Members of the Rogue Community College faculty reflect on the end of the decade — and the college’s approaching 40th anniversary.
BY ELIJAH SULLIVAN
“When I first arrived at the college in 1974, it still had the feel of a Job Corps center,” Redwood instructor Lutz Kramer said. “For instance, there were still urinal hookups in our office area.”
In November of 1970, the electorate of the Rogue Valley voted to create Rogue Community College, making this November the college’s 40th anniversary. The Redwood campus in Grants Pass was a refurbished worker training facility.
“We were a very young faculty with an average age that matched that of our students,” Kramer said. “But we were also very energetic and ready to try anything.”
Kay Aldrich joined the staff as Sociology instructor in 1993.
“At that time the ‘Medford Campus’ was actually a tiny, rather depressing building in Phoenix – which is now Nim’s Warehouse, or something like that – across from Ray’s Food Place on Highway 99.,” Aldrich said. “Even G building didn’t exist then. Needless to say, we were all very happy when RCC began renting building space downtown and renovating the old building that is now G building.”
Verne Underwood, chair of the Humanities Department, has been with RCC since 1997, during RCC’s biggest influx of faculty members since Redwood opened. Underwood described the creation of Riverside campus as a “shot in the dark.”
“The first time I walked on campus it was like summer camp,” he said. “RCC came from some kind of worker’s camp, and it hadn’t changed much.”
When Aldrich joined the ranks of RCC’s full-time faculty the following year, her first office was in C building. “Archeological evidence of which lies under HEC, which butted up against a car repair business,” she said. “The smell of exhaust sometimes drove us out of our offices. Guthrie Motors was across the street where the library is now. I was also commuting to the Grants Pass campus a couple times a week to teach.”
At this time, RCC’s student population was significantly smaller.
“As I recall, my classes were pretty small compared with now. I had many students who were ‘displaced homemakers,’ as they were called then, and loggers who were re-skilling after reductions in timber industry jobs,” Aldrich said.
“I have had so many students over the years who come from very difficult backgrounds, growing up in poverty, without a good education, who struggle and struggle, and make it despite all odds,” Aldrich said. “Although all of my students make teaching a very rewarding experience for me, these are the exceptional ones, the ones I’m most proud of.”
Riverside always had a hard time finding a permanent home, it seems. This changed in 2004, with the approval of a $24 million bond that Underwood called “the best thing that ever happened to RCC.”
The bond was used to pay off the debt incurred from purchasing G building – formerly known as the Ward Building. Some of the remaining funds were pooled with resources from Southern Oregon University to build the Higher Education Center at the Riverside campus, which many consider RCC’s proudest moment.
“I think the completion of the HEC is the most significant thing that has happened to RCC in the past decade,” Aldrich said. “It gives RCC a strong presence in Medford, a real campus. And students get great classrooms, and places to study, congregate, and mix with SOU students. RCC in Medford has come a long way from the days of the Phoenix Center!”
During the last decade, RCC began to expand more rapidly The total student population swelled from about 15,000 students in 1999 to nearly 20,000 in 2009, necessitating more funding and classroom space — but the growth was not always to RCC’s benefit.
In 2005, RCC started Table Rock campus, which was “a stunning deal price-wise, until we realized there was extensive water damage,” Underwood said.
“Despite the growth,” Runzi said, “RCC has not always been blessed with financial support and had to deal with very difficult budgetary decisions. And unfortunately, these decisions — more often than not – came at the expense of faculty and staff, and frequently restricted the scope of educational opportunities our faculty would have liked for our students. Yes, we have grown – and that’s a great thing – but we have also limited ourselves to delivering the bare minimum, the absolute basics. The faculty that has come to teach at RCC is much more gifted and talented than that.”
“We’ve rarely had good news from the State,” Underwood said. “Enrollment goes up and up but we received less and less support. We haven’t grown as a faculty because of funding.”
Kramer missed the RCC of 1971.
“The flexibility we enjoyed through not having an entrenched bureaucracy made Rogue a very exciting and fun place to work, and we really felt like one big family,” Kramer said. “This gradually changed as the college grew, and as we moved into Medford as well, the family feel gave way to a stricter organizational structure. Rogue is still a great place to work, but I miss those early years when anything seemed possible.”
Runzi called the decade a “mixed bag,” but he remains appreciative.
“It has been a genuine privilege to be part of RCC’s growth in Jackson County and to follow several of our students on their ways to academic success and wonderful career options,” Runzi said. “It has also been a great privilege to have been surrounded by amazing, energetic, enthusiastic, and supportive colleagues. And although some of them have retired, I find their influence lasting.”
Aldrich believes RCC improves with each passing year. “I love teaching at RCC! The students are the best part, and my colleagues here are fantastic.”
“RCC is like being in a warm, comfortable room while it’s raining outside,” Underwood said. “We’re all happy to be here.”