater (SSH 1000) in Watkins Hall. I was impressed with an early performance of Brecht’s “Good Woman of Setzuan,” and I caught the acting bug.
In the late 50s Harold Gould (now a noted stage, television and movie actor) was a UCR drama instructor. His office was next to my father’s on the second floor of Watkins Hall. He helped me to prepare for the annual Junior High School Exchange Club Speech Contest by coaching me with the potion scene from “Romeo and Juliet.” What a thrill! He left the security of academia shortly after that to pursue his dream of acting. What a wonderful ride he has had!

Always in search of new faculty, my father attended the Modern Language Association meetings in New York City, Chicago or Washington, D.C., every Christmas holiday. Many of those recruited professors became family friends who frequently came to our house for dinner. I can recall hilarious games of charades with Don and Pat Daviau, Don and Jori Johns, Gunther and Isabelle Rimbach, Lou Pedrotti and others now long gone. I also remember Homer Chapman playing the piano between poker hands when my parents entertained their “group” which included his wife, Daisy, Al and Janet Boyce, and Walter and Florie Reuther.

I grew up along with the UCR campus. As a senior in high school, I dated a friend of Phil Spieth. By that time, Herman Spieth was the chancellor, and he lived with his family in the big residence on Watkins Drive. I have happy recollections of moving the living room furniture in order to participate in “lawn bowling” on that big carpet.

Following my high school graduation, I attended UCR for two years. It was fun to get the attention of science majors who were required to take German. Since my father was chairman of the department, they thought I could be of some help. The downside for me as a student at UCR was knowing most of the faculty. The friendships created pressure to excel, and I couldn’t get away with much foolishness.

After two years, I moved on to UCLA, returning to UCR following graduation for a teaching credential. Who would have ever believed that I would meet, fall in love with, and marry Bill DeWolfe, a Riverside attorney who had been a freshman in 1954 when I was just a kid running around the campus? Our wedding reception was the first one held in the UCR Faculty Club – alas, now gone. Among our wedding party were Bob Griffin (’58), Charlie Field (’58), Judy Braslow Zacher (’66), and my sister, Susan.

Our families combined have truly been a part of the UCR experience from inception to the present. Bill’s father, Tom DeWolfe, was a researcher in the Plant Pathology Department for decades. Bill’s sister and brother-in-law, Eleanor and Don Blackman (’59), and their two sons, Tom (B.S. ’85, M.S. ’88) and Bob (B.A. ’89), trod the campus paths. My sister, Susan Straubinger Adams, attended UCR (’59-’60 and ’63) and later worked in the Soil Science Department under Professor Homer Chapman and then Nat Coleman, while her husband, Michael Adams (’68), whom she met at the UCR swimming pool in the summer of ’64, obtained his Ph.D. in biology at UCR. The most recent UCR graduate is our son, John DeWolfe (’91).

My father became Professor Emeritus in 1978, but he continued to teach a few select classes for a couple more years. Over almost five decades UCR has grown and changed remarkably, even in the seven years since my father’s death.

He would be amazed. Rising from the walnut grove that Bill remembers from his high school years when he worked summers in greenhouse #1 near Picnic Hill and from the original five buildings surrounded by acres of treeless mud during that first winter in 1953-54, UCR has become a lush, dynamic and ever-growing academic community. Three generations of Bill’s family and my family have been connected to a wonderful campus that continues to uphold its integrity and devotion to the ideals of its founders. All of our family relishes its well-deserved reputation along with all of the great memories from its beginnings to the present.

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