My grandfather, Jim Turner, was hired as one of the faculty members and assistant football coaches in 1953 — three years before the college held classes on the new campus at 1801 Panorama Drive. It was an exciting time for Bakersfield, and for Bakersfield College.
Our beautiful campus, including our world-class football stadium, was taking shape on the bluffs. As the campus was completed, the college expanded both the academic and athletic programs, holding our first classes in 1956. Being the only one in the department with swimming experience, my grandfather was asked to be the first Bakersfield College swim coach. I was never really clear as to whether the role was intended to be permanent or temporary, but I do know it became his career.
Those who swam for him during his tenure at BC all seem to share a similar story: Jim Turner’s practices weren’t a typical swim practice. It was more like football practice in a pool, with all the yelling and motivational speeches one might imagine.
Some of my earliest memories are of the old pool, my grandpa running up and down the side, his gait hounded by perpetual knee problems. I also remember frequent barbecues and spaghetti dinners for the swim team at their old house on Norris Road, and informal swim competitions held between the swimmers in the 25-yard lap pool they’d built in the backyard. For years, I saw my grandfather go above and beyond for his swimmers, caring for them and pushing them to succeed. Needless to say, these are some of my best memories.
My grandfather retired after about 35 years of service to the college. Not too long after that, I graduated high school and decided to attend BC myself. The campus was exactly as it was in my earliest memories — the same buildings, the same cafeteria, and the same Memorial Stadium. I enjoyed my classes at BC, and after many more years spent in higher education, these classes still rank among the best I have taken. I graduated after two years, and was away from BC for a few years.
I returned to campus for a job interview in May 1998. Jim Turner passed away in May 2003, leaving me, my family, and thousands of former students with years of amazing Renegade memories. I’ve worked full time at BC for 18 years now.
I still think of my grandfather often when I am on campus. When I walk into the office by the pool, which still smells of chlorine and old swim equipment. When I’m walking by Memorial Stadium and I look up at his window in the press box at the top of the visitor’s side. Our aging campus is full of nostalgia for me.
In my lifetime, the vast majority of the buildings and facilities haven’t changed a bit. As much as that reality evokes warm memories for me, I also wonder how well we can continue to serve our community with excellence in this space. Can we prepare students for the jobs of the future with tools and facilities that are 60 years old? At BC, we pride ourselves for our ability to accomplish a lot with very little. Dollar for dollar, we are one of the most efficient systems of education in the country.
And yet, we could be doing more. We should do more. On Nov. 8, Kern County will vote on Measure J, which is a bond measure intended to aid the Kern Community College District, and which will provide Bakersfield College with the potential to jump to the next level. We will be able to serve more students, and provide them with 21st century learning environments. Our aged athletic facilities will be upgraded to support our students’ needs.
Most importantly, this investment in one of our county’s most valuable institutions will have an almost immediate impact on our local economy. Bakersfield College is a huge part of training our local workforce, and where our students benefit so does Bakersfield. Voting “yes” on Measure J is far more than an investment in BC. It is an investment in the future of Bakersfield.