A Trip Up Memory Lane

By Michaela (Crawford '79) Reaves, Ph.D.

Michaela Reaves, associate professsor of history, has been affiliated with California Lutheran University since its inception. Here she relates her 50-year odyssey with CLU as community member, student, alumna and professor.

Cal Lutheran and I arrived in Thousand Oaks the same year. It was 1959.

When my parents arrived, with my newly minted little sister and me in tow, the only house they could afford was “way out” in Thousand Oaks. The freeway was a two-lane road, bisected by a long hilly street that cut north across the Conejo Valley until it dropped down the serpentine grade literally carved out of the rocks by the Norwegians from the colony in northern Thousand Oaks.

Back then CLC was a place of walnut groves, chicken feathers and a few tenacious faculty and administrators. The town had no grocery store; neighbors planted flowers down the medians of the country roads; and sheep blanketed the nearby hillsides. By the time I was five, my family was set to move into a new home in College Park, the subdivision built to embrace the tiny college. To me, this was certainly Westwood to the Conejo’s UCLA. Granted, my knowledge of the campus was somewhat limited.

First, I remember the fireworks that lit up the sky every Fourth of July, shot off from the football field on campus. My grandfather always bought a watermelon, and we munched the wet red fruit as colorful lights lit up the sky.

Later, CLC was the cultural center of the Conejo Valley. I saw plays like 1776 there, watched beauty pageants, and listened to classical music from the orchestra. My best friend even took violin lessons on campus! CLC was also the place to go to watch basketball or football, and, of course, the Dallas Cowboys. In 1971 Coach [Robert] Shoup and his team brought back the national championship and the little college was not just a place of learning but an awesome football dynasty!

A College Next Door

By the time I was looking for a college, my parents had divorced and money was scarce. Two ex-jocks were Admission counselors that year and they visited my high school. They offered me a full-tuition scholarship to the college down the street, and I looked at CLC with new eyes. Now, this was not a place to play, but a place to learn.

And learn I did! I learned in Humanities Tutorial that Socrates did live and his name was John Kuethe. I learned to avoid dive-bombing starlings as they protected their young nestled in the orange trees by the music buildings. I learned that the “go-ahead” of Coach Shoup meshed with the cement of Don Bielke could, indeed, add offices onto the Old Gym and do it in a weekend! But above all, I learned what it was to live in a community of like-minded and intellectual men and (back then) a few women [faculty members], who cared deeply about learning and sharing it with others!

Sure, I made friends my own age, but I also found heroes on whom to model my life. Somewhere between the German chocolate cake and the spring smell of orange blossoms, I fell in love with the college next door.

I graduated from CLC, pocketed the remainder of my scholarship money to buy my first car, and set off for UCLA law school. However, I suddenly confronted the issue of not what I “should do,” but what I wanted to do. A year of torts was not where my heart lay so next came a fellowship in archaeology. (That was a “no” when the small print read “Destination: Iraq!”) I thought back to my days at CLC and asked what did I love the best? The answer was simple: History!

Quickly, I earned my master’s, began teaching at CLU, got married, finished my doctorate from UCSB, and had two children. I was back teaching at CLU within eight years of graduation!

The town had no grocery store; neighbors planted flowers down the medians of the country roads; and sheep blanketed the nearby hillsides.

Changed and yet the Same

During the next 20 years, many things changed. CLC became CLU and it grew even faster! But the things that made CLC unique still existed. Beyond the beautiful site, the sense of collegiality and the call to excellence still reechoed in the pepper grove. Students shed their Afros for new buzz cuts and their boom boxes for iPods, but the opportunity for growth was still there.

CLU is still the place where the university president drops into class for a guest lecture. It is still the place where conejos roam but the white ones now have a place on YouTube! In the last decade we did not just build a locker room with a star on the floor, we built the Gilbert Arena.

So much has changed, but the best things have remained the same. The sun still turns Mt. Clef golden as the athletes stroll home from practice. The students still drive all the way to the cafeteria, an entire two blocks. The ideas of Socrates still befuddle students in Hum Tut. And the little blue ranch house still reminds us that this place is a gift from the early Norwegian rancher, Richard Pederson.

After 50 years, the University is still home to men and, yes, many more women, who are committed to intellectual and academic pursuits, helping students who are searching to define themselves before setting off to make their mark on the world!

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