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Over 50 years of excellence

Once called Turkey Tech, California State University, Stanislaus is now one of the West’s premiere c

Over 50 years of excellence

Master Architect (right) and Executive Dean Gerard Crowley talk at the 'Future Home of Stanislaus State College' sign after the selection of the new site in Turlock.

POSTED September 10, 2012 11:30 a.m.

"There are no ivy covered walls. No colorful homecomings. No great and solemn traditions. No hallowed halls.
Not yet.
But the air is excited by their promise."
So read an editorial in the Sept. 17, 1960 issue of the Turlock Journal, jubilant in the prospects of the newly minted Stanislaus State College due to open two days later. Fifty-two years from that date, the renamed California State University, Stanislaus has lived up to that promise, becoming one of the premiere colleges in the Western United States.
CSU Stanislaus has been named one of the Best 368 Colleges in the Nation by The Princeton Review. U.S. News & World Report concurs, ranking CSU Stanislaus among the top 10 public universities in the West Coast Master's category - as well as a best buy in higher education for the past seven years.
But the current stature of a college once derided as 'Turkey Tech' was just a faraway dream when classes started on Sept. 19, 1960. The promising new college shared space on newspaper pages with fears of Russian space flights, John F. Kennedy's whistle stop in Turlock on the campaign trail, and the Oakland Raiders' first year as a founding member of a troubled new American Football League.
CSU Stanislaus lacked even a permanent campus in its opening years, instead holding classes at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds.
"This is the first time a state college ever started out with trees and lawns before it had a permanent building," said then California Governor Edmund Brown at the opening ceremonies.
Despite the modest accommodations, Stanislaus State College would open for business at its temporary fairgrounds home. But after that opening day, the college that shared space with livestock exhibitions was, most undeniably, a college.
"Friends of Stanislaus State College: The most important day has arrived," said founding president J. Burton Vaché during the opening ceremonies.
The university got off to an auspicious start, with 719 students registered by opening day. The number shocked legislators opposed to siting a state college in a rural community and anticipated just a few hundred students. The opening day student count dwarfed those seen in Hayward, 312, and Orange County, 460.
College officials on that first day hoped the high enrollment would spur a rapid development of the permanent campus on the corner of Geer Road and Monte Vista Avenue, but it was not to be. It would not be until 1965 before the fledgling university had a building of its own - and accepted freshman for the first time.
Enoch Haga was there for the beginning of the university as a founding professor of business. He taught the first class at the fairgrounds that fated day - Advanced Accounting.
"We only had half a dozen students in that class or so, I think," Haga said.
But Haga adored the hectic life of a Stanislaus State College professor after almost lucking into the spot. One day Haga noticed a flier recruiting professors at the new college on a bulletin board, sent in a letter, and forgot about it.
"Suddenly I got a phone call to come down to the fairgrounds where they had their offices and I met Dr. Vasché," Haga said. "... He talked to me for a few minutes and he said, ‘Well, you're in if you want the job.' I said, ‘How long do I have to decide?' He said, ‘Well, about five minutes.'"
Haga accepted the position - taking a hefty $300 a month pay cut from his position as a high school teacher at a state prison to do so.
While Haga knew he was part of something big, he had no idea just what CSU Stanislaus would become.
In fall 2008, the last year statistics were available, CSU Stanislaus had nearly 8,800 students - a twelvefold increase from the opening year. The university offers 41 undergraduate programs, 24 master's programs, a doctor of education program, five graduate certificate programs, and a seven school credential programs.
Yet, despite the growth, most classes still have fewer than 18 students. That allows for more one-on-one interaction with professors, just like in the founding year when Haga would invite students to study sessions at his home.
And all of those students have changed the face of the region. Annually, CSU Stanislaus spends $145 million in the northern San Joaquin Valley region, generating $258 million in regional economic impact. That spending sustains 5,000 jobs and generates more than $13 million in yearly tax revenue.
Those degrees mean even more to the nurses, teachers and businessmen that CSU Stanislaus has produced. As much as $354 million of CSU Stanislaus Alumni earnings are attributable to their CSU degrees.
It was hard to imagine 50 years ago what the new state college would become.
But as films changed in theatre - from "Psycho" to "Avatar" - and sports stars shuffled on and off the field - from Willie Mays to Pablo Sandoval - CSU Stanislaus has maintained a constant beacon of higher learning for the region.
Despite some currently rocky economic times for CSU Stanislaus, the university expects to continue driving the Central Valley's economy for the next 50 years, too.

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