Alumni gather for historic celebration, King gala raises money for student athletes
Grainy, sepia-toned yearbook images flashed across the screens and music from a bygone era filled the Golden Eagle Ballroom as alumni from the classes of 1947 to 1965 shared memories and learned about aspirations for today’s Cal State LA.
The 50th Reunion and Half-Century Club induction drew alumni from across the country for a historic gathering of former students who helped lay the foundation for the University and serve as a testament to the power of a Cal State LA education.
“Having you all here underscores an important aspect of our history,” President William Covino said at the opening luncheon Friday. “For decades Cal State LA has produced what our state and nation need: leaders, innovators, creators, teachers—the workforce that keeps us strong. We are LA’s premiere public comprehensive University, and you—our distinguished alumni—represent the greatest evidence of our success.”
The luncheon kicked off a two-day schedule of events planned for Alumni Weekend, which included campus tours, a private reception at the Luckman Fine Arts Gallery, the Billie Jean King & Friends Tennis Clinic and Team Challenge and a gala athletic fundraiser on Saturday night at the elegant Langham Huntington hotel.
King is one of Cal State LA’s most distinguished alumni and has raised millions of dollars for athletic scholarships through the annual fundraising gala. A highlight of the gala is the presentation of the Joe Shapiro Award, which is awarded in recognition of exemplary humanitarianism. This year’s awardee was Frances Hellman, dean of the Division of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at UC Berkeley. She has devoted her career to educating students and providing opportunities for women to study science. Shapiro was a noted attorney and Cal State LA faculty member who helped lead the Billie Jean King Executive Committee.
Earlier Saturday, local youth descended on the University tennis courts for the Billie Jean King tennis clinic. They received tennis instruction from current and former Cal State LA players and coaches and met Tennis Hall of Fame legend Rosie Casals. The event was co-sponsored by the United States Tennis Association.
Also on Saturday, President Covino convened his President’s Council at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex. The council is composed of more than 40 accomplished business and civic leaders who will help strengthen the University’s role as a premier public comprehensive university. Many of the council members are Cal State LA alumni.
This is the first year that Cal State LA has had a 50th Reunion celebration, but the Class of 1965 was a standout year. It was the year that the University, then known as California State College at Los Angeles—or LA State—was ranked No. 1 in football. That year, The College Times was also named best newspaper by the Inter-Collegiate Press Association. At the time, LA State graduated more credited teachers than any other college in the State of California, according the 1965 edition of the Pitchfork yearbook.
But the success didn’t stop after senior year. The Class of 1965 boasts many alumni who went on to successful careers, including John Huerta, a career attorney who served as general counsel of the Smithsonian Institution for 13 years, associate counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and deputy assistant U.S. attorney general.
As chair of the 50th Reunion committee, Huerta reflected on the education he received at Cal State LA. He recalled arriving at UC Berkeley law school and initially doubting his ability to compete with students from elite universities.
“I am proud to say that at the end of my fist year I, and my fellow classmates from Cal State, did well academically with several of us making Law Review, and all of us passing the California Bar Exam on our first attempt,” Huerta said. “Our classmates from other elite institutions who rested on their laurels didn’t do quite as well. We didn’t receive a ‘pretty good’ education from Cal State LA, we received a great education.”
At the reunion, couples danced to a student jazz quartet while Delta Beta Sigma sorority members kept an eye out for fellow sisters. A 1954 homecoming princess scanned old yearbooks for photos of the coronation while another alumnus recalled the old Diablo days, before the mascot was changed to a Golden Eagle in 1981.
In all, 64 alumni were inducted into the inaugural class of the Half-Century Club, including Joe Womack (’62), a halfback on the 1961 football team who went on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Some, like, Theresa Drew (’63) remembered the Inferno, the original cafeteria, and the countless hours she spent socializing and playing cards in the Student Union because she relied on friends for rides to campus. Others, like Bertrum Ashe (’55), had no recollection of the Rancho Rosa De Castillo campus because they completed their degrees on the Los Angeles Community College campus, the original site of the college from 1947-1955.
But regardless of which campus they attended or their majors, many of these alumni portrayed the same grit and determination that motivates our current student body to see their academic goals through to completion.
“I was a part-time custodian for most of the time I attended Cal State; I cleaned the men’s restrooms in the bungalows between classes,” Huerta said. “We knew that higher education was key to our getting ahead in life, and that we had to struggle to improve our situation. Cal State was there for those of us who had to fight to achieve a better life, not only for ourselves, but for our families.”
Photos: Top, left to right: President William A. Covino, John Huerta and Vice President for Advancement Janet Dial. Middle: Left to right: Billie Jean King, Dr. Debbie Covino, President Covino and Frances Hellman. Bottom: Child learns the basics at tennis clinic. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State LA)
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Cal State LA is a university dedicated to engagement, service, and the public good. Founded in 1947, the University serves more than 27,000 students and 240,000 distinguished alumni, who are as diverse as the city we serve. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, Cal State LA has long been recognized as an engine of economic and social mobility. Led by an award-winning faculty, the University offers nationally recognized programs in science, the arts, business, criminal justice, engineering, nursing, education and the humanities.
Cal State LA is home to the critically-acclaimed Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs, Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center, Hydrogen Research and Fueling Facility, Billie Jean King Sports Complex, TV, Film and Media Center and the Center for Engagement, Service, and the Public Good. For more information, visit CalStateLA.edu