“You’re going to move a college?” Are you kidding me right now? It’s a college!” Melva (Pagan) Morrison (75) remembers thinking. “Has anybody else ever done that? I don’t know.”
Certainly, Morrison wasn’t the only one to wonder how Pasadena College would be able to accomplish its goal of successfully moving to San Diego in 1973. Fifty years later, the choice seems like a natural one that has led to growth and flourishing for what is now Point Loma Nazarene University. But the decision and the move itself required a leap of faith, a pulling together, and a lot of risk and change for those who made moving possible five decades ago.
So, how did they move a college? How did they move a school that was deeply embedded in its community and local churches — so much so that it was named for its location? How did they move not just a college and the contents of its building but also its people and its identity? By pausing to look back, we can learn from the spirit of adventure and collaboration the administration, faculty, staff, and students embraced in 1973. A similar spirit can help us continue to move this great place into the future in accordance with God’s will and purpose for it.
A Quick Look Further Back
In 1902, Phineas Bresee (above), primary founder of the Church of the Nazarene, began what is now PLNU as Pacific Bible College. A group of six women had been praying for a school in Pasadena since 1897. Although their vision was for a Bible college, Bresee’s ultimate goal was to create a Christian liberal arts institution. “Point Loma Nazarene University was founded by Phineas Bresee to be what did not exist elsewhere — a great Christian holiness university,” Ron Kirkemo (65), Ph.D., late professor of political science, wrote in his book Promise and Destiny.
Pacific Bible College began with 41 students. By 1910, Bresee had purchased the Hugus Ranch land in Pasadena, and the college became Nazarene University. In 1919, the name changed again to Pasadena College.
A Season of Change
Pasadena College proved to be a special place and increased in its size, reputation, and academic quality as it matured. Most faculty lived near the campus and attended either Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene or Bresee Avenue Church. Many of their children attended the same schools. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, PC benefited greatly from the leadership of President W. Shelburne Brown (40), Chaplain Reuben Welch (45), and Dean Jim Jackson (41). In Promise and Destiny, Kirkemo wrote of Brown: “[To him,] Students were not just troublemakers that needed constant lecturing and repression, but people with real personal needs and problems and hopes and dreams, and bearers of the image and Spirit of God. Only in his late thirties and with his sports car, students did not see him as the old man from another world. When he spoke in chapel, which was fairly regularly, Brown laced his addresses with poetry that flowed easily from his memory. Students loved him.”
Just as Brown saw students differently and emphasized high-quality education for them, Jackson reimagined student services, and Welch invigorated chapel.
“Chapel became not a place to exhort students to be good, act right and not backslide, but a place to explore the richness of the scriptures. Chapel became a place of insight and growth for the whole community, faculty as well as students. Chapel was a place where students were not a captive audience, but an inviting oasis where people found a new freshness on their journey to spiritual wholeness and growth,” wrote Kirkemo. “With Brown and Welch and Jackson, the college itself was becoming a means of grace. A spirit of the place was emerging, and that spirit was one of love and dignity and respect.”
However, while the community was tight-knit and spiritually flourishing, there were many challenges facing Pasadena College in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The school was experiencing a number of financial challenges. When Brown was elected in 1964, the college had an operating deficit of between $500,000 and $800,000. The campus was only 17 acres, which made growth difficult. In addition, smog was a significant health concern for many of the faculty and a deterrent to some families in sending their children to the school.
It was in this context that Dr. Beryl Dillman learned at a conference in San Diego in 1971 that USIU’s California Western campus was for sale. He mentioned it to Brown, and a seed of hope that this could be God’s plan took root.
Brown called together a small group of close friends and advisors to meet in Palm Springs and analyze their options. At that time, everyone unanimously voted against moving. However, Brown then went to Hawaii for District Assembly. He awoke at 3 a.m. to “a full awareness of the presence of God, and he heard the Lord tell him he had to move the college” (Promise and Destiny). When he returned to Pasadena, USIU’s president called Brown and offered to lower the price by 25%. The financial risk was still huge, but the board believed in Brown’s encounter with God, and this time, they voted unanimously to move.
Although the board decision was unanimous, there were mixed feelings among the faculty and students. In journalism program director Dr. Dean Nelson’s book 100 Years of Stories, Welch confessed, “I was against the move to San Diego. I feared the loss of community and the loss of identity. During that time, I preached John the Baptist. My conviction was that our future was not in San Diego, but our future was with God. The reality is that you don’t move a college — you blow it up and try to reconstruct it out of the shrapnel. However, we’re a better school in San Diego than we were in Pasadena.”
Charlene (Kirby) Pate (77) grew up on and around the Pasadena campus as both her parents worked for the college. She remembers how difficult it was for some of the faculty to give up their homes and move away from their churches.
“[In Pasadena,] there was a vibrant church life that continued throughout the week, and people were really involved
in their churches. And so to leave that church family as well as all their friends, as well as their homes that they had loved and had been very settled in — it was a sacrifice for them to do that,” she said.
Despite the personal sacrifices that had to be made, many faculty and staff did choose to move with the college, including Pate’s parents.
In addition to the challenge of convincing people to uproot and move, there were obstacles to the purchase of the property. Unfortunately, USIU was in dire financial straits and had unpaid debt with multiple lenders. Their creditors didn’t want to clear title on the property because USIU still owed them money.
In the midst of all of the financial and logistical stress, President Brown suffered a terrible personal loss. His close friend Wes Mieras (37), who was also the attorney helping with the purchase, died in a plane crash along with his family.
For all these reasons, the 1972- 73 academic year was filled with uncertainties related to the purchase of the San Diego property. Bold action was required. “Brown felt that he could not put off the move until the arrangements were finalized,” Kirkemo wrote. “If the college did not move over the summer of ’73 and open in the fall in San Diego, critics would surely be emboldened to try to stop it altogether. Certain that the Lord was in the midst of the move, he made the fateful decision and the college moved in the summer and opened in the fall without ownership.”
The Labor and Logistics
Trusting in God’s will and provision, Brown handed off the logistical planning of the move to music professor and administrator Dr. Keith Pagan, Melva Morrison’s father. According to Morrison, her father had just finished remodeling their kitchen in Pasadena when he learned of the impending move. His loyalty to PC was unwavering, however, and he never considered staying behind. Instead, he humbly took on the challenge of organizing the massive endeavor of moving over the course of a summer.
“It was so hard to move the library,” Morrison recalled. “With a library, you want everything to be in order, and it was such a big undertaking.” The Winchester Library on the Pasadena campus was new; in fact, students had helped move the books to it from the old library just a few years earlier. The library on the Point Loma campus at the time was old and set up quite differently, which made moving the library extra challenging.
Nevertheless, people pulled together. “Besides grace, everyone concerned, on and off campus, needed patience and trust — trust in the providence that led the college to San Diego and trust in the conformity of Shelburne Brown’s vision for the college to that providence,” Kirkemo wrote in For Zion’s Sake, his other book on the university’s history.
While the location was beautiful, many of the facilities were in disrepair or had deferred maintenance, likely due to USIU’s financial troubles. In addition, the USIU Cal Western students were upset about having to leave, and many caused damage to walls and buildings in their frustration. Pate remembers that someone left behind hundreds of unmarked keys piled in the middle of the gymnasium floor, and her father hired students to go from building to building and room to room to sort out which keys went to which locks.
Karen Sangren, Ph.D., graduated with the class of ’73 in Pasadena and was in her first year as a faculty member in San Diego that fall. She often served as an advocate for students to the administration when they found problems with buildings on campus. In addition to inconsistent hot water in the dorms, a few students told her they found mushrooms growing in their bathrooms!
Yet, despite the quick timeline and heavy load of packing, moving, cleaning, and repair, the impossible was made possible by God’s will and the faithful efforts of his people. Everyone worked together to get the campus moved and improved.
“There were people who really were invested in this place,” said Pate. “You know, they wanted to be about the business of doing this work to make it succeed.”
“And there were a lot of volunteers,” added Sangren. “[Dr. Pagan] was brilliant in the way he went about doing things. He was so on top of details, but he was also a boots-on-the-ground kind of person.” For example, when the music building needed to be cleaned out up in Pasadena, Pagan called on the community to help. Sangren was among a group who drove up over a weekend to get the work done.
In San Diego, students helped paint and removed trash from the dorms. They helped move faculty into their new homes. Some shared special skills.
“I … just happened to be a carpet layer and was hired to install green industrial carpet in the library,” recalled Dub Lane (74). “Last I checked, some of it is still there in the basement stacks. I was very proud to have had the Pasadena experience for three years but to also be the first graduating class from Point Loma.”
Even some of PC’s graduating seniors, who would finish school before the move, were able to help. Doug Bergesen (73) remembers being one of those. “When the move was announced, my wife, Jan (73), and I were invited, with about a dozen others, to travel down to the new campus to take some publicity photos for the traveling groups to take with them during the summer to advertise the new campus. We piled into a bus and rode down to see what we would be missing next year. I had been there a few times before as USIU was in our athletic conference. So, I was familiar with the gym, but that was about all. We were asked to walk around campus, come out of buildings, dorms, etc. so we could be photographed showing what campus life would look like next year. So, even though we were seniors and would shortly graduate from the PC campus, we were a part of the introduction of the Point Loma campus to future students.”
Another graduating senior who pitched in was Diane McClaflin (73) Lane. She remembers, “After spending most of the summer of 1973 with my family, I drove back from Nebraska to Pasadena to help in the move. I had been a student worker in Dean Gresham’s office for several years, and I helped pack up the office. I drove down to Point Loma in my little car filled with boxes from our office, including our typewriters. That year I worked in the administration building, so I got to see up close all the new things happening on our fantastic new campus. It was wonderful and exciting to be part of this adventure!”
On the faculty side, Carroll Land, Ph.D., was instrumental in making the move a success. Land graduated from PC in 1959 and went on to serve as a coach, department chair, and athletic director as well as helping with special projects after his retirement until his passing. Land not only helped with fundraising and coordination for the move, but he also used his carpentry skills to directly improve the facilities.
“A lot of things we had early on were because Carroll had this vision and recruited students and parents to come and help,” said Ben Foster (68), Ph.D., PLNU Hall of Fame player and coach.
Land once said, “Many had a hard time leaving Pasadena, mainly teachers. But the athletic department didn’t have any decent facilities, so I thought coming to San Diego, with a real gymnasium, a track/football field — which we converted to soccer and a baseball field — was a huge improvement. We went from almost nothing to something. I believed the move would make us be a better, stronger athletic program.”
Even as the campus was being fixed up and the contents moved, a potential disaster still loomed. One USIU creditor went bankrupt and foreclosure appeared imminent. By God’s miraculous provision, escrow closed three hours before the Dec. 31 foreclosure deadline, and Pasadena College took full ownership of the San Diego campus on Jan. 1, 1974.
Some changes remained even after the work of moving was finished. For one, the school needed another new name. Brown’s suggestion, which was not unanimous, won out and Pasadena College became Point Loma College: An Institution of the Church of the Nazarene. (Other name changes followed before the name became today’s Point Loma Nazarene University.)
In addition to the name, everyone had to get used to a larger campus. Morrison remembers doing so much more walking in San Diego and admits that at first, she and her friends were often late to class because they were used to the buildings being much closer together.
Faculty were more spread out in terms of where they lived as well. Many had to live farther from campus due to cost. In 1970, 57 of the 72 faculty members lived within a 1.5 mile radius of the Pasadena campus. In 1976, 36 of the 99 faculty members lived within 3 miles of the Point Loma campus.
At that time, there also was not a church on campus, so students spread out to various local congregations. For some, transportation was a challenge. In addition, non-Nazarene students were interested in the new university and began to enroll. Point Loma College was the only accredited Protestant evangelical liberal arts college in San Diego, so it naturally piqued the interest of students who were looking for a faith-based education.
“Nazarene students comprised 66% of the student body when the college began the 1973 school year in San Diego, and that declined to 45.7% in 1980,” according to For Zion’s Sake.
In addition to the lack of a church on campus, there was also no student commons or chapel building at first. Chapel was held in the gym. The library became a place to hang out, and the grassy knoll across from the cafeteria became known as the KBA (kick back area).
“One of the important decisions I think for our Pasadena students was moving Prescott Prayer Chapel. It had just been completed. For students, that was important. Some of the students who helped get that building built came with us, and so this was another way to say, ‘This isn’t all new,’” said retired Dean Jim Jackson, Sr.
This was an important memory for Susan Martin Radke (75), who said, “I remember the story of the prayer chapel at Pasadena and then the day that it came to Point Loma on a flatbed truck to be reassembled on the Point Loma campus. It was amazing to see that truck pull in and to watch the prayer chapel be put back together! I had used that prayer chapel on both the Pasadena campus and the Point Loma campus, an amazing memory!”
Although moving the prayer chapel was costly, it was a show of faith to the students that not everything was changing. The mission of the university and Bresee’s vision were still strong.
“Did we lose something when we moved from Pasadena?” Foster wondered in Nelson’s 100 Years of Stories. “There was something special there. But I think we’re better now. I hope we’re as personable. If we remain true to our mission, we won’t move away from our purpose.”
50 Years and Counting
The move set Point Loma Nazarene University on its current course. Today, PLNU is a Christ-centered community committed to whole-person education and helping students fully become who they’re called to be. In addition to more than 60 undergraduate areas of study, PLNU offers graduate, doctoral, and undergraduate degree completion programs, serving over 4,600 students across several campuses throughout San Diego County and Bakersfield, California. The university is an NCAA DII school with 11 athletics teams. PLNU is in a strong position to face the future.
In addition, the move imparted lasting lessons to those who experienced it.
“After teaching in colleges for 33 years, I now realize what a huge undertaking it was to transport a campus and prepare for a semester that loomed closer and closer,” reflected Janyne McConnaughey (75). “It was miraculous, but there were still many semi-trailers in parking lots. Some held important things, like the syllabus one professor told us had not yet been unpacked. All students needed was a dorm room, our friends, the cafeteria, and some idea where the classrooms were. I can’t imagine the complications for administration, faculty, and staff. What was modeled for me by the hard work and courageous leadership — though I didn’t appreciate it at the time — was that elephants can be eaten one bite at a time. Or in this case, one semi-trailer at a time.”
Steve Seelig (73), senior director of planned giving and philanthropy at PLNU, said, “It was really hard [moving] because I loved that place; I loved Pasadena College. And yet, this wasn’t only me; this is what God had ordained. And looking back, if this school hadn’t been, if USIU Cal Western had not been in foreclosure, we never would have had a chance. And it was just a miracle. And being able to come here was a huge miracle of God, to have 91 acres on the Pacific Ocean.”
“As we celebrate the past 50 years,” said PLNU President Bob Brower, Ph.D., “let us also receive the call to steward and care for the mission and purpose of PLNU as we build the future over the next 50 years. Today, let us be renewed and commit our efforts to ensure PLNU becomes all that God is calling the university to become.”
A couple of years ago, Sangren was driving by the old Pasadena campus as it was about to be demolished. She said to the contractor on site, “Before you start tearing down the buildings, please let me tell you about this campus.” She pointed out the department buildings and shared, “This place changed our lives. It changed our lives.”
In 100 Years of Stories, Keith Pagan said, “[Former President H. Orton] Wiley used to say that this was a place that is committed to God, has Christian values and doesn’t hesitate to say so, and that the majority of our students are led here by God. I think that is still the case. This is God’s place.”
In Pasadena, San Diego, and Bakersfield, God has been at work through the university and those who have called it home.
“It wasn’t about the buildings,” Seelig said. “It is about the people.”
Ron Benefiel (71), Ph.D., director of the Center for Pastoral Leadership at PLNU, recently conversed about the university’s move to San Diego with Welch (now 98 years old) and Jackson (now 103 years old) at their retirement community in La Jolla, Calif.
Benefiel asked, “What would be your hopes and dreams for PLNU today?”
“People sacrificed to bring this college here. They depended on the presence of God. Keep God’s presence,” said Jackson.
“I’m in no way pessimistic,” said Welch. “It sure is a good thing we moved, isn’t it? It’s a good thing we moved to San Diego.”
Jackson said, “I am grateful for the opportunity to have shared all these years in the educational endeavors of Pasadena/Point Loma, and I feel I have been doing the will of God in my life, in sharing my life, and I look back, what a joy to serve and to see God’s kingdom advancing. And I see the results and I say, ‘Thank you Lord.’”
“That would be my testimony too,” said Welch.
“Thanks be to God,” said Benefiel.