First Class

March 01, 2020 - 5 minute read


Curtis Smith aka “Badger”

It was the fall of 1976. I was headed to junior college, but the pastor at my church home in Brea recommended I look into a new Lutheran school that was opening — Christ College in Irvine. I checked it out and liked what I saw. With financial help from my church, and a work-study job with Dale Hartmann’s father-in-law, Gus, who did campus maintenance, I found myself among the first 50 students who called the Irvine campus home.

We met in a single building which held all our dorms, classrooms, library, administrative offices and more. I was really impressed with our faculty members — all five of them. They were high-quality professors, but also good and kind people. Professor Bob Holst, the dean, was like a father to me when I really needed one. I could call him at home or walk into his office and he would talk to me about anything — school, taking Greek (which I had trouble with), problems with relationships, trouble at home. No matter what I was going through, I could stop by and he would drop everything to spend time with me. It meant the world.

The students in that first class came from all over the country, and some from as far away as Hong Kong. Among our motley group were farmers, hippies, super-conservative people and the opposite, plus a handful of people like me in the middle. Dr. Moon, one of the university’s founders, once said that the student body in 1976 was “outside the sociological norm,” which is hilarious and true. That’s about the nicest way you can put it. We ranged from “different” to “odd” to “a little crazy.” It was a very interesting year.

I recall the time we decided to have a spaghetti dinner to get to know each other better. In the student body meeting where we decided this, somebody asked if we could have vegetarian spaghetti sauce. A couple of people backed that idea. Then a conservative cowboy jumped up and said, “No way! We’re having meat in our spaghetti!” An argument broke out and some other people had to calm it down. Our solution was to have two separate sauces: vegetarian and meat. That captures the mood of that first class.

The student body shrunk that year from 50 to 35. Emotionally, the year started out like a roller coaster ride, going from the high feeling of church camp to some pretty serious lows after that. But from the middle of the year onward, things were good. Chapel was always full when we had services. Sometimes people held a Bible study or a prayer meeting on their own. There was still tension between some groups, but that’s the way life is. Each year things mellowed out more and the group gelled.

Coyote or Eagle?

In the second year, the number of students doubled, and I was elected to be one of three “co-counselors” as we called them. It was our non-conformist way of electing student body officers, because we didn’t want to have a traditional president, secretary, treasurer and so on. We started making decisions, like choosing our mascot and school colors. We decided on green and gold, then had a lot of discussion over which animal should represent us. A large group wanted a coyote because there were a lot of coyotes around campus at the time, and “Christ College Coyotes” sounded cool. Every student voted on these things, and as co-counselors we tried to keep order, which was nearly impossible. Meetings were kind of a fiasco, but things got done. The eagle won on a close vote, and it has been our mascot ever since.

The college offered soccer as a PE class in its first year, and the second year we had an actual team. We played in a kind of county league with firefighters and church groups. The next year we began playing third string teams from UC Irvine and nearby junior colleges. We also started a basketball team. We even had uniforms. Those were humble beginnings, but it was nice to be there for the beginning of Concordia athletics.

We grew close as a student body, becoming like brothers and sisters. The relationships really helped me find my way. Of course, pranks were part of that. One day I came out of class to find my car gone. I thought, “This is a tiny school on a hill. How could someone steal a car from here?” I was getting ready to call the police when a friend started laughing and the guys all showed me what they had done: moved a big trash can out of its shed and ten guys had carried my car into that area and hid it from me. I was relieved and we had a great laugh.

Professor on a moped

As a commuter student for the first two years, I drove my Ford Fiesta to campus every day. Professor Holst commuted, too, on his moped from northern Irvine. I would often pass him on the highway. One day I saw him on the side of the road. His moped had broken down. I knew I had a Greek test and thought to myself, “If I pretend I don’t see him, I won’t need to take that test because he won’t get to school on time.” But I couldn’t do that to my favorite professor. So I pulled over and put his moped in my Fiesta. It was hanging out the back. On the ride to school I asked him, “So, does this mean I can escape the test?” He laughed. “No. I appreciate the ride, but you’re going to take the test,” he said. I expected no less from him.

I moved onto campus for year three, and after my fourth year I graduated with a BA in behavioral science. There was nothing scientific about my behavior, yet I was blessed with an amazing wife and 3 great kids. I ended up driving a truck, and years went by before I reconnected with my fellow alums. In 2012 or so, my kids were all out of the house, and my wife and I decided to make some life changes to get healthier in a bunch of different areas. We started exercising, reading the Bible and praying more frequently. Part of that improvement was connecting with people who meant something to us. My wife attended her college reunion and encouraged me to do the same. So I came back to Concordia Irvine’s campus.

It was my first time back in many years, and of course the campus looked amazing. So many buildings, so many programs, so many students, and all of such high quality. I was proud to have graduated from there.

As part of Homecoming weekend, I got back in touch with a bunch of people from those early years, and those bonds remained. We hung out together and had the best day. Since then we stay in contact by phone and text all the time. They’re encouraging people, part of my spiritual family, my brothers and sisters in Christ. I can call them if I ever need to. We share happy times and significant life events. When someone becomes a grandparent or their kids get married, we all celebrate by text. We also look forward to seeing each other at homecoming every year. In the middle of winter, after Christmas, I know I can look forward to seeing my friends again. It’s a real blessing to me.

A lot of miracles happened for Concordia Irvine to exist today. People fought to keep the school open many times. I feel like it was a miracle for me as well, to be there in the beginning and to have such a strong connection to my classmates today. I am happy to be part of Concordia’s history, and I’m proud of what the school has become.

If I could go back I would love to take Marine Biology. Watching the university start from humble beginnings reminds me of the early days, and I look forward each year to see how they’ve grown.

I am happy to be part of Concordia’s history, and I’m proud of what the school has become.
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