Greg Bynum is the son of Oklahomans who came to Kern County seeking a better life and not only wanted, but expected, their two boys to get the education they never did.
He went on to do just that, going from North High to Bakersfield College to what’s now Cal State Bakersfield, along the way working and figuring out the transitions as a first-generation college student.
And so Bynum, 69, is not unlike the students who will one day walk the halls of University Office Center, the future home of Bakersfield College Southwest, that he is building on the campus of CSUB.
On Monday, the first BC students will arrive at CSUB to continue their studies in temporary classrooms that will serve the community college until University Office Center is completed.
“We are thrilled to welcome Bakersfield College students to our campus,” said Lynnette Zelezny, president of CSUB. “This partnership reflects a joint commitment by both institutions of higher learning in Bakersfield to increase educational attainment in our region, which pushes our economy, workforce and — most importantly — our people, forward.”
The BC Southwest / CSUB partnership, a model of collaboration in the state, will ease the transition from Renegade to Roadrunner — a transition Bynum was among the first to make.
“Mary and I have both been committed to the university since we graduated,” Bynum said, explaining why University Office Center is both a professional and personal priority for him, his family and their real-estate development company, Bynum Inc. “It’s one of the two or three passions that we have in our life, to see people well-educated and to give them the opportunity to pursue the American dream.”
University Office Center, the most significant capital project on the CSUB campus since the Humanities Office Building opened in 2017, has been in the works for more than a decade. Located at Camino Media and Scarlet Oak Boulevard, it required a litany of official approvals and was slowed by the Great Recession.
BC Southwest is its first tenant and the occupant of its first phase. At full build-out, over three phases, the center will comprise three professional buildings totaling 285,000 square feet on 12 acres. Its other future tenants are unknown.
BC Southwest is scheduled to open in early 2021; the temporary BC classrooms are adjacent to the project, on the southeast side of campus. The construction of each additional phase will depend on demand for commercial space, but more than likely follow completion of the phase preceding it.
Working side by side with Bynum have been all three of his and Mary’s children: David Bynum, chief operations officer and general counsel; Don Bynum, director of asset management and the project’s marketing chief; and Marley Sherry, director of architecture and construction.
Greg and Mary didn’t set out to field a team of company executives when they started having children in 1979; it’s just a “blessing” that has naturally evolved throughout the years, Bynum said.
“I’m very fortunate to be able to work with my children,” he said. “I didn’t really plan it that way, but they’re a natural fit. It’s kind of uncanny.”
BYNUMS COME TO BAKERSFIELD
Bynum’s parents, Ray and Margaret, are both Dust Bowl migrants who made the journey west as children. Ray’s family settled in Oildale, Margaret’s in Shafter.
They went to Shafter High but met at a dance for military personnel and got married after World War II.
If that’s not enough of a quintessential Bakersfield story, there’s more. Ray worked for Jim Burke Ford as a service dispatcher and later opened a grocery store and RV sales and service shop. Margaret, who is 90, worked at Brock’s Department Store and helped her husband run the businesses.
“They were from the ‘Greatest Generation,’ you know,” Bynum said. “They knew nothing but to work hard.”
And they not only encouraged Greg and his brother, Larry, to go to college but to be lifelong learners “because certainly you couldn’t learn in four years what you needed to learn in life.”
Greg met Mary at Bakersfield College. He was a sophomore, she a freshman whose parents had made a Dust Bowl-like journey from Kansas to Shafter and didn’t have much money or advanced education, either.
Bynum had tried to get his Shafter cousins to introduce him to Mary. When that failed, he took matters into his own hands in the BC library.
“He tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned around,” Mary remembered. “He said, ‘Hi, I’m Greg Bynum and I want to introduce myself. We have a class together and I wanted to meet you.’ He was a bold individual.”
And a sweet one, she said. The two had a water safety class together and he’d wait for her to dry her hair and reapply her makeup and then take her to her next class. On the weekends he picked her up in Shafter for dates in Bakersfield.
“He was pretty dreamy,” Mary said. “Just a pure gentleman.”
The two married Sept. 9, 1972, at First Congregational Church in Bakersfield, three years after meeting. Mary walked down the aisle to The Carpenters’ “For All We Know.”
BUILDING A BUSINESS
Bynum initially thought he wanted to go into the automotive industry, having worked for Jim Burke Ford writing service orders and taken up drag racing as a hobby. But he ended up steering his career in another direction that interested him: real estate and real estate development.
He worked at the Kern County Assessor’s office as an appraiser and learned the ins and outs of what made things valuable in real estate. Then came work with an independent appraisal firm. In 1981 he started his own company. Bynum’s first real estate development project was a 10,000-square-foot office building at Stine Road and Fjord Street in southwest Bakersfield.
Landing its first tenant, Quintana Petroleum of Texas, was so meaningful to Bynum that he still remembers the CEO’s name: Tiger Morris.
“It was his first taste of putting up a building, and I think it bit him hard,” Mary said. “He liked it.”
Bynum Inc. has gone on to develop additional office complexes plus shopping centers, apartments, veterinary clinics, medical offices, a church and even a DMV office. In all, it has developed 1.5 million to 2 million square feet of land and manages 1.3 million square feet of buildings.
It’s one of the top, if not the top, commercial developer-managers in Bakersfield, said John Brock Jr., vice president of development at Bynum.
“He’s very smart and he developed his real-estate knowledge through the appraisal process, which gave him a great understanding of what goes into value in real estate,” Brock said. “And so he’s able to translate that into all the little decisions that are necessary to do a development and not lose your shirt.”
He also has “guts of steel,” rarely bringing home the stresses of the day, including big ones like the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, Mary said.
A DEVOTED ’RUNNER
Bynum graduated from CSUB with a business administration degree in 1972. He was part of the first class of students to spend junior and senior years at the university before crossing the stage.
It was exciting to be at a new institution, getting to do things like pick a school mascot, and the classes were intimate, Bynum said. Everyone had to participate.
“It was a fun time, and everything was small enough that you knew everybody, and you got very familiar with your instructors and professors,” Bynum remembered.
Mary, who earned her sociology degree in 1973, calls CSUB a “saving grace” because she couldn’t have afforded to go away to college.
“I love this school,” she said.
The Bynums have shown their love for CSUB time and time again. They’ve generously contributed to a wide range of events and programs across campus, including scholarships, alumni initiatives, student-faculty research and athletics.
Bynum has served as chairman of the CSUB Foundation (he’s still a member) and the Cornerstone Campaign, CSUB’s largest-ever fundraising effort. He was named Outstanding Alumni for the School of Business in 1991 and Alumni of the Year for the entire university in 2000. He’s received CSUB’s President’s Medal and was part of the first CSUB Alumni Hall of Fame class, in 2007.
“Greg epitomizes what it means to be a true alumnus of this or any institution,” said CSUB Vice President for University Advancement Victor Martin.
“He realizes the value of the education he received here and throughout his career has continued to support CSUB so that the alumni who have followed him have the same education and the same exceptional career opportunities that help bolster our region.”
And that’s why University Office Center, especially the BC-CSUB partnership, is so important to the Bynums. Mary called it “just the best thing for Bakersfield” to have its community college and four-year university sharing the same space.
Continuing to move CSUB closer to the community, along with growing enrollment and matching programs to the economic needs of the region, is exactly what Bynum would like to see his alma mater do in the future.
“I want people to feel like it’s their university,” Bynum said, “whether they attended here or not.”