Humble beginnings, rich experience
Fraser Valley College: founded 1974
By Anne Russell
UFV marked its 35th anniversary in 2009/10. Back in 1974 what was then Fraser Valley College started up by offering night courses, using the Douglas College curriculum, at Chilliwack Senior Secondary and other locations, such as church basements. By the fall of 1975 the first Chilliwack building was opened, with a view to being operated for five years and then replaced by a ‘permanent’ campus. Thirty-five years later it’s still in use and a vibrant multi-campus university has grown up around it throughout the Fraser Valley.
The students who started out with the college in those early days are now established professionals — some are nearing retirement. Here’s a look at a few who credit their success to the little college that came to town when they were young adults.
Joe Ogmundson: college opened doors
|Joe Ogmundson credits Fraser Valley College with starting him on the road to a successful career in education.|
Joe Ogmundson is certain about one thing. Without Fraser Valley College there’s no way he would have forged a successful career as a teacher, high school counsellor, and basketball coach.
“I watched my richer friends head off to UBC to study and I was jealous of them, but there was no way I could afford it,” he recalls. “Then my mother showed me an ad she’d clipped out about night school courses being offered by the new college in town, so I signed up.
“Well, it turned out that I got a far better deal than my friends at UBC. They sat in giant lecture halls with hundreds of other students. Meanwhile, we got access to very dedicated instructors who knew us all by name. They marked our work in great detail and encouraged us to come back and improve it further.
“They weren’t just teaching the material in the course, they were teaching us a whole new way of thinking. We were being introduced to Siddhartha, Walden, Gorgias, and other great works of literature.”
By opening himself up to what his instructors had to offer, Joe broadened his horizons.
“I signed up for a class that ended up focusing on women’s perspectives on literature. There were only a couple of guys in the class. But the teacher found a way to make us feel comfortable. It opened up a whole new way of looking at literature for me.”
Joe did draw the line, however, at the mandatory hugs.
“I had signed up for a psychology class and the male instructor wanted to greet everyone with a hug when we walked through the door. There was no way I was going for that, so I went down the hall to Student Services to ask what else I could get into.”
Joe feels like he got to know his instructors personally and considers some friends today.
“Scott Fast [political science] sparked my political consciousness and got me to think things through logically. It was inspiring to see how dedicated the faculty members were to teaching and also to the community. And in many ways it was just what this town needed. It was like the whole world had suddenly come to Chilliwack.”
Being in on the ground floor, Joe witnessed the instructors developing their courses from scratch.
“The administration had the sense to give the instructors the freedom to shape their courses. There was not a lot of curriculum policing going on. The faculty took real pride in developing their courses and programs.”
Although he left after two years to pursue his bachelor’s, and eventually master’s, degrees and got to experience Simon Fraser, UVic, and UBC after all, Fraser Valley College remains his most treasured educational experience.
“I would not have gone on at all if not for the college. I would not be a teacher or counsellor today.”
Irene Tisdale: mom’s night out led to teaching career
|Irene Tisdale started taking night school classes for interest at FVC, and ended up with a 20-year career as an elementary school teacher.|
When the early days of Fraser Valley College are evoked, the prototypical “mature student” is often mentioned: the married woman with kids who can’t leave her community because of family obligations.
Irene Tisdale is the epitome of that prototype. Now a much beloved elementary school teacher, Irene was once a young housewife with two preschool children who was curious about education.
“I decided to give the college a try and signed up for a night school chemistry class with Peter Slade. The cost for the course was $20, which just about broke my young family’s finances at that time.”
She was soon hooked on learning. Taking one night school course a semester became her weekly night out.
“I just loved being a student. That 7 to 10 pm class was the highlight of my week,” she recalls.
One course at a time is how Irene managed to accumulate two years’ worth of university studies credits — and it took her a dozen years to do so.
She found the faculty members to be very supportive and inspiring, but was also very grateful for the help of librarians and support staff.
“I wasn’t a writer, and I knew nothing about research or libraries. Librarian Anne Knowlan helped me so much. Everyone who worked at the college created such an inviting and open atmosphere.”
The work wasn’t easy, but Irene slowly accumulated the skills to succeed as a post-secondary student.
“I thought I’d better learn how to write better, so I took Virginia Cooke’s English class, and my handwritten essays would come back with red marks all over them.
“Paul Herman (philosophy) taught me to really search for evidence to support my thinking. After turning in a few papers to him, I knew that I had better have solid backing and research to support my contentions.”
As she progressed as a student, Irene kept casting her net wider, trying geography with Dave Gibson, history with Jack Gaston, and psychology with Astrid Stec.
“I had a really interesting time taking history with Bob Smith, since he was quite left-leaning and my husband worked in management for the municipality. We’d have these huge conversations and debates in class, and then I’d go home and tell Ted about them, and he’d say, ‘well, you tell him such-and-such.’ Then I’d go back to class, and Bob would say, ‘well, tell your husband to consider this.’”
Once she had accumulated her two years of university credits in 1985, she decided to brave the commute to Simon Fraser for the PDP teacher education program, carpooling with other students.
After finishing, Irene began working as a teacher-on-call and eventually took a full-time position at Evans Elementary. She also earned her master’s degree.
“Fraser Valley College made me what I am today,” she states proudly. “There’s no way that I would have become a teacher without the support and education the college provided.”
Rob O’Brennan: Second chance brought big success
|Rob O'Brennan failed spectacularly in his first try at university at UBC, but a stint at the fledgling Fraser Valley College got him on the right course. Now he's head of the Fraser Valley Regional Library.|
Fraser Valley College was a school of second chances from the beginning. Rob O’Brennan, now chief executive officer of the Fraser Valley Regional Library, is thankful for that.
Rob had given UBC a try straight out of high school in 1974, but as he puts it, he was 18 and it was 1974. There were a great many temptations for a young man in Vancouver in the 1970s, and they proved to be a distraction for young Rob, who emerged from his first year with a 15 percent average.
He decided to give post-secondary another try, this time at the fledgling Fraser Valley College.
For Rob, attending the tiny new college was a vastly different experience from his time at the province’s largest university.
“I loved going to FVC. It was a very intimate setting, very unlike university, and I learned a lot more.”
There wasn’t much of a division between students and faculty, and Rob came to regard some of them, such as art historian Rory Wallace, sociologist Kevin Busswood, and anthropologist Dave Wyatt, as friends.
“I was really very pleasantly surprised because I had such a connection with my instructors. You had a real relationship with the people who taught you.”
One memory that stands out is Dave Wyatt creating his own archaeological digs for the students by burying artefacts in the back lot behind the Chilliwack campus building.
His positive experience at FVC led to decent marks, which he was able to use to convince UBC to give him a second chance. He finished off his bachelor’s degree there, majoring in anthropology, and then pursued his master’s degree in library science, eventually returning to the Fraser Valley to work in the library system.
Ellen Saenger: from FVC to the CBC
Ellen Saenger is a producer with CBC Radio’s The Current. But in 1979 she was a fresh-faced first-year student at the five-year-old Fraser Valley College.
“In September 1979 I enrolled in what was then Fraser Valley College on Marshall Road, fresh out of Abbotsford Senior.
“The institution was housed in a less-than-inspiring warehouse-style building. But inside the classroom the instruction was beyond expectation. FVC offered an incredible introduction into the realm of higher learning. Inside that nondescript building I found a new way of thinking, of learning, and of relating to teachers and other students.
“I took an evening art history class where one of my fellow students was our now-retired family doctor. In an anthropology class a local homemaker would rush in after having fed her family dinner and get ready to learn about BC First Nations. These fellow students were shining examples of how learning is a lifelong endeavor. Other students were generally older; several were studying philosophy. One very intelligent young man had quit school early to earn money in construction. He was back to work on a degree.
“The doors to the instructors' offices were always open because, if I recall correctly, their offices had no doors.
“Jack Gaston made history come alive. The teaching duo of Rory Wallace and Scott Fast presented Power and Knowledge, an interdisciplinary course that pulled together strands of thought from various traditional courses like political science, art history, and literature.
“I was the third sibling of my family to complete the first two years of university transfer courses at FVC. My eldest sister, Susan Murray, started at FVC in 1975. My other sister, Karen Saenger, enrolled in 1977. I went on to a degree in English literature at UVic. For our family having three children complete a total of six years of university education at the college level provided a significant financial savings.