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Spoken history event brings “Tale of Two Cities” theme to life

PLNU’s Homecoming weekend festivities also included a bit of a history lesson.

On Saturday, James Jackson, Reuben Welch, Warren Brown and Ronald Kirkemo sat down to a full house in Crill Hall to discuss the university’s move from the Pasadena site to the San Diego campus in an event called “Spoken History: From Pasadena College to PLNU’s Campus.”

The theme of the discussion was, like all of homecoming week, “A Tale of Two Cities.”

From Pasadena College in the dry hills of LA County, to the lush beach landscape of Point Loma Nazarene University, the university has undergone its share of changes. In 1973, the school moved everyone and everything down south in hopes of expanding the reach of its mission.

It is a story of perseverance, hope and faith.

Class of 1973 alumni Connie Hamilton and Peggy McMillan shared their enthusiasm in celebrating their 40th reunion on a campus where they never actually took classes.

“We were the last graduating class of the Pasadena campus,” said Hamilton. “It will be interesting to see how connected everyone is here with all these new buildings and bigger space,” she said.

The history event particularly drew McMillan’s attention.

“Dr. Kirkemo was our teacher,” she said. “I’m excited to hear about the historical move from what we were used to,” she said.

Back in 1973, W. Shelburne Brown was president of Pasadena College. His son, Warren Brown, talked about the financial, mental, physical and emotional challenges the move brought for his father.

“It was a stressful time, when we weren’t sure things were going to work out,” he said. “The school ran financially in the black for a whole year, as we still hadn’t sold the Pasadena campus,” Brown said.

His father’s health took several turns for the worse throughout the course of the move.

“My father gave his life for this place and the vision he had,” he said.

Reuben Welch, university chaplain from 1968 to 1973, stressed the importance of community from PLNU’s inception.

“We are a community of faith learning together. We developed a sense of family – so much so that, I felt like, ‘here we are,’” Welch said. “God said, ‘You’re just going to do this, aren’t you?’ and I said, ‘Alright, let’s go.’”

James Jackson, dean of students at the time of the move, and the only speech professor to make the move, discussed the inherent issues that come with moving an entire university.

“I may plan to have students, but will anybody come?” he said.

He helped plan a new student government and spent a day on the new campus site to see what they could do with it to build campus spirit. From the 19 acres in Pasadena to the 90 acres in San Diego, one question remained: “What will we do as we scatter our students on this campus?” said Jackson.

There was no central place, no student center and no student activities. Further difficulties included such things as Young Hall, where “You can almost go out the window and surf,” said Jackson. “Then we discovered a nude beach nearby…”

Kirkemo always wanted to teach at PLNU. So, after the move, he did just that.

“I had a brain cramp for a whole year,” he said.

Pulling up the roots he and his family had in Pasadena was a difficult prospect, but one that didn’t phase him in the end.

“I eventually decided that if they can move, so can I,” he said.

Andrew Schalin, a 2012 PLNU alumnus, enjoyed the event as much as the older alumni.

“In 45 minutes, I learned so much about the history of this place that I never knew before,” he said. “I’ve heard these names thrown around for years, but I never knew the challenges they faced with the move.”

Now, PLNU is a testament to the power of God to guide and pull His people together.

“The impossible is possible,” sad Jackson.

Each of the speakers stressed that God’s vital intervention in conjunction with human effort brought about a successful move.

“The will of God does not come down upon us, but comes through us in a dialogical fashion,” Welch said. “It was really hard to come, but I would never go back,” he said.

The event closed with a word of prayer from Welch, along with a reading of Isaiah 62:1, which states “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.”

Photo by Sam Christopher

Caption: Russ Martin, James Jackson, and Reuben Welch tell the tale of PLNU’s transition from Pasadena to the PLNU campus.

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