Harvey B. Schechter, class of 1947, recounts a few of his experiences attending Santa Barbara State College — the predecessor to UCSB. Schechter gives current Gauchos a look into what life was like back when tuition cost just pennies on the dollar and a football field still graced the grounds of our fine institution. Those were the days of rotary dials and men’s short-shorts, when vinyl records were the latest trend and when the Daily Nexus went by a different name — El Gaucho — which it would abandon after the infamous Bank of America burning in 1970.
A month ago, on December 4, the UC Santa Barbara Alumni Association sponsored a get-together which drew hundreds of alums to the Bodega Wine Bar in Santa Monica. Even though I do not drink now and was one month away from celebrating my 89th birthday, this ancient Gaucho decided to attend the event and “work the room,” meeting as many young Gaucho alums as I could during the two-hour reception. My wife of 57 years — not a Gaucho — was happy just to nurse a glass of Chardonnay and chat with some of the alums nearby.
As I moved from group to group, I told them I started as a freshman in September 1942, at what was Santa Barbara State College on the Riviera above the world famous Santa Barbara Mission. Then I bowled them over with, “During my freshman year I went to campus every day on a horse.”
These young alums were hungry for information about what it was like when I started at SBSC, and they flooded me with questions. How come you rode a horse to campus? Where did you park your horse? Where were the dorms? How much was tuition? How big was your graduating class? What was your major? What did you do after you graduated?
These were but a few of the many questions they asked which gave me a great idea. Why not offer to write a column for the Daily Nexus sharing with today’s students what it was like in “olden times” and welcoming questions about those days. Katherine Friedman, editor in chief of the Daily Nexus, liked the idea. So, here are the answers to two of those questions:
Why did I ride a horse to campus everyday?
Come back with me to the summer of 1941, when I was 17 and a severe rheumatic fever attack did more damage to my weak heart and almost killed me. While the doctors were not sure a warm climate would be beneficial, they were confident I would not survive another winter in New York.
In October 1941, my very poor Brooklyn parents took on a four-year debt so I could attend La Loma Feliz, a ranch boarding school in Santa Barbara run by Dr. Ina M. Richter. They hoped a warm climate would be beneficial for their sickly son. Thanks to Santa Barbara’s climate and the miracle of modern medi- cine, I just celebrated my 89th birthday.
Two months after arriving in Santa Barbara, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and the ranch hand joined the army. Since I was the oldest and the biggest student at the ranch school, I was put in charge of the horses. So, I went from the streets of Brooklyn to being in charge of two dozen horses in less than two months. Prior to this, the only horses I saw were in the Saturday afternoon movie westerns.
After graduating from high school there, the doctor told me to enroll at Santa Barbara State College. Because the ranch school was located at the end of Mission Canyon Road and there were no buses available, I asked her how I was going to get to the college. She looked at me in wonderment and asked, “Harvey, with all the horses we have, are you really asking me such a silly question?”
Thus, in September 1942, I saddled Chica, the mare assigned to me, and rode off to SBSC, down Mission Canyon Road, across the highway, across Phelps field, the football practice field at that time (which is now occupied by a tennis club) and up the hill approaching the campus from a small back road.
Where did I park my horse? You don’t park a horse. You park a car. You loosen the saddle, take off the bridle to remove the steel from the horse’s mouth, andusing a rope halter, I tied Chica to a tree. While I was in class, she was fertil- izing the tree. After class, I tightened the saddle, put the bridle back on her and rode back to the barn where many chores awaited me.
Even though Santa Barbara is very special, I would not do today what I did more than 70 years ago. Today, I doubt if the horse, the saddle and the bridle would still be there. That’s how much I believe our society has changed.
How much was tuition at the time?
I know this will upset you wonderful young people, but there was no tuition. In fact, I did not know the word “tuition” until many years later. We paid only $17 a semester for registration, which covered the health service and all student activities. Yes, only $17 a semester. After graduating in June 1947, I went to UCLA graduate school for my Master’s Degree where the registration fee was $100 per semester. I remember how angry the students were at that time: “$100 a semester? Are they crazy? Outrageous,” were some of the comments screamed by many Bruin students.
No, my education was not free. Yes, it was free to me, but some people paid so I could attend what would become UCSB and also attend UCLA. This is why my wife and I have written our wills and trusts so that the lion’s share of our estates after we ride off into that sunset will be given to the UCSB Foundation to help needy Gauchos in the future.
Thank you for listening. Remember, I welcome questions about the days of yesteryear. Be well.
A version of this article appeared on page 3 of January 16, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.