By Jim Carnett
(Jim was an Orange Coast College student in the early 1960s. Now in his 36th 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.)
Dr. Terry Timmins
Next Wednesday, March 21, Dr. Terry L. Timmins will be lauded as Orange Coast College’s Faculty Member of the Year.
It’s an honor that’s richly deserved…and, in fact, is long overdue!
The 64-year-old Timmins is a former OCC student; is a graduate of the college; and has served as a Coast professor of sociology and anthropology for the past 36 years. For Terry, this place is home! He gets decidedly emotional when he talks about the Coast Family.
Wednesday’s program to honor Terry – along with part-time faculty member, Jennifer Peters, and classified staff member, Jim Stead – is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. in the Student Center Lounge. Following the awards ceremony, Terry will deliver a 30-minute public lecture, titled “Balancing Progressive Change With Fundamentals.” The lecture will focus on his philosophy of teaching.
On Friday, May 25, Terry will be the featured speaker at OCC’s 59th commencement at the Pacific Amphitheater.
For Terry Timmins, Orange Coast College and “family” go hand in glove.
“This campus has been my home for a major portion of my life,” he says. “I’ve invested much of myself here. To me, Orange Coast College represents open arms, open doors and open minds. The students, staff and teachers are known around the world. An international student from Sweden recently told me that she came here because she was told that OCC is the best school anywhere. I agree with that assessment.”
Timmins was impressed by the fact that the Swedish student’s government gave her $12,000 to attend any school anywhere in the world, and she chose Coast.
“I feel deeply when members of the faculty and staff retire or pass away,” Terry confides. “I get emotional about this college and its people. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of teaching the sons and daughters of many OCC staff members, and I’ve also taught the children of my former students.”
Terry says he has always felt a strong sense of community here…ever since his student days.
“We reach out to our students. This place isn’t the University of California. We’re not impersonal. You’re not just a number here. There’s a feeling of simpatico on this campus. Our students come back after graduation – sometimes many years later – and tell us how much this place has meant to them.”
Not one to naturally seek honors or self-aggrandizement, Terry is deeply proud of the many institutional honors that have come to this college. Yet, in this instance, he seems to have been genuinely and profoundly touched by his selection as OCC’s Faculty Member of the Year for 2006-07. He appears extremely appreciative.
“I’m honored to have been selected, after having looked at the incredible list of candidates for the award,” he told me last fall when it was first announced that he was Faculty Member of the Year. “We have some great teachers on this faculty. I could only say ‘wow!’ when told I’d won the award.
“I think this is about the third time that I’ve been nominated and, to be honest, I didn’t put much time into thinking about it. But, now that I’ve been named the recipient, I’m overwhelmed. We’re one big family on this campus, and just to be nominated is a huge honor.”
There’s that word again…“family!”
“I’m in the twilight of my career, and can say that this puts the cap on my wonderful stay at Orange Coast College. It’s icing on the cake! I’ve loved every moment I’ve been here. I can now enter into the next chapter of my life feeling good about passing the torch to the next generation.”
The Faculty Member of the Year Award has come to be a career achievement honor at OCC. Seventeen faculty members have been feted over the years, and the last five have contributed a total of 167 years to the college. That’s an average of nearly 34 years of service each!
“I look at recent winners like Leon Skeie (professor of physical education and athletics), Sharon Daniel (professor of biological sciences) and Dennis Kelly (professor of marine science), and I’m overwhelmed by the contribution they’ve made to this college,” Timmins says modestly. “They have spent their entire careers here, and have paid their dues. To be included within their number is a huge honor!”
What a humble, nice guy. But we all knew that! It didn’t take winning a big award for Terry to show his true colors. He wears them daily.
Born in Indianola, Iowa, Timmins was raised in Houston, Tex. His father was a piping engineer in the oil industry in east Texas, and spent five years working in Libya. While a student, Terry enjoyed horses and worked as a stable hand. As a high school and college student he was (in no particular order) a raspberry picker, newsboy, grocery bagger, stock clerk, carpenter’s helper, drive-in theater concession worker, warehouseman, gardener, janitor and lifeguard. He worked four years as a custodian with Security First National Bank, and never once missed a day of work. Somebody give a shout-out about paying dues!
During his senior year in high school he harbored a dream of becoming an architect or civil engineer.
“But, I was also restless,” he says. “A buddy of mine who was a year older than I returned to campus my senior year in his Marine Corps uniform. He looked sharp. I thought, ‘the heck with college!’ I joined the Marines in 1961 right after my high school graduation.
“My father and uncles were World War II vets, and I felt I wanted to follow in their footsteps. Those were the days of the Cold War, and I admit that I was also looking for adventure.”
Timmins spent four years in the Corps and worked on aircraft as an avionics technician. The planes that he worked on flew combat missions in Vietnam. He was discharged as a corporal at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County and enrolled at OCC.
How did the stable hand from Houston wind up at Orange Coast College?
“I looked at a map and saw that OCC was the closest community college to my home. I knew absolutely nothing about it. Little did I realize that I would end up falling in love with the place and that I would become a diehard for Orange Coast College for the rest of my life.”
Terry wasn’t certain what he wanted to major in, but he was darned sure he didn’t want to train for a technical career.
“I felt there had to be a better way to try to understand the complexities of the world,” he says with a chuckle. “I wanted to become socially and environmentally aware.”
He took an OCC sociology class from professor Charles Nedoff in 1965. Charlie was a slightly crusty professor who’d been a B-29 crewmember during World War II and was the recipient of an Air Medal and some battle stars. He could be somewhat intimidating, but Charlie and Terry hit it off and became best of friends. They were officemates until Charlie’s retirement in 1988.
“I had no idea what sociology was about, and I got a C in the first class I took from Charlie. But the candle had been lit, and it burned brightly for the next four or five years of my college career. Charlie became my mentor. I began earning A’s and B’s in all my classes, and the discipline of sociology helped me to understand the world.”
Tom Childs, who taught political science at OCC from 1964-85, was also a Timmins mentor.
“Tom was a terrific teacher,” Terry says. “He cared about his students. He’d sit with you in his office, or in the quad or in the Student Center between classes, and would dispense wonderful advice and counsel. He changed my life.”
Terry received a $100 scholarship as an Orange Coast student. That made a big impression on him, and further fueled his passion for education.
“A hundred bucks went a long way in 1966, and it helped me in so many ways. It helped pay my bills and it validated my efforts as a student. I’ve been a strong advocate of OCC’s scholarship program during my entire 36 years here.”
He routinely urges students to apply for scholarships.
Timmins says he “grew up” in his two-and-a-half years as an OCC student.
“The college literally gave this kid from East Texas a brand new life.”
Terry graduated from Coast in five semesters, in 1967. He went on to earn a B.A. degree in sociology, with a minor in anthropology, at California State University at Fullerton in 1969. He picked up his master’s from Fullerton in 1971. In 1993 he completed a Ph.D. in sociology from the Fielding Institute.
“I was born and corn fed in Iowa; rough hewn in Texas; and blossomed in the Golden State as a result of the fertilization of my mind at Orange Coast College, Cal State Fullerton and the Fielding Institute.”
Timmins returned to his alma mater – OCC – as a faculty member in the fall of 1971.
“I discovered that there was a sociology teaching position available, so I turned in an application. Two of my favorite instructors were on the interview committee and I felt very comfortable.”
Nedoff was one of them. The other was Social and Behavioral Sciences Division dean, Miles Eaton. Charlie and Miles sent Timmins forward to the second interview…with OCC president, Dr. Robert B. Moore.
“I sat in front of Bob in the second interview. Dr. Moore told me that his undergraduate major had been sociology. We instantly connected. It didn’t seem like an interview at all, but more like a friendly chat. That’s the way Bob Moore was…unpretentious. I liked him.
“Dr. Bob ended up hiring me, and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Timmins was given a desk and telephone next to his mentor, Nedoff. They were officemates for the next two decades. Terry resolved to do for his Coast students exactly what his OCC professors had done for him.
“OCC opened doors for me,” he says. “The Marine Corps allowed me to mature. Orange Coast College exposed me to a whole new world of ideas and opportunities. I had a passion and obligation to give to OCC’s students what the college had given me. I also felt like I was back home doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.”
When he returned to Coast to teach, Timmins arrived on campus with hair down to his collar, and a thick, bushy beard. His beard was so thick, in fact, that when you looked at Terry straight on you saw only two penetrating eyes and the tip of a nose. It’s rumored that he had to apply for a permit from the SPCA to wear a Sheltie on his face.
“I was part of the counter-culture, and was pushing for peace and freedom,” he reflects. “I was always on the fringe of that movement, however, never right, smack in middle. Years later my hair began to thin, so I eventually shaved my head and beard. Today I look more like a Marine than I did in the early ‘60s.”
Now in his 36th year at the college, Timmins has taught more than 20,000 students in his classes.
“I’ve loved teaching my students. There’s no more rewarding career than education. Many of my students have gone on to do wonderful things with their lives. One is a physician in New York; another is the founder of a shelter for domestic violence victims and a member of OCC’s Alumni Hall of Fame.
“I frequently run into former students at South Coast Plaza or the Mission Viejo Mall when I’m shopping with my daughter. They come up and say, ‘Weren’t you my sociology professor…Mr. Slimmons?’”
Timmins has been involved in a host of OCC student activities over the years.
“I encourage my students to be active on campus, it makes for a much better college experience. I give them extra credit for taking part in club-sponsored activities. I tell them that this is a learning community, and that they need to be immersed in that community. I push them to get involved in academic activities, clubs, sports, fine arts, the whole gamut.
“Even though this college has a large student enrollment – more than 25,000 – it maintains a small-campus atmosphere. Students here develop a warmth and love for education. Many go on to big universities, and do very well.”
Timmins is a huge advocate for his academic discipline…sociology.
“I encourage the students who enroll in my classes to consider sociology as a major,” he says. “With a degree in sociology you can go into business, personnel, urban planning, teaching, you name it! You can write your own ticket.”
Terry liberally uses humor in his classroom, and presents considerable anecdotal information.
“I espouse a progressive philosophy. I believe in a humane, respectful and peaceful resolution to the world’s problems. In working with students, I believe in opening doors, not closing them. I respect my students, and I get a lot of respect in return. I treat them as intelligent people, and never insult them.”
A committed activist, Terry has served on the board of directors of Laguna Greenbelt, Inc. and the Friends of the Irvine Coast. He has also built several wooden canoes.
Terry has served on the college’s Academic Senate. He’s also been on the Scholarship Committee and Academic Standards Committee. I enjoyed serving with him for a number of years on the Visiting Scholar Committee. Since he and I are poles apart politically, it was my chance to really get to know him. I found him to be one of the campus’ classiest acts.
Over the years, Terry has probably served as adviser to more student clubs than any other person in the history of the college. He has advised the Whole Earth Club, Energy and Environment Club, Sierra Club, Recycling Center Club, Muslim Student Association, Gay and Lesbian Student Association, Amnesty International Club, Progressive Club, Black Student Union, Multicultural Club, International Club and several others. He’s played an active role with OCC’s EOPS Office.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with student clubs over the years,” he says.
For 18 years, Timmins was advisor to the campus’ Table Tennis Club. To me, at first, it seemed slightly out of place. The college’s biggest activist carrying on a love affair with…table tennis? But it was a natural extension of Timmins’ complex no-one-can-pigeon-hole-me persona.
“We were extraordinarily active,” he says of the club. “We used to put on $10,000 table tennis tournaments, and the best players in the world would play in our gym. We had the Taiwanese national team here, and the Japanese national team. All the U.S. national champions played here.”
Timmins served as president of the U.S. Table Tennis Association for three years, from 1995-98. He was also vice president of the association for six years.
“I traveled all over the world for the association. I was burnt-out after leaving the presidency, however, so I retired from table tennis in 2000.”
Timmins was one of the founders of OCC’s Recycling Center in the early 1970s.
He established the college’s Environmental Awareness Week celebration that was held throughout the ‘70s. He brought Buckminster Fuller, Ralph Nader, Jane Fonda, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. John Schmitz, and numerous others – of all academic and political persuasions – to campus to speak.
“I’ve had a wonderful career,” Timmins summed up, “and I hope to have a few more years before I hang it up. It will be tough leaving this place, when I finally do.”
Terry lives in Laguna with his daughter, Trish, a 16-year-old high school sophomore who enjoys showing horses. In their spare time, Timmins and his daughter run the 80-acre Pinto Acres Horse Farm in Mohave National Preserve, west of Needles, Calif.
“It’s a place for show horses to finish out their lives,” Timmins says. “It’s open range, safe and cool, at 5,000 feet of elevation. We frequently get a dusting of snow during the winter months.
“Show horses are not allowed to mix or socialize when they’re being trained. With their show careers behind them, Pinto Acres allows them to retire to the open range and just be horses.”
Someday, OCC’s own show horse, Terry Timmins, will retire to the open range. Thankfully, however, that day hasn’t yet arrived. For some time to come his students will be able to enjoy him in the classroom…and, next week, we’re going to show him just how much we appreciate him.
Faculty Member of the Year…that’s TT. He wakes up the echoes of Coast’s best and brightest!
WE GET LETTERS….
Great history about the sterling year of 1967 (Orange Slices, March 8, “Forty Years Ago at Coast: It Was ‘Groovy Man,’ and Flower Power!”).
Love the references and pictures of the many people you mentioned. Hard to believe so much water has gone under the bridge!
OCC History Professor (1956-90)