Shared Stories: Growing Up with Long Beach State

Cynthia Vanasse enjoyed a very unique opportunity as a young child. She saw the very beginning of Cal State Long Beach when it opened with 160 students in 1949. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns

By Cynthia Vanasse

I was only six years old, but I remember vividly my family’s move from Columbia, Mo., to Long Beach, Calif.  Why was this so memorable?  Anyone who has lived in the Midwest can tell you.  Leaving the snow, sleet, insufferable heat, and unnamed insects is a joy to recall.

Why were we headed to Long Beach? My father was selected to be one of the first 10 professors to start a new college, Long Beach State. Of course, this meant nothing to me. I was just glad to leave Missouri and welcome the warm weather, beaches, mountains, and lack of bugs. As with most, the welcoming sun was our favorite. My father had polio as a youth, leaving him using a cane; lack of ice and sleet was a safety factor.

To make it easier to establish our home in Long Beach, my parents gave me the chance to know my Aunt Helen and cousins in Palo Alto. This was a city my father loved, as my grandfather was a Stanford professor. Again, this didn’t matter to me. I was happy with my new extended family and of course, the summer weather.

When my parents came to take me to our new home, I was filled with anticipation. Where would we live? What would my new school be like? Who would my new friends be? These were a six-year-old’s questions. I didn’t know what a college was, let alone that my father would be a professor there; these thoughts never occurred to me.

Long Beach State began in the converted apartments in Park Estates, the year being 1949. For convenience, my parents rented there; my father could walk to work. I didn’t care about that. Instead, I was overjoyed with my new friend, one of the dean’s daughters. Together we found a tree house in the street named Anaheim. There we would spend many hours reading and being silly girls. The surrounding area was free of houses; we could run, play sports, and be free. Living there was a wonderful place for a child. Who cared that a new college was being born?

When the college moved to the land grant from the Bixby family (using quonset housing for its campus), we moved to a house on Ostrum Street near Studebaker; again this was near the campus being established. To me the buildings looked like army barracks made of tin. I was not impressed with this new college and was afraid my father would be a causality when the whole thing collapsed.

Eventually there were real buildings being built on the hill. Where the tin structures had been, there emerged sports fields. This “new” campus began to interest me. Being older, I was becoming aware of my father’s position. I was proud of his brain power and our standing as a professor’s family from the new college.

Eventually, we were able to buy a home in La Mirada Estates, a section of houses bordering Palo Verde Avenue and Atherton. As before, this was across the street from the college, very convenient for a professor. Many of dad’s colleagues moved there, so I was surrounded with brilliant, not so blessed with common sense, neighbors.

This increased my exposure to the importance of higher education and spurred my interest in good grades. Unfortunately, this constant exposure led me to believe all fathers had PhD’s. When my dad started the graduate school, my clustered environment was even more removed from the “real world.”

I was lucky to grow with Long Beach State as a companion even though it fostered an unrealistic view of the world. The unaware child became thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow in an educational environment provided by her father, the history professor and graduate dean. Entering the “adult world” slowly erased some of the naive qualities I had, but the quest for knowledge has never left.

I thank you Long Beach State! You are now a 66-year-old university, and I am now a 73-year-old grandmother. Dad would be proud of us both!