By Jim Carnett
(Jim was an Orange Coast College student in the early 1960s. Now in his 37th year as Director of Community Relations, he is editor of Coast-to-Coast. This is a regular column that focuses on OCC’s history and distinctive characteristics and characters.)
You’ve probably never suspected this of her, but as a high school senior she played the definitive role in the definitive musical of her generation.
Dr. Nancy L. Kidder – the slightly “buttoned-down” Nancy Kidder – Orange Coast College’s recently retired administrative dean of Enrollment Services was Maria in the 1963 Mark Keppel High School production of “West Side Story.”
Yes, Nancy played that stunningly graceful and virtuous young woman – the product of the genius minds of dramatist, Arthur Laurents, composer, Leonard Bernstein and lyricist, Stephen Sondheim. She was “MARIA…say-it-loud-and-there’s-music-playing, say-it-soft-and-it’s-almost-like-praying.” MARIA!
Nancy was the mid-20th century’s adaptation of “Juliet.”
But if you’ve known Nancy for any length of time, this shouldn’t shock you. She’s a person brimming with wonderful surprises.
For instance, in high school her friends would have confidently wagered a year’s college tuition on the supposition that she’d end up matriculating to college as a music major. It seemed a slam-dunk (a piccolo stuffed into a tuba, monster-flush!). Nancy, however, elected to counter prevailing wisdom when she selected history as her major, and took minors in economics and German.
She minored in German because she was intensely and emotionally attracted to German lieder, opera and poetry.
“I loved music, but I wanted to go into education and I picked history and economics,” she says. “Both disciplines served me well over the years. But, I didn’t give up music entirely. I sang in the chorus in college, and I took voice and piano, so I didn’t turn my back on my roots.”
Her roots? Her mother, Betty Lou Kidder, was a professional musician, a violinist, organist, pianist, soloist and choral conductor. Her father, Eugene, a UCLA graduate and administrator for many years with the City of Los Angeles, played the clarinet.
Her younger brother, Paul, a decorated Vietnam War veteran who earned a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars while serving with the 101st Airborne, played the banjo and guitar. Nancy began taking piano lessons at the age of eight. She also plays baritone ukulele. For that particular skill she can thank her fifth-grade teacher.
“We were going to have a luau in fifth grade and my assignment was to buy a ukulele and teach myself and two other students how to play it in time for the big event,” she says with a laugh. “Well, I fulfilled my mission and have been playing the ukulele ever since.”
As she grew up, the Kidder clan constantly made music together.
“We’d record our music, individually and as a group,” she says. A few years ago she came across a treasure trove of old 33 1/3, 45 and 78-rpm recordings – as well as tapes – of family musical sessions. There were also 1947 recordings of love songs performed by her parents.
“I decided that the music would make a wonderful gift for my dad’s 90th birthday.”
Her brother passed away in 1994, and her mother died a few years later.
“Without listening to the records and tapes, I sent them out to be transferred to CDs. One evening, I put one of the CDs into my car’s disc player as I was driving home from OCC. I hadn’t listened to the music in years. Well, it was amazing. I wasn’t prepared for my reaction.
“Though I wasn’t sad, and I didn’t cry, I was flooded with emotions. I almost had to pull the car over and collect myself. It was an emotional moment. I decided that I didn’t want to drop all of these memories on my dad at his birthday party so that evening I said to him, ‘Dad, I have all this family music – more than a hundred songs – that I want to give you as a birthday present, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. I suggest that we listen to a song or a section of music each night for a week leading up to your birthday party. That way, you can become comfortable with it.’ He agreed, and it worked out perfectly.”
Nancy spent 32 years with the Coast Community College District until her retirement in August: 20 years at Golden West College and a dozen at OCC. She held eight different positions at GWC, and two at Orange Coast.
When Nancy came to Coast in 1995 as dean of Admissions, Records and International Center Programs, the buzz that accompanied her was that we had somehow snatched her from under Golden West’s nose…just as we had pilfered Marilyn Dickson (Student Health Services) and Gene Farrell (VP of Administrative Services and, later, president). OCC president, David Grant, was credited with pulling off the biggest heist since Vincenzo Peruggia, in 1911, walked away from the Louvre with the Mona Lisa stuffed under his smock.
“Actually, it was my idea to apply for the position,” Nancy says, a bit sheepishly. “I talked with Dave (Grant) and Sharon (Donoff) in advance, but I applied for the job. I initiated the move, Coast didn’t recruit me. But OCC kinda takes you over once you’re here. I received such a wonderful welcome to Coast that I eventually forgot that it was ever my idea to come to OCC at all…it was OCC’s!”
She fit in perfectly with the Coast Culture.
“I loved OCC from day one,” she says, “because it was evident to me that the college’s faculty and staff genuinely loved it as well. I was warmly received by my OCC colleagues, and cheered on by my many Golden West friends.”
A few months after she’d come aboard as a Pirate, a number of her friends at GWC began to ask her the same question: “Is all that Coast orange and blue, rah rah, ‘We’re No.1’ for real, or is it just marketing?”
“It’s for real,” Nancy assured them.
Born in Burbank and raised in Alhambra, Nancy graduated from Mark Keppel High, named after her grandmother’s principal.
As Maria in “West Side Story,” the blue-eyed, soft brunette had to dye her hair black for the show immediately following spring break of her senior year.
“I’d spent spring break at the beach, so my hair was sun-bleached,” she chuckles. “The week before opening night I decided to color my hair on my own – I’d never had it colored before in my life. I put on a black rinse and I was sporting a greenish tinge to my hair a week before opening night. I panicked. A few days later I tried a dark henna rinse. My hair was black for the three nights of the show, but as it washed out over the days following it went back to being slightly green.”
Not a problem. At least for all three performances she could sing with complete confidence the lyrics, “I feel pretty…oh so pretty!”
Following high school she went to Lubeck, Germany with a Methodist Youth Work Team. She discovered a love for travel and study abroad. As a student at the University of Redlands she studied in Germany and Salzburg.
“Studying in Salzburg was heaven. We had drop-dead-gorgeous views no matter which direction we looked. I developed my love for international education while studying overseas.”
It had also seeped into her system through the DNA. Her dad earned an M.A. at Columbia University in international relations.
After completing her B.A., Nancy went to UC Irvine in 1967 and became a member of the university’s initial class of fifth-year teachers. She received a standard secondary teaching credential.
She taught junior high in Anaheim for a year, then spent what she labels “a fantastic six years” at Troy High School in Fullerton.
“I loved Troy. It was a great school with great kids and a great faculty.”
She taught government and economics at Troy for three years while simultaneously working on her M.S. in counseling at Cal State Fullerton. She worked as a counselor during her final three years at Troy.
Nancy was involved in an Orange County professional organization of counselors, from the elementary through community college levels.
“I was a member of the organization’s board of directors along with Mary Wise, a counselor at Golden West,” she recalls. “Golden West College had an opening in its counseling department, and Mary encouraged me to apply. I was perfectly happy at Troy, but she insisted I would be missing out on ‘the job of a lifetime’ if I didn’t apply. She finally convinced me.”
Nancy submitted her application and was hired in 1975.
“My final interview was at the District Office with Dr. Max Russell, vice chancellor of human resources. I was getting ready to take a Mediterranean cruise, and was facing the possibility of having to make a choice between the cruise and the job. I told Max at the interview that I was looking forward to the cruise, but that I would cancel the trip in a heartbeat to take the job. He called me back and said, ‘It’s the job.’ I gladly cancelled the trip.”
She then went through a succession of eight Golden West jobs over the next two decades.
“Bill Carpenter, GWC’s dean of students at the time, called me ‘The Job Killer,’” Nancy says with a laugh. “He said, ‘Nancy, every job you’ve ever had you’ve killed.’ That was actually a fairly accurate assessment.”
She taught psychology courses and was a counselor during her first year at Golden West, and assumed the additional assignment as assistant dean of Guidance Services the second year.
In 1979 she became assistant dean for Admissions, Records and Guidance, and in 1980 was associate dean of Admissions and Records. In the Admissions Office she worked for Fred Garcia, a former OCC dean who later served as Golden West College’s president.
“Fred was a giant,” Nancy says. “He was ethical to the core, and one of the most solid administrators I have ever worked for.”
In 1983 she moved to the student services side of the house as associate dean of College and Student Services. In 1985 she served as acting dean of Admissions, Records and Guidance, and in 1986 became administrative dean of Institutional Services. In 1991 she took on her final assignment at GWC – which she held for five years – administrative dean of Student Services.
“I moved around a lot and had lots of challenging roles, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Golden West,” she says. “Because of my many moves and roles, I came to know almost everyone on campus. That became a huge asset for me, personally and professionally. I knew the campus well. It was a familiarity I was comfortable with, and perhaps even took for granted.”
She also came to know many people at OCC…while still working at GWC.
“Every time I took on a new assignment at GWC, I would call my counterpart at OCC to find out what I needed to do. When I was in Student Services I called Laird Hayes at Orange Coast and he walked me through Honors Night and a host of student activities. Everyone at Coast was so helpful.”
When the OCC position – administrative dean of Admissions, Records and International Center Programs – was announced in the spring of 1995, she was immediately interested.
“The job attracted me. I liked the admissions and records aspects of the assignment and talked with Sue Brown about them. Sue was retiring from the position. When she told me I would have responsibility for international students…that was the kicker. My parents had been big advocates for international ed. I had studied abroad as a college student, and later during my career had studied Spanish in Cuernavaca and San Miguel de Allende in Mexico; and in Barcelona, Malaga, Las Palmas Gran Canaria and Salamanca, Spain. It seemed like a perfect match for me, so I jumped at the position.”
Nancy was invited to OCC’s campus to face the daunting task of interviewing before a panel of EIGHT people.
“It sounds frightening, but it really wasn’t,” she says. “Even though I was from off-campus, I personally knew every one of those eight people. I’d interacted with each in some way while I was at Golden West.”
She was offered the position on a Friday afternoon and told that she had the weekend to reach her decision. OCC wanted her answer by Monday morning.
“I was advised by a friend to spend all day Saturday thinking about being an Orange Coast College staff member…and all that that entailed. Then, I should spend Sunday thinking about what it would be like to remain at Golden West. I was to lean one way Saturday, and the other on Sunday…then make my decision Monday morning.
“I leaned toward OCC Saturday…and stayed there all weekend.”
She accepted the position.
“I’ve never regretted that decision.”
Nancy took over OCC’s A&R function in July of 1995.
“Orange Coast College has a very strong culture, and it’s a good one,” she says. “My goal at first was to ‘slip in’ and fit into what I perceived as a very dynamic, decentralized and highly creative organization. What I didn’t know was how OCC will ‘own’ you, and Pirate you away.”
She quickly learned that OCC and GWC are very different.
“Over a short period of time I became comfortable with OCC’s unique culture, but I was surprised at some of the big differences I detected between the two institutions. OCC has been a college since 1947…GWC since 1966. Orange Coast is more than a third larger than Golden West, but that’s a bit deceiving and not a direct ratio. OCC is exponentially larger than GWC. The workload here with registering students today, and also responding to requests from students from the past, is enormous.
“Because our students are so transfer-oriented and so mobile, we receive large volumes of transcript requests. OCC produces successful students beyond their time here. We receive lots of requests for transcripts from students from the 1990s and 2000s, and we also still get lots of requests from the 1960s. The level of contact that our office receives is amazing.”
When she was first hired at OCC she had just finished the first year of her six-year Ph.D. program at the University of Southern California.
“I was commuting two or more times per week to Los Angeles for my coursework while making a significant commitment to OCC as administrative dean. I promised my new boss, Sharon Donoff, that I would balance performing the duties of my new position and finishing my doctoral degree. Both goals were very important to me.”
While a USC student, and while shuffling through a box of old family photographs, she came across the picture of a cute two-year-old girl.
“I realized immediately that the girl was me, but when I saw the rather distinctive building in the background,” she says, “I almost gasped. It was the Doheny Library on USC’s campus. I’d spent countless hours there as a USC student decades after the photo was snapped. But I couldn’t figure out why I would be in front of that building as a two-year-old. My dad was, after all, a UCLA grad.”
She showed the picture to her father.
“He smiled. He told me that we had lived near USC for a short time in the late 1940s. Friends of the family had visited on a Sunday, and we walked over to USC for a picnic. For me, it was like a day at the park. It was very ironic to see me as a little girl crouching in front of the building that would one day be so important to my education and career.”
During her years at Coast, Kidder thoroughly enjoyed working with students in the college’s Enrollment Center.
“I have a passion for working with students and doing problem-solving,” she told me just prior to her retirement. “The A&R student frequently comes in to see the dean because he or she has encountered a problem. They want me to erase a grade for them, but I can’t do that. What I do is explain the options and give them a little pep talk. I want them to see that somebody cares, and I want them to actually take something away from our meeting.”
Always the consummate professional, Nancy is also a master at caring for others…and making them feel good.
One of her initial responsibilities at Coast was to get rid of registration lines.
“We reduced the number of days of in-person registration and that took some of the pressure off,” she recalls. “In the late 1990s we went live with IPC (instructor permission codes) for adding classes and that turned out to be close to miraculous. It took lots of pressure off, and we’ve never had three-hour lines since.
“We also put in touchtone registration phones in the registration area and that helped to reduce lines.”
She’s extremely pleased with the Banner registration system that’s about to be rolled-out across the campus and district.
“I’ve watched it come together over the last few years and I’m very bullish on it,” she says. “I hope to take advantage of it myself in the future as an OCC student.”
Nancy became Czarina of Commencement (her description, not mine!) during her 12 years at Orange Coast College. She produced, directed and staged-managed the finest commencement exercises in the history of the college. Each of her commencements seemed to be better than the one previous.
“I think commencement was the part of my job that I loved most,” she says with a sparkle in her eye. “I’m not a natural event planner, so I always looked upon commencement as my greatest challenge. But we have such a wonderful committee that meets year-round, and we have so much fun together!”
After her first couple of commencements, Nancy recognized that the college was facing an impending crisis.
“We had two faculty members – Tom Garrison and Ken Ortiz – who acted as marshals for the ceremony. They handled getting the students in and out of the graduation facility. But, things were getting a little scary. Our student numbers were growing substantially with each commencement. During one of our rehearsals in the Moore Theatre, I looked at Tom and Ken and could see that they were feeling nervous. I could see the whites of their eyes.”
Nancy instituted a program of Honorary Guides. Faculty members and administrators – bedecked in academic gowns and impressive white cords – would handle all the logistical details of a ceremony. Volunteers came out of the woodwork.
In 1996, OCC’s commencement featured Tom and Ken coordinating 250 students. In 2007, there were 35 Honorary Guides in charge of 600 students.
“Those white cords have become a status symbol,” Nancy laughs. “Everybody wants one!”
May 25, 2007 was Nancy’s final Orange Coast College commencement ceremony, and she took a few extra moments to enjoy it.
“I knew it was my last commencement and I tried to savor every second. I didn’t cry, I wasn’t sad, but I was slightly introspective. When it was over, and everyone had left the Pacific Amphitheatre’s seating area, I walked out to the edge of the stage and just tried to absorb the significance of the moment.”
Perhaps she was hearkening back to her final scene on stage as Maria in “West Side Story”…cradling the dying Tony’s head in her lap and singing the haunting 1960s youth anthem, “There’s a Place For Us.” That Mark Keppel High School scene – like most of life’s special moments – was one never to be forgotten…but also never repeated.
“I just looked out to the empty seats at the Amphitheatre, and my eyes swept the scene. I relished the moment.”
What are her plans for retirement?
“First, I’m going to get some sleep,” she promises. “I’ve been running a deficit for a long time.”
Music was her first love before she began her professional career, and it remains her love afterward.
“I plan to become an OCC student in the spring of 2008. I hope to sing for Ric Soto’s Chorale, if I make it through auditions. I also hope to take piano classes from Brian Gould.”
She’ll attend concerts at OCC and other venues throughout the Southland. She’s active with the Da Camara Society, which presents concerts in architecturally interesting and significant environments. She also belongs to a Southern California historical society.
She has stacks of DVDs from The Teaching Company that bring educational music courses alive in her car and home. She was going to save the DVDs for retirement, but she couldn’t resist and broke into them months before she actually retired.
“I’ve been eating them up,” she says. “I have a fairly extensive performance background, and I’ve been to concerts all over. But I don’t have much academic or theoretical background. These lectures are filling a void and helping me to understand music.”
And she plans more foreign language study…along with a bit more exercise, gardening and time with Dad – and with her dog, Bischey. She’ll also spend more quality time with friends.
Enjoy your retirement Nancy Kidder…you’ve certainly earned it!
WE GET LETTERS….
What a delightful read (“My Love Affair With Coast Began 45 Years Ago This Fall,” Orange Slices, Aug. 30), and what kind words for your old teacher! I can only say I was proud of you in "Andersonville" and your latest "Slice" proves I was not mistaken.
Your reminiscences are the ultimate profile of the California community college student. If anyone wants to clearly understand and appreciate the enormous contributions our "System" has rendered, one only has to read one of two documents: 1. The California Educational Master Plan or, 2. Your essay.
The "Thrill of the Week" for any community college instructor is to witness the ignition of a student’s academic interest, usually as a result of discovering he or she can actually complete a creative task, no matter the subject. To see the change in a student who is experiencing the surge of self-confidence so necessary to his or her well-being is much like a great golf shot on the 18th hole of a crummy round. It brings ya back every time.
Rada and I send our very best,
OCC Theater Professor (1959-66)
What a great piece you wrote about your entrance and sojourn through OCC as a student (“My Love Affair With Coast Began 45 Years Ago This Fall,” Orange Slices, Aug. 30). It should be “perma-plaqued” and placed on the wall in the Student Center. It is an inspiration and so are you.
Dr. Bernard J. Luskin
Orange Coast College