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The First 100 Years

Author: Jean Saylor Doppenberg
June, 2018 Issue

One hundred years ago, Santa Rosa Junior College was officially established with a student body of 19. Only a year earlier, the 14 women who comprised the Federated Home and School Association––wives of leading professional and businessmen in the community––agreed that a junior college for Santa Rosa was an idea worth exploring. That year the city’s population was 13,000; the entire population of Sonoma County was 51,000.

Founding a junior college in Santa Rosa quickly gained traction because several had already been established around the state. Fresno led the way in 1910, followed by Hollywood (1911) and Los Angeles (1912). By 1918, there were 17 junior colleges in California with a total enrollment of about 1,500 students.

After serving 36 years as SRJC’s first president, Floyd P. Bailey wrote a memoir during his retirement, titled Santa Rosa Junior College 1918-1957: A Personal History. In the memoir, Bailey explained that the 14 women of the Federated Home and School Association “apparently felt that the establishment of the school was a matter of some urgency.”

A public meeting was called on November 13, 1917, to present the idea. “The speakers led a free and frank discussion of the proposal,” wrote Bailey. “The recommendation of those attending the public meeting was carried to the Board of Education and the trustees. Apparently in general accord, they had approved and established Santa Rosa Junior College by the spring of 1918.”

The early years

SRJC began as an adjunct to Santa Rosa High School, located at that time on Humboldt Street. The eight original members of the faculty also taught the classes at the high school. Initially, the college had no dean, and the only official body to concern itself solely with SRJC that first year was “a group of five students elected by the SRJC student body to comprise the infant school’s governing board,” wrote Bailey. Two women were selected as student president and vice-president.

In his memoir, Bailey described Santa Rosa in 1918 as it was at the time. “…A bigger-than-average town, the county seat and hub of the county, almost entirely rural in nature and agricultural in economy. The principal incomes came from fruit, hops, grapes, dairying, sheep and eggs. The wages were somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.50 per day for a 10-hour day.”

The first dean of SRJC, Clyde Wolfe, wrote Bailey, was “a brilliant mathematician who spent only one year as administrator. He left Santa Rosa because, he said, the school was doomed to be ‘no more than a bump on the top side of the high school,’” according to Bailey’s account.

Many years would pass before SRJC had its own home. A fire at the Santa Rosa High School in 1921 was a major setback, and for four years the college students attended classes in stores, churches and warehouses around the city.

Steve Morris, a retired SRJC faculty member, compiled a brief history of the college several years ago. He writes that SRJC moved with the high school in 1925 to its current location. In 1927 the SRJC District was created, and in 1930 the college acquired the land on Mendocino Avenue where it now stands. Of the original 40 acres, 20 were co-owned with the city and 20 were owned by the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. “Many Santa Rosans were hoping for a park dedicated to Luther Burbank, thus the agreement to have a 350-foot setback on the 40 acres to assure a park-like setting,” Morris explains.

Pioneer Hall was the first building constructed, completed in 1931 for $30,000. “This was the entire college––classrooms, offices, the library, and even a theater,” according to Morris. “At the time, enrollment at the college was 300 students.”

Expansion and growth

To expand the college, a bond measure valued at $250,000 was passed in 1938, during President Bailey’s tenure, that matched funds provided by the Public Works Administration. Those funds were used to build Analy Hall, Bussman Hall and the Luther Burbank Auditorium.

The Doyle Student Center was constructed in 1954 to house the cafeteria and the bookstore, for a time. This building was torn down several years ago to make way for the three-story Larry Bertolini Student Service Center, which opened in 2009. Plover Hall was originally built in 1971, at a cost of $1.169 million and originally housed the library.

Next to Plover Hall, where the Race Building now stands, was the Vets Village, a collection of Quonset huts for veterans to live in after World War II. “They paid $35 per month, including utilities,” Morris says. “My folks lived there when I was born, my father having graduated from SRJC in 1936.”

SRJC’s first Homecoming celebration was in 1945. Night school classes were first introduced in 1952, and summer school classes began in 1958.

The first Frank P. Doyle and Polly O’Meara Doyle Scholarships were awarded in 1950. Before his death in 1948, Frank Doyle directed that dividends earned on his trust’s Exchange Bank stock go toward charitable beneficiaries in perpetuity, with the vast majority to be paid to SRJC to fund scholarships. Over the decades, more than 127,000 students have benefitted.

“It’s so unique––no other college has anything like it,” says SRJC President Frank Chong. “Today, every high school graduate can receive $1,000 per year if they attend classes here full-time and get a GPA of 2.75. More than $85 million in Doyle scholarships have been awarded since it began.”

Branching out

SRJC classes in Petaluma began with night school in 1964, and by the early 1970s classes were being held in leased spaces around the town. A 40-acre site in east Petaluma was purchased in 1985 by the Board of Trustees to create a dedicated Petaluma campus, and construction of the first phase was completed in 1995. More than 6,000 students are enrolled in classes on the Petaluma campus every semester, and expansion is underway to accommodate twice that number.

SRJC’s Public Safety Training Center was first established in 1961 to provide coursework and field training for police officers, correctional officers, police dispatchers, seasonal park rangers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics and firefighters. A modern 20-acre facility on Skylane Boulevard in Windsor was completed in 2002.

For students majoring in agriculture and forestry programs, the Robert Shone Farm in Forestville is a self-sustaining 365-acre farm first established in 1972. The vineyard operation generates income from the sale of grapes, and produce raised in the farm’s gardens is used in SRJC’s Culinary Training Program.

SRJC also operates the Southwest Santa Rosa Center on Wright Road in Roseland. Opened in 2009, its 10 classrooms offer such studies as English as a Second Language, college skills, electronic technology and computer literacy. It serves more than 7,000 non-English speaking and conventional students throughout the county.

Funding the future

Two bond measures in recent years have made it possible for SRJC to continue its expansion, renovate older facilities, and offer more cutting-edge technology to keep pace with today’s evolving careers.

In 2002, voters passed Measure A, a $252 million general obligation bond that funded the building of the parking garage at the Mendocino Avenue entrance to the college, as well as the Frank P. Doyle Library. Measure H, a $410 million general obligation bond, was approved in 2014.

At the time, Chong emphasized that the college must stay current. “Half of our local high school graduates rely on SRJC for affordable higher education right here in Sonoma County,” he stated. “Measure H will serve to upgrade facilities, address overcrowding and prepare students to attend four-year universities. Students will be prepared to succeed in 21st-century careers.”

According to Chong, Measure H funds are currently being used on the Santa Rosa campus to modernize the Luther Burbank Auditorium.

“Some of our most important study programs are healthcare related,” says Chong. “Go to any of our area hospitals and you’ll find many of the nurses, techs and others are JC grads. We train most of the nurses in the county, and we’re celebrating our 75th year of offering nursing. Many of our firefighters and police officers also trained with us. We have a respected paralegal program, and our culinary program helps prepare students entering the hospitality and tourism industries.”

Chong points out that tech-oriented careers call for training tomorrow’s workforce today. “Recently we added a brewing program as well as a drone pilot program in our computer science department. We’re also developing a cybersecurity program, because it’s a huge issue for business and many jobs will be available in that field. We’ve conducted a summer camp about cybersecurity for high school students at the Petaluma campus and are planning other programs as well. Technology has become so dominant and essential in the workplace that we must train people to become more tech savvy.”

No. 1 in UC acceptance

SRJC enrollment during the 2017-18 school year was 28,000. “That’s 28,000 coming onto the campuses to take classes, and the full-time equivalent students number about 18,000,” explains Chong. “One of our biggest challenges in the past 20 years has been the dramatic drop in full-time students. It used to be that two-thirds of our students were full time. Now, only a third are full time.”

He cites the need for students to hold down jobs as a catalyst for this change. “The cost of living is high here, and many of our students have to go to work. The average age of a SRJC student is 30, and only about 30 percent of students are recent high school graduates. Many of our students are older and going back to school, or returning from military service.”

The college’s student population is one-third Latino, says Chong. “This mirrors our community as a whole, so we’re meeting the needs of our population.”

Chong is proud of SRJC’s track record to prepare students for transferring into the University of California system. “SRJC is No. 1 in acceptance rate to University of California campuses among all large California community colleges. About 80 percent of our students who apply to a UC School will be accepted. And I’ve heard from alumni that some of the hardest college courses they took were at SRJC and not at a UC school. We’re like a boot camp here.”

The wildfires last fall had a significant impact on the college. A disabled SRJC student was among the fire victims, more than 900 students lost their homes, and 61 members of the faculty and staff lost their homes, according to Chong. While at first many students appeared to have dropped out, six months later, the number of drops is comparable to that of previous years.

“We won’t get those students back quickly,” he says. “In part, it will have to wait until new housing is available. In the meantime, the college has hired a firm to conduct a needs analysis for building dormitories on campus. We need to find out if it’s feasible and how it could be financed.”

Looking toward the future

SRJC has commemorated its 100th anniversary this year with a variety of special events and celebrations and more are planned throughout the remainder of the year. Its centennial celebration theme is “Pride, Purpose and Progress.” According to a prepared statement, the college community “is looking back with pride at past accomplishments, focusing on its purpose of providing an excellent education to all, and its progress looking forward toward the future.”

1.7 Million Students and Counting

Santa Rosa Junior College is currently the third largest employer in Sonoma County, with approximately 3,000 employees, according to President Frank Chong. In its 100 years, 1.7 million students have attended SRJC, including graduates, those receiving certificates, and community education students of all ages.

Today, SRJC offers classes for 113 majors, 160 certificates, and 15 non-credit certificates.

Between the 2007-08 and 2016-17 school years, thousands of degrees and certificates were earned in these five popular programs:
Administration of Justice—10,493
Fire Technology—12,492
Health (including Nursing)—11,589

SRJC Foundation

Founded in 1969, the Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation is focused on the critically important task of raising private funds to support students and educational programs. With the help of generous donors, the SRJC Foundation has earned the No. 1 ranking among the 114 California community colleges for size of endowment and for distribution of scholarship and program funds.

In honor of this milestone year, the SRJC Foundation is leading the SRJC 100th Anniversary Campaign to provide scholarships and other support for students, continuing education and research opportunities for faculty, and funds for instructional equipment and program needs to support the workforce of the future. To date, $8 million has been raised and designated for specific areas of student, faculty, and program support. The 100th Anniversary Celebration Dinner in May was hosted by the Foundation as part of the fundraising campaign. For more information, or to make a donation, visit

Millions to Modernize

According to SRJC President Frank Chong, Measure H funds are currently being used on the Santa Rosa campus to:

• Modernize the Luther Burbank Theater––$28 million

• Construct a new building to house STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math)––$85 million

• Improve energy conservation and sustainability––$32 million

• Modernize athletic facilities––$30 million

• Upgrade technology––$60 million

In addition, a new science lab is planned for the Petaluma campus.

Economic Impact on the Community

An extensive economic impact study released in 2015 revealed that Santa Rosa Junior College generates $1.6 billion in increased economic activity in Sonoma County. The study measured the overall impact and return on investment for students and taxpayers in Sonoma County during the 2014-15 fiscal year. The report took into account many factors, such as spending by students, college employees and alumni who remain in the community following graduation.

The total investment made by students to attend SRJC in 2014-15––for tuition, fees, books and supplies––was estimated at $52.7 million. In return for this investment, the study said that SRJC students would receive “a present value of $1.2 billion in increased earnings over their working lives.” The report indicated that Sonoma County taxpayers would receive an estimated present value of $492.2 million in added tax revenue stemming from the students’ higher lifetime earnings and the increased output of businesses.

Of the $1.6 billion generated overall by the college, alumni created the greatest impact, accounting for $1.4 billion in added income to Sonoma County’s economy, the equivalent of creating 23,217 new jobs.

According to the study, the presence of SRJC expands the state economy and creates a wide range of positive social benefits––reduced crime, lower welfare, lower unemployment and improved health––that accrue to taxpayers and society in general within California.

More Celebrations Ahead

Santa Rosa Junior College kicked off its 100th anniversary festivities in January with an opening reception on campus for the entire community. More events were held in the spring, including a celebration dinner as well as a lecture by historian Gaye LeBaron entitled, “What If Women Built a Community College––and Everybody Came?”

The “Veritas” sculpture and time capsule was also unveiled in April. A collaboration between SRJC instructor Michael McGinnis and the college’s Engineering Club, the sculpture was installed in the Quad in front of the Frank P. Doyle Library. The time capsule will be opened in 2118.

On September 22, beginning at 11 a.m., the college is hosting the Spirit of SRJC Picnic on the Santa Rosa campus, featuring games, barbecue and birthday cake. Guest are welcome to bring their own picnic. Admission and parking are free. On the same day, SRJC’s Homecoming football game will take place next door at Santa Rosa High School, starting at 1 p.m. October events commemorating the 100th anniversary include a golf tournament fundraiser on October 6 at Windsor Golf Course, the Fall Festival at Shone Farm on October 13, and LumaFest on the Petaluma campus on October 20.

In addition, a new book of photos and images representing each decade of SRJC’s history, From Acorn to Oak: A Brief History of Santa Rosa Junior College, will be released in the coming months. More details about 100th anniversary events can be found at




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