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.)
This column regularly runs biographical sketches of unforgettable Orange Coast College personalities.
This week’s incomparable group includes Sandra Hope Savage, Wallace Kleck and Michael Copp. The trio logged a total of 80 years of service to the students of OCC.
Dr. Sandra Hope Savage (1980-2000)
Dr. Sandra Savage
In December of 1997, Sandra Savage was given the devastating news.
The Orange Coast College professor of mathematics and National Science Foundation Fellow, who, in 1994, was named Orange County’s Community College Teacher of the Year, was told that she had an aggressive form of bone cancer. Doctors gave her four months to live.
But, as with almost everything else that she encountered in her life, things didn’t go according to others’ expectations. Sandy battled her cancer…and defied conventional medical wisdom. She was able to teach for five additional semesters at Coast.
Finally, after completing as much of the spring semester of 2000 as she possibly could, she died on Monday morning, June 12. Sandy Savage had valiantly battled the illness for two-and-a-half years.
At the time of her passing, Sandy had devoted 20 years to Orange Coast College and its students and staff. She was 62 years old.
“She was a real fighter,” Steven Savage, her husband, told me shortly after her death. She was respected, admired and loved by all on this campus.
Despite being relegated to a walker after her diagnosis, and later a wheelchair, Sandy continued to teach her Orange Coast College classes. She finally had to stop teaching in May of 2000, about two weeks prior to the end of the spring semester.
“She was able to complete her final grades,” Steven told me. “She taught a Math 100 class and a statistics course during the spring. She also had a third class, but had to give it up early in the semester. She just didn’t have the strength for three courses.”
Teaching, Steven said, was her life’s passion. And it kept her going during her illness.
“She absolutely loved to teach,” he said. “Without her teaching and her students, she would have died a year-and-a-half ago. And, she was a teacher’s teacher. She mentored many other teachers during the course of her career.”
A memorial service was held in Sandy’s honor on campus early the following fall semester. The ceremony celebrated her life and her indomitable spirit. The Sandra Hope Savage Inspiration Scholarship was established in her honor.
Shortly after her death, when Steven and I had our chat, pride radiated from his voice as he spoke. He labeled his wife “a true genius.”
“She never earned a B in her life, she was a straight-A student right through Columbia University where she earned her doctorate. She was an amazing student and a wonderful teacher.”
Three months prior to her death, in March of 2000, the South Coast Chapter of the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) established a prize in her honor, and made her its first recipient. It was titled the Sandra Hope Savage Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education. She was presented the award during a surprise luncheon held in her honor on OCC’s campus.
“What a glorious day in my life!” she wrote to Orange Coast College’s staff several hours after the ceremony. “You, my precious OCC Family, have made it so. Arriving on campus for what I thought was to be lunch with a couple of friends, and greeted by so many smiling faces, was such a lovely surprise. How ever did you keep it a secret? Of course, the AWIS award was the icing on the cake (deliciously chocolate!).
“Yesterday afternoon I had my weekly chemotherapy treatment, which is usually followed by a difficult next day. Not so this morning, however. I had a restful night’s sleep and woke up feeling absolutely great.”
Dr. Savage took a moment in the letter to describe her battle with cancer, and to express her gratitude for the luncheon tribute.
“Just over two years ago I was diagnosed with cancer and given four months to live,” she wrote. “My family helped me view this as a challenge, and that has made all the difference. They know how I love to meet challenges. Next week (April 4) I celebrate my 62nd birthday, and in many ways the past two years have been the most special because they have given me the time for reflection. So, in some way, today has been a kind of memorial service – actually, I prefer to think of it as a celebration of life and friendship – that I have been blessed to attend while still alive.”
She was completely at peace with where her journey was taking her.
“What a treasure to hear the beautiful thoughts expressed by so many of you.”
She thanked staff members and students for their support during her illness.
“My colleagues have quietly stepped in to help out in every way possible. And, of course, my students have graciously helped out with the wheelchair. But, more importantly, they remind me daily, both in comments and written notes, how much they appreciate my work. Life is good.”
Sandra was a member of OCC’s faculty for two decades, and taught at 13 different institutions in six states during a sterling 38-year teaching career. She was named OCC’s Faculty Member of the Year for 1992-93, and was the featured speaker at the 1993 commencement ceremony. She was Orange County’s Community College Teacher of the Year in 1994.
That same year, she was one of 50 community college instructors nationwide to be designated a “master teacher” by the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development.
“My goal has always been to awaken in students an interest in the art of mathematics by opening their minds to a mathematical world of ideas that fascinate, intrigue, challenge and satisfy,” she once wrote in an essay describing her teaching philosophy.
“Student response to this approach has been very positive. I’m extremely fortunate to have chosen a profession that’s so personally rewarding, and a professional environment that’s so supportive of my work.”
Sandy created OCC’s innovative Math 100 course, “Fundamental Concepts of Mathematics for Liberal Arts Majors.” She developed materials for the class that demonstrate the wide breadth of mathematical applications for liberal arts students.
Born in Charleston, W.Va., Sandra earned her B.A. degree in secondary education from Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C. She picked up an M.S. in mathematics from Illinois Institute of Technology, and a doctorate in math education from Columbia.
She also did postgraduate work at Northwestern University, the University of Miami and Florida State University.
Sandy was a member and chapter president of Phi Delta Kappa; a member of the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges; a member of the California Mathematics Council; a member of the review board of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics; and secretary of the Orange County Mathematics Association.
She was a National Science Foundation Fellow, and a recipient of a National Science Foundation “Women in Science” grant. She loved music and enjoyed playing the piano. Her favorite composer was Sergei Rachmaninoff.
She left behind her husband, Steven, and their daughter, Samantha.
I’m no mathematician – and certainly no statistician…unless computing batting averages and shooting percentages counts for something! – but I can tell you one thing straight from my unmathematical heart: Dr. Sandra Hope Savage was “one in a million!”
At the finest community college in the nation, she was the crème de la crème! Dr. Wallace Kleck (1963-94)
Dr. Wallace Kleck
For Wally Kleck, it was 15 months of sheer bliss. A dream come true!
From May of 1987 through July of 1988 Wally and his wife, Carol, put 40,000 miles on their small fifth-wheel truck and took a sabbatical journey to nine national parks west of the Rockies, and several dozen national monuments.
“Many of this nation’s most unique geological features are located within the boundaries of its national parks and monuments,” Wally told me in an August 1988 interview.
“As a geology professor, it’s important that I be familiar with those features. That familiarity allows me to be a more effective teacher.”
The Klecks spent the summers of 1987 and 1988, the early autumn of 1987 and the spring of 1988 exploring America’s national parks and monuments. They holed up for the winter in Breckenridge, Colo., where Kleck landed a job as a photographer at a ski resort. He also used the trip to write his first novel – a science fiction work.
A long-time photo buff, Wally completed four OCC photography classes before embarking on the journey. He frequently illustrated his OCC lectures and public presentations with slides. He took more than 5,000 photos during his 15-month national parks odyssey. Prior to departure, he signed a contract with a large photo stock agency. Two of the trip’s photos were purchased for a college geography textbook, and a third for a grammar school text. A photo that he shot of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming was included in a “coffee table” book on geology, published by the Geological Society of America.
Because of his photographic background, Kleck was able to land a job during the winter of 1987-88 with a Breckenridge resort photo firm that specialized in ski slope shots.
“I was the first person up the lift each morning,” he told me. “I’d approach skiers as they got off the chairs to inquire if they wanted a picture taken. Business was always brisk, particularly among beginning skiers.”
He’d shoot until noon, then would ski down the slope and deposit the film at the darkroom at the base of the mountain. He could ski on his own until 3 p.m., then spent the next two or three hours selling photo packages to the customers he’d shot earlier in the day.
“I don’t think I’d like to do that type of work again,” he told me with a smile, “but it was fun for a single winter. A primary benefit was the fact that I had a season lift ticket. I was able to ski whenever I had a free moment.”
He upped his skiing ability that winter from “middle intermediate” to “low expert.”
After 15 months in the wilderness, it was difficult for the Klecks to readjust to Orange County’s hectic pace and lifestyle.
“I didn’t realize how elevated the noise level is here,” he told me upon their return. “We were accustomed to the absolute quiet of the wilderness. There’s an underlying noise here – traffic, airplanes and industry – that one must adjust to. When you’ve been away for a while, it’s quite noticeable upon your return. We actually had difficulty sleeping our first couple of nights back.”
Wally frequently led Orange Coast College student trips to the desert regions of America’s Southwest.
“I remember Wally once took a group of students to the Mojave Desert,” says George Blanc who was in charge of OCC’s study abroad and field study programs for many years.
“He was lecturing on a hill when, all of a sudden, he heard a plop. A 64-year-old student had suffered a heart attack, collapsed and died. The other students had to carry the man’s body back down the hill and put it in the bus. They then dropped him off at a coroner’s office in a nearby town.
“Wally immediately let me know what had happened. He called me when they arrived home. ‘Hi George, we’re back at the college,’ he said. ‘The family has been notified, the body has been taken care of, and now I’m going home to collapse.’ It was an extremely stressful situation, but Wally handled it with grace and wonderful professionalism.”
Born in Paso Robles, Calif., Wally’s paternal grandfather immigrated to this country from Switzerland. His maternal grandfather was a hunter, trapper and guide, and, chillingly, died with 11 arrow wounds in his body.
Wally graduated from Taft College, and worked summers as an oil field worker. He earned geology degrees from UC Berkeley and the University of Oregon, and garnered a Ph.D. in geology from Washington State University. He taught for three years at Palo Verde College in Blythe, before joining OCC’s faculty in the fall of 1963.
He was brought onboard by Orange Coast College dean of instruction – and, future president – Dr. Robert B. Moore, to teach geology, mineralogy and physical science. He served four years as dean of the college’s Math and Sciences Division, from 1980-84. For three years, he was assistant to the president. For his last seven years on the faculty, 1987-94, he served as a professor of geology.
In 1991, Kleck presented a paper at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. That same year, he presented a paper at the Mojave Desert Quaternary Research Symposium. In 1992, he spoke at the 38th annual Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. In 1993, he was the featured speaker at a mineral symposium in San Bernardino.
Since his retirement in 1994, Wally has been a lecturer in geology at California State University, Bakersfield.
Wally Kleck was the ideal administrator/geologist. He blended academic and professional integrity with enthusiasm for his subject and an all-consuming passion for the great out-of-doors.
He embodied the Coast Spirit! Michael Copp (1965-94)
Mike Copp was an Orange Coast College professor and counselor for 29 years, from 1965-94. During the final three years of his life he served as counselor to OCC’s athletes.
“Mike absolutely loved working with athletes,” said Leon Skeie, an OCC professor of physical education and athletics, and a close friend of Copp’s. “Mike has to rank up there as one of the most enthusiastic persons I’ve ever known, period! He had lots of charisma, and cared deeply for the kids on our athletic teams.
“He was also an outstanding athlete himself.”
Short and wiry, Mike had been an excellent high school athlete. The sport that captured his fancy for life was tennis. He was constantly on the court, and the sport kept him in outstanding physical condition, and no doubt prolonged his life.
Shockingly, however, on Thursday evening, Feb. 3, 1994, on the courts at the Marriott Hotel in Fashion Island, he collapsed and died while doing what he enjoyed doing most: playing tennis. He was just 56.
“He went with a racquet in his hand,” Skeie says. “He always told us that that was the way he wanted to go.”
Perhaps Mike had a premonition. On numerous occasions he mentioned to friends that dropping on the court was his preferred method of checking out of this life. He proved to be eerily prescient.
“Mike used to hate to go to the doctor, in fact, he would refuse to go,” Skeie says. “I used to tell him, ‘Mike, we have doctors for a reason. Don’t avoid them.’ He always took good care of himself, and he thought that he could stay healthy with exercise and good nutrition.
“It seems that he had a genetic predisposition for heart problems, however. His two older brothers died at approximately the same age that he did. He was aware of their abbreviated life spans, and was determined to deal with the issue…on his terms.”
Mike frequently referred to himself as a “tennis nut,” and he competed in dozens and dozens of amateur tournaments during his three decades at OCC. The college was stunned when word began to circulate on campus of his untimely death.
A funeral service was held the following week at Fairview Community Church, just down the street from the college. A memorial was conducted a number of months later in OCC’s Robert B. Moore Theatre.
A native of Rockford, Ill, Mike earned a B.S. degree in education, with an emphasis in health and physical education, from Illinois State University. He received his M.S. in education from Northern Illinois University, with an emphasis in guidance. He earned a credential in guidance from Loyola University in Chicago.
In 1963, as a graduate student, Mike won a complete set – 54 volumes – of the Great Books of the Western World. It was the “perfect” prize for the cerebral Copp. In addition to being a great tennis player, he was a voracious reader.
Mike was a high school counselor, civics teacher, wrestling coach and tennis coach in Illinois and California for five years before joining OCC's faculty in 1965. While a high school instructor, he was a referee and umpire for basketball and baseball games, and was a wrestling referee.
At Orange Coast College, he was a counselor, psychology seminar instructor, and he taught environmental psychology.
During his final three years on staff he did what he came to love more than any other assignment of his career. He served as counselor and advisor to OCC's athletic teams. He advised hundreds of student-athletes annually.
"He really cared about young people, and he was particularly fond of athletes," said Barry Wallace, OCC’s athletic director at the time of Copp’s death. "Mike was dedicated to the task of helping students succeed. He worked hard with our athletes, and was extremely proud of their accomplishments – both in the classroom and on the field."
Copp was a regular on the sidelines and in the stands at OCC athletic contests.
During his tenure in the Athletic Department, hundreds of student-athletes transferred to four-year universities. And, during those years, OCC’s athletes maintained a combined grade point average (GPA) of better than 2.75 – a B-minus average. Mike provided lots of “high-touch,” personalized attention.
“He truly wanted our athletes to succeed,” Skeie says. “Mike worked with each athlete individually. And he not only counseled them in his office, but he enjoyed cheering them on in competition in the stadium, on the field, or in the gym.”
During his first eleven years at Coast, Copp served as a counselor and taught the college’s introductory psychology course. He had a particular interest in ecology and the emerging field of environmental psychology. He brought environmental psychology to the forefront at Orange Coast College, and taught a course in that subject for several years.
He once told me that he harbored a gnawing apprehension about OCC’s institutional size, and the status of its campus architecture. That, he explained, was “environmental psychology.” It was his contention that the size and “feel” of a campus has a definite psychological impact upon students and staff. He was seriously concerned about OCC being able to maintain its distinctive culture and friendly atmosphere.
During a 1972-73 sabbatical leave, Mike visited 40 major universities across the United States that had environmental centers. He also made stops at 10 community colleges that offered programs in environmental education.
The Mike Copp Scholar Athlete Award was established on campus shortly after his death. The description of the award in OCC’s Honors Night brochure reads as follows:
“Mike specialized in working with student athletes. He enthusiastically provided them with the guidance and encouragement they needed to continue their collegiate athletic careers and their academic studies at four-year colleges and universities. Mike was dedicated to the task of helping students succeed. He worked hard with OCC athletes, and was extremely proud of their accomplishments – both in the classrooms and on the field.
“The award annually honors Mike’s memory by providing scholarships to an outstanding Orange Coast College scholar athlete transferring to a four-year institution.”
Mike was a Coaster…who really cared!
WE GET LETTERS….
I thoroughly enjoyed the write-up on Ted Baker (Orange Slices, Feb. 22, “Working Both Sides of His Brain: Ted Baker was an Artist and Administrator”). Quite a guy!
Barbara and I have never forgotten the time we went to the concert by the Winds and saw Ted Baker in the front row with his clarinet, or "licorice stick," as we old-timers say. We have also been fascinated by their travel stories. Ted and Marsha have a knack of skirting the usual tour paths to find gems of experience, e.g., attendance at a gypsy wedding and party in Eastern Europe. Get him – or them – to share that story with you!
| ||Hank Panian |
History Professor Emeritus,
Orange Coast College (1956-90)
WOW! I just read your article on Deborah Morales (Feb. 22, “Orange County Woman Finds Direction at OCC, Works on Exciting Projects with Abdul-Jabbar”), and I'm truly impressed with her all-around achievements and attitude – in spite of health problems.
I plan to attend Kareem's speech and book-signing function this week. In fact, I plan to buy the book, maybe even two of them for my son and grandson, who are both sports enthusiasts.
Jim, keep up the good work/words!! You're the best! Thank you for all that you do for our special OCC.
| ||Rachel Perez-Hamilton |
OCC class of '58