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First hand from the first years

Over Life West’s 40th Birthday week (March 8-12, 2021), Dr. Ron Oberstein had the pleasure of interviewing many of the leading figures in the college’s very first years of existence. These webinar format recordings are available at the Life Chiropractic College West YouTube channel and are well worth listening to for their insight into the hows, whys and whos of the early years. Following are some of the abridged highlights.


Who knew that in fact Dr. Gerry Clum had been directly approached in the late 70’s by Drs. Wentland and Anderson to lead Pacific States Chiropractic College, and it was Dr. Clum who suggested that they also reach out to Dr. Sid Williams for his help to keep the college on track. In Dr. Clum’s words: “There hadn’t been a lot of growth in the educational community in the profession. Sherman had come along in the early 70’s. Life had come along shortly thereafter. And then in Northern California there was the establishment of Pacific States Chiropractic College. And Drs. Wentland and Anderson’s goal was to have an upper cervical, specifically a NUCCA oriented, DC curriculum in California. And they were wonderfully well-intentioned and dedicated. But quite honestly they didn’t know the ballgame they were getting into and they were getting eaten alive. They contacted me directly and said, “Would you come out for an interview?” And I did and accepted the position. And as I thought about it, I called Dr. Anderson back almost at the last minute before I was to head to California and said, “You know, you don’t need me. You need something bigger than this. You need Dr. Williams. You need the base that Dr. Williams brings to the table. You need the gravitas that he and his name and his reputation in the profession has. And I’m flattered but the truth of the matter is you need something more than me.” And out of that came an opportunity for Dr. Williams.” Dr. D.D. Humber continued the story: “Dr. Sid was so impressed with the opportunity that was there, the challenge that was there, because he was good at taking on challenges. He had a meeting with the Board of Trustees at Life Marietta, and they made a loan of half a million dollars to Pacific States, Dr. Sid making it a requirement that the name would be changed from Pacific States to Life Chiropractic College West. The other stipulation was that he be able to choose the President. And thank goodness he made the right choice.” Dr. Oberstein’s next evening’s guests were Dr. Michael Schmidt, instructor, then Clinic Director, then Technique Department Chair and for his last ten years Dean of the College, all spanning 1981 to 2002; and Dr. Adrienne Miller, between 1994 and 2006 serving first as Dean of Instruction and then Dean of the College. “In the very early days, everybody did everything. We did the janitorial work when the kids left. I spent the first month before the school opened painting. We painted all the halls, classrooms, the old building. And the students helped us. The students did a lot of work. And it just grew from here,” Dr. Schmidt reminisced. And grow it did, to over 800 students. How did that happen? Dr. Schmidt threw light onto the story: “We had a spirit here that people liked and gravitated toward. And it was truly a spirit of service and we got a huge number of transfers. But at the same time what was going on in the big picture of chiropractic, there were probably three or four other schools that had opened up. And they were not able to get accredited. So their students had to transfer somewhere else and we took a lot of them. You know, there was a Pennsylvania school. Pasadena went under. And then another one in Southern California.” And then there was the recruiting: “The other thing, part of everybody’s job description, Ron, you certainly remember this, is in the evenings and weekends we recruited. I spent many, many, many times at Ron’s and Mary’s office where we would have career nights and get ten or twelve new students. Our goal was to meet prospective students, share the Life West story and if possible meet with people one on one afterwards.” Dr. Oberstein carried the story onward: “it wasn’t fashionable to be a chiropractor back in the 80’s, so you either had to have an experience or someone told you about it or your chiropractor said you need to go to the student evening. Michael, I remember you coming all the time, and Gerry, and we’d have 50 people sometimes in the reception room of Mary and my office. It was from all the chiropractors in San Diego who just knew that there was a student open house. They were fun.” Part of Dr. Miller’s role was to observe faculty in class: “It was interesting to see all the styles. And when I looked at it, I had this big insight that chiropractic is using the philosophy of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I had taught Emerson and so many of the things chiropractors did got into that American approach to things. And in fact BJ quoted it quite a lot. So it was a really interesting way for me to see how a philosophy got translated into a life.” And as Dr. Oberstein revealed, Dr. Miller went on to publish a paper on Emerson and Chiropractic in ‘Today’s Chiropractic’ from Life College in Georgia.

“We had a spirit here that people liked and gravitated toward. And it was truly a spirit of service…”

Dr. Oberstein’s next evening’s guests were two icons who are still in our hallways and classrooms today, Dr. Dan Murphy, 39 years at Life West, and Professor Sue Ray, 36 years at Life West. How do you recruit faculty members who end up staying almost 40 years, to a college that had no accreditation, that didn’t even know if it was going to be around the next day. Something innately was there. In Dr. Murphy’s case: “I was hired with a phone call from Dr. Gerry Clum. He actually had me start teaching Radiology, so my position has changed a lot over these decades. But the back story that no one knows is that when he hired me, my first day on campus was a Friday. I drove out to the San Lorenzo campus and I put the adjusting table into the Quad. And I just sat at the end of the table and these kids would come by and I said, “When’s the last time you’ve been checked by a chiropractor? Do you want to get checked and maybe worked on?” So I work the magic on him and his buddy. Both guys became lifelong friends. And people started lining up. That afternoon I adjusted nearly the entire campus in the Quad. No one knew who I was. And then Monday was my first day on campus and everyone knew who I was.” What a great way to introduce yourself to the campus, right? For Professor Sue Ray, it was crossing paths with department chair Dr. Peggy Phillips who founded the anatomy program at the college. “She asked me if I would be interested in coming over to this new college that was just getting started, and would I be interested in developing curricula? So I thought, this is really cool. And when I came to Life West to interview, I met Jim Hawkins, Anne Marie Smith, and Dr. Gerry Clum, and I was totally enamoured. They proceeded to ask ‘could you teach this course,’ and named a handful of topics. My response was ‘Well, I suppose so,’ and I thought, well, that’d be kind of cool. I didn’t know a thing about chiropractic, right? Was I going to give this a try? It was Warren Vale in my very first class who took me out to the little Quad area on the San Lorenzo campus. We stood underneath the blossoming cherry trees on a beautiful spring day and he told me why he wanted to become a Doctor of Chiropractic. And that was it. I thought, my gosh, this is such a wonderful thing. And so of course I’ve been with Life West ever since.” Dr. Oberstein’s final evening’s guests were the very first class at Pacific States and the love continued: Dr. Claudia Anrig: “I fell in love with the college because of the philosophy and the commitment of my colleagues. Everybody knew we were walking into the fire. But we weren’t afraid. There was something very magical about that first class and for every class that came afterwards. I’m really honored that I was lucky enough to be in that first class.” Dr. Michael Zabelin shed some reality on the early days: “It was a middle school that had closed because of the demographic changes in the area. And all I remember are the desk chairs and that everything else was made for little kids. The poor teachers had to bend over to write on the blackboard as they were knee high.” Dr. Michael Gracey added: “you had to be willing to do garage sales to go to our school. That’s how we made money on the weekends to support the college, as well as all of us working jobs and studying as hard as we could.” Most of the students in the first class transferred to Life College Marietta to complete their DC degrees as Life West had yet to receive CCE accreditation in those early years. At this point in the show, Dr. Oberstein made a dramatic announcement to them all: “At either this June or December graduations at the college, for those of you who don’t have a Life West diploma, I would like for you to walk across the stage and receive an honorary Life West diploma. You will finally be capped and gowned at Life West. If I’m lucky enough to get Dr. Gerry on the stage with me, he will be handing you your diplomas.” What an end to a week of celebrations, and what a capstone for 40 years since the college transformed from Pacific States to Life West. In the final reckoning we are our graduates, and we are as proud of these pioneers as we can ever be.

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