Chapman University celebrates 150th anniversary

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Chapman University

This is a landmark year for two Orange County universities.

Vanguard University in Costa Mesa – formerly Southern California College – just observed its 90th birthday. Chapman University in Orange is also marking an important milestone.

It's been 150 years since Chapman opened its doors.

In the 1860s, a Protestant denomination known as the Disciples of Christ began establishing colleges across the country – more than a dozen in all, including Texas Christian University and Iowa’s Drake University.

Chapman University’s Charlene Baldwin says the idea was to open their doors to all people. "Their mandate was everyone – women and people of color, as well as men – to have that higher education experience. And they founded several of these. And one of them was in Woodland, California and it was called Hesperian College."

That campus near Sacramento is where Chapman began – the Disciples of Christ’s only college in California. Baldwin says Hesperian College opened its doors the same day as history was being made on the other side of the country.

"They did that at the very moment that President Abraham Lincoln was delivering his first inaugural, which would have been noonish in Washington, D.C. on that very same day, March 4, 1861, because they believed in that president and what he stood for."

Decades passed. Eventually, church member and Fullerton’s first mayor, Charles C. Chapman, provided a challenge grant – yes, they had challenge grants back then – to bring the college to Southern California.

In 1920, Hesperian moved to Los Angeles, right near L.A. City College on Vermont. In the 1930s, officials renamed it Chapman College.

And about two decades later, Orange High School moved to a new location and sold its old campus to the college. That was in 1954. Chapman’s been there ever since.

Retired professor David Weatherill was a student at the L.A. campus, then taught at the Orange campus. "They had a gas pump in the middle of campus, right on the other side of where the library is, where there’s a fountain over there, there was a gas pump. They had a tennis court there. All the old buildings. And the color scheme was not the greatest." Weatherill laughed. "They had pink buildings and brown and everything else."

But Weatherill says Chapman goes beyond the physical campus. "You know, Chapman isn’t about buildings. It’s about people. And to me, it’s a family."

Weatherill lives within walking distance of campus. He says the university means a lot to the community. "Every night you could come here and see either a great play, tremendous music, athletic events. It’s community-oriented, really. I think it’s been a blessing for Orange and Orange has been a blessing for Chapman."

The campus marked its anniversary with a reading of the Gettysburg address and the unveiling of a music composition written by one of the university’s professors.

The campus is planning a big birthday bash for the community in early May – as it looks ahead to the next 150 years.

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