As the world of chiropractic celebrates a milestone anniversary of 125 years, Life West is preparing to mark a big anniversary as well.
Nearly 40 years ago, chiropractic giants George Anderson and Sid Williams reached a deal to keep Pacific States Chiropractic College from closing. In 1981, Life Chiropractic College West was born and President Gerry Clum stepped in as the new leader.
In this issue, Dr. Clum writes about the early days of the college and his journey to the college presidency. As we continue to celebrate great moments in chiropractic and vitalistic history, we’re sharing excerpts from interviews, emails and letters from those who were there at the beginning of Life West’s own history.
A letter from Dr. Gerry Clum
The birth of Life West
I am grateful to have been asked to offer some thoughts on the approaching 40th anniversary of the transition of Pacific States Chiropractic College to Life Chiropractic College West. As hard as it is to wrap my head around the idea that 40 years have passed since that pivotal transition in the history of the college, it is equally as hard to think that 10 years have passed since my retirement as president of the college!
In 1979-1980, I was approached by George Anderson, DC, then Chairman of the Board of Regents of Pacific States Chiropractic College, to visit San Lorenzo and to meet with the college’s Board of Regents as a potential candidate for the presidency of the college. At the time, I was a member of the faculty of Life Chiropractic College (now Life University) and had been a part of Life Chiropractic College faculty and administration since its founding in 1974. I had been an active participant in bringing Life Chiropractic College through its initial accreditation steps with the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE), which had resulted in Life receiving its initial CCE recognition in late 1977. It was, in large measure, this experience that Dr. Anderson and the Board of Regents were interested in bringing to Pacific States in hopes of a similar outcome with the CCE.
Cathy and I made the trip from Atlanta to San Francisco with our youngest, Lauren, who was a baby-in-arms at the time. The meetings with the Board of Regents went well and we were excited about the possibilities that a life in California might hold for us and our family. It wasn’t long before an offer was received from Dr. Anderson on behalf of the college. The presidency of Pacific States Chiropractic College was mine if I wanted it.
This was a very flattering offer for a 28-year old. I was ambitious, a hard worker and had a reasonable degree of experience, having mentored under Life Chiropractic College’s founder, Dr. Sid Williams. I accepted the offer made by Dr. Anderson and met with Dr. Williams to let him know of my decision. Dr. Williams was very gracious and supportive. He likely knew way more about the offer and my conversations with Dr. Anderson than I understood, but he never let on in that regard!
Rethinking the path
In the days and weeks that followed, the sobering reality of Pacific States’ financial resources began to wear on me. I knew that I had not been involved in fundraising at Life Chiropractic College and I certainly did not know my way around a financial report. These were essential skills, and ones that I was clearly lacking. After many sleepless nights, I finally decided to make a difficult telephone call to Dr. Anderson—to let him know that I would be withdrawing from my agreement to accept the presidency of the College. The call was made even more difficult because Dr. Anderson immediately began the conversation by talking about the preparations that were under way to welcome me and our family to the college and Northern California.
George Anderson was one of the gentlest and kindest persons I ever met. The thought of letting him down or offending him made me ill. Nonetheless, the conversation came around to my decision to withdraw. I am sure George was upset, but he never showed it. I am sure I left him in a very precarious position with the Board, faculty, and student body, but he never showed that either. He was a gentleman and far more gracious than I deserved.
I explained to Dr. Anderson that it was flattering to be offered the role as president of the college, but the reality was that the college didn’t need Gerry Clum, the college needed a support base and financial backing that I did not feel I could muster. I opined to Dr. Anderson that Pacific States needed to consider a partnership with an existing institution—Life Chiropractic College for example, to be able to survive. This was not a new or novel idea, as Dr. Anderson and the Board of Regents had had similar but unproductive discussions with Palmer College of Chiropractic.
A fresh start
Soon thereafter, Dr. Anderson did reach out to Dr. Williams and Life Chiropractic College. The discussions moved quickly, as Dr. Williams understood the urgency of the situation and the potential that the moment offered to Life Chiropractic College to extend its reach and influence. Terms were set, agreements were put in place, the Articles of Incorporation of Pacific States Chiropractic College were amended. The name of the institution was changed to Life Chiropractic College West. New members of the Board of Regents were appointed. The majority of the Pacific States Board of Regents members resigned, leaving only Dr. Tom Turley of Burlingame and Dr. Louis Tiscareno of Antioch to continue on as Regents of Life Chiropractic College West.
Throughout the negotiations, Dr. Anderson encouraged Dr. Williams to offer the presidency of Life Chiropractic College West to me. Apparently, Dr. Anderson and his colleagues on the Pacific States Board of Regents were not offended by my decision as I had feared, and they continued to feel that there was a good fit between me and their hopes and dreams for the college—regardless of the name of the college or of their roles in the process.
Christmas 1980 in the Clum household saw me getting ready to move to California shortly after the New Year. The plans were simple. I would head to the Bay area, get a handle on the circumstances of the college, scope out a place for Cathy and the kids to call home, and they would follow a few months down the road.
Looking back on those transitional days, I cringe at the thought of what I put Cathy through. It was easy for the kids — they were along for the ride! But Cathy held the family together for five months in Georgia, then packed up our home and headed to San Francisco and an initial residence at the Vagabond Inn Motel, then at the corner of A Street and Hesperian Boulevard in Hayward while we waited for the moving van to make it to us.
There were a thousand ways the college could have failed, and we would have limped back to Marietta, Georgia, with our tails between our legs. Thankfully, things began to work out for the college, and what we thought would be a year or two adventure in California grew into a 30-year odyssey by the Bay!
A deal between two chiropractic stars
As I look back on those early days, I think about the roles that Dr. Anderson and Dr. Williams played in making it possible for their dreams and visions to be realized—neither getting what they originally had hoped for but both getting a noteworthy return on their investment in cooperation and collaboration nonetheless.
I also think about how different George and Sid were. George was quiet, calm, meek and mild. Sid was bold, brash, excitable, and outrageous. Somehow, they were able to make it work between them, and we all came to enjoy the good fortune their partnership created.
My life has been impacted beyond words by my years as President of Life Chiropractic College West. I am grateful to Drs. Anderson and Williams for the potential they saw in me and the trust they invested in me. They have both passed, but not before seeing Life Chiropractic College West mature into an institution in which they took personal and professional pride for having stood the test of time and paid the price to see a dream fulfilled. I am so grateful to have been a part of it all.
Happy anniversary to Life West. My thanks to all those with whom I had the privilege to share the journey. We had a lot of fun, worked hard, got into a scrape or two, but emerged from it all with friendships and memories of untold importance and value. Here’s to the next 40.
From Former Life West President Gerry Clum
Pranking the President
In 1981 when the moving van from Georgia arrived with our worldly goods, one of the treasures aboard was our 1970 Ford Mustang. Dr. Sid Williams, founder and president of Life University and founder of Life Chiropractic College West, came to visit San Lorenzo from Marietta, Georgia. He had visited San Francisco many times before Life West was a twinkle in his eye, and he enjoyed the city very much. We eventually found a spot to park, but it was in one of those rush-hour tow-away zones. Sid was confident we could park there; I was confident we would end up with at least a pricey ticket.
We emerged from an hour of relaxation, missing the Mustang. It had, in fact, been towed. We tracked it down at a garage on O’Farrell Street down toward Van Ness Avenue. … When I got home later that evening and turned off the car, the key was stuck in the ignition.
It stayed that way for months. It should tell you something about the state of the car that a locked car with the key in the ignition would not be stolen!
Somehow people on campus became aware that my car was always unlocked, the key was always in the ignition, and it was always in the same spot on campus. Until it wasn’t. I came out one late afternoon to head home for the evening and my car was gone. I started looking around and found it in another area of the parking lot.
That was the start of the “Move the Mustang Era.” For weeks thereafter, usually once or twice a week, the Mustang would be repositioned over the course of the day and I would go through my “find the car” exercise at the end of the day! No harm, no foul was how I was looking at it—until I caught a glimpse of two students of the original class, Bob Stajonvich and Dan Jason, hiding behind the bushes waiting for the day’s entertainment.
I was never sure what amazed them most — the idea that I wasn’t very concerned about the moving of the car, that it went on for so long, or that they could get away with it at all.
Dr. Jim Hawkins
Hanging in There
Dr. Jim Hawkins had no experience with chiropractic philosophy when he got a call about teaching anatomy in the mid-1970s. He was teaching anatomy at different colleges in the Bay Area when Pacific States Chiropractic College called.
In 1979, Pacific States Chiropractic College was a struggling new school founded by Dr. George Anderson and Dr. George Wentland. Students had just begun to attend classes in the months before. There weren’t a lot of resources. The college rented space. One day after a break, the money for paychecks didn’t get deposited.
The founders asked the handful of teachers to take a pay cut, promising to pay them with interest once they got through the storm.
“We all shrugged our shoulders and realized the alternative was for the college to fold,” Dr. Hawkins said. “We stuck in there, and 9 months later, Life College and Dr. Sid Williams came through with a proposal. The board of Pacific States Chiropractic College agreed to have it become Life West and got seed money to keep going.” Not only did Dr. Williams go through with his promise, he gave a raise to the teachers.
Why does Dr. Hawkins think Life West is special?
“You can’t walk around the halls of Life West, not as a stranger, and not have people come up to you and ask if they can help. The other thing is that you seldom see people at Life West who are unwilling to make eye contact. That’s one of my measures of people who are comfortable–if you are willing to make eye contact,” Dr. Hawkins said. “That’s an important part of what creates a community, when people are willing to literally see each other. We can disagree pretty vehemently but still respect each other and not label each other with some kind of artificial label. I think that’s a really great part of the Life West culture.”
Dr. Carol Ball
A bold and Courageous Move
Dr. Carol Ball was in the first class at Pacific States and attended classes for 10 quarters with maybe a dozen other students in her class.
“Every quarter, the school was on the brink of financial collapse,” she said. “It was always hanging on by a thread.”
When Dr. Sid Williams stepped in to help save the school, he organized an agreement with students who had been attending so that they could get their degree at Life University in Georgia, which was an accredited school. Life accepted their credits so far but to graduate, Ball and her classmates would need to attend three more quarters at Life.
“Those of us who did do that were always given honorary alumni status at Life West because we spent so much time there,” Dr. Ball said. When she transferred to Georgia, she met Ron Oberstein, who was attending school there. “He took us under his wings and showed us the ropes,” she said.
“It takes people willing to take a chance,” she said about attending Pacific States. “Why would you go to an unaccredited school? There always has to be somebody blazing the trail. We were each in some ways people who had some kind of vision or leadership or different qualities to blaze the trail, not having any idea how it’s going to pan out in the end.”
What makes Life West special, in Dr. Ball’s eyes?
There were no schools teaching upper cervical techniques then, Dr. Ball said. You could only learn about the technique in seminars.
The school was founded on the premise that upper cervical techniques would be taught. Life West’s curriculum has always included an emphasis on chiropractic philosophy and the value of the chiropractic adjustment, Dr. Ball said.
“I didn’t pick that college, it picked me – without really knowing on a spiritual level, we carried that torch. You have a strength, courage, conviction, law of attraction – that which you are seeking is seeking you.”
Dr. Ball says she’s proud to see that the college has stood the test of time, calling it one of a few that holds to the principles that separate chiropractic and teach chiropractic philosophy about the body’s innate ability to heal itself.
From former library director Annette Osenga
A labor of love
The founding library director, Marda Woodbury, and our brand new president, Gerry Clum, hired me in 1981 as media librarian with some reference duties. At the time, there was no public Internet. Only librarians could have a Medline account via phone line. We had to build string searches under strict protocols and wait to get the results.
The former facility at the junior high school building had sweet courtyards with small landscape plantings protected from the wind; but the low toilets in the bathrooms were always a surprise (I never learned), doors were coming off their hinges, and the library was housed in a hallway and several adjoining classrooms with no room for growth. The health center was off-campus, and so library staff maintained a mini-collection of patient education materials there. It was such a pleasure (at the turn of the century!) to design a more functional, spacious library at an integrated campus where faculty and students had room to study privately or collaborate.
Having this facility in San Lorenzo was thanks to a labor of love and commitment. Dr. George Anderson mortgaged his house at least once if not twice to establish Pacific States Chiropractic College.
Life West was my first experience working closely with teachers who wanted to share their positive outlook on life, considered to be as impactful on health and health care as the facts about human biology and chiropractic. I have heard several alumni corroborate that Life West faculty discussed fatty acids and epigenetics way before their significance was popularized. These teachers understood that thoughts are powerful, and that conditions accepted as “normal” may not be natural.
Teachers did not neglect physical fitness as preparation. They encouraged students to practice physical drills in order to gain the manual strength, speed and accuracy of their mentors. I recall one of Dr. Rita Schroeder’s lectures at the old campus. She explained that small things like dropping the house keys indicate a problem in the nervous system and chiropractic can help. And then she showed off her thumb muscle—she flexed it and it was truly very developed!
When we librarians first began to build the collections, well-designed textbooks and high-quality anatomical models were priorities, and they are just as popular today. Other technologies went by the wayside, replaced by better digital tools: Goodbye opaque projector, audioviewer, interactive videodisc for studying radiographic cases, and a longer but inevitable farewell to various physical video formats.
A small and intimate little school
In 1980, Larry Oberstein began taking chiropractic classes. “It had just become Life West,” he said. “It had no accreditation, it was in an elementary school in San Lorenzo, just a little school with parking in the back and a big lot in a residential neighborhood.”
Why Life West? Larry’s brother Ron, a student at Life University (yes, that Ron), suggested the school. Larry was looking for a career change and wanted to be on the West Coast. “What I really enjoyed was that the school was small, the classrooms were small, it was very intimate with students and faculty. Many of the faculty taught multiple classes, so we all got to know each other really well,” he said.
He remembers students walking around the halls barefoot, and one guy who was living in a room in the school, working and going to school there. When students headed to an A’s game, President Gerry Clum might be out at the ballpark with them.
Larry later transferred to “Life East” in Georgia, which was accredited and allowed him to get financial aid loans as well as graduate with a degree. But some of that intimacy was lost, so when Life West received full accreditation 9 months later, he went back to California. “I didn’t skip a beat,” he said. “I ended up with the same class and graduated with them.”
Larry and his two brothers, Bruce and Ron, all attended Life University in Marietta, Georgia. Bruce went into teaching health and physical sciences at Arizona State University in Phoenix, and Ron is now President of Life Chiropractic College West.
From staff member Dan Murphy
The Feeling Of Family
My best friend and roommate through chiropractic college was the late Don Harrison, DC. Don was a mathematician, and with his help I became interested in the mathematics of spinal mechanics in terms of both analysis and chiropractic.
I became a chiropractor and began clinical practice as an associate doctor in 1978 in Oregon. In 1980 Don Harrison and I started a practice together in Sunnyvale, and he helped me secure my first teaching job at Palmer Chiropractic College West. At a function, I met the new president of Life Chiropractic College West, Gerry Clum, DC.
In the fall of 1981, I received a call from Dr. Clum and interviewed with him about filling a part-time faculty position at Life West. The conversation ended with Dr. Clum saying, “You begin next summer.” I have been at Life West ever since, filling a number of teaching roles. In my self assessment, it is the most important thing I have done professionally and personally (other than family).
Dr. Clum took a chance and risk by hiring me. I was largely untested with minimal teaching experience. I was in my fourth year of clinical practice but only 26 years old. Being hired by Dr. Clum at Life West was a life-defining opportunity for me. It was an event that changed the course of my career and paved the way to who I would become in our profession and as a person. I will always be grateful to Dr. Clum, and I remind myself how a single phone call can change one’s life.
Most of my memories pertaining to Life Chiropractic College West center around the early years and the original San Lorenzo campus, including:
- The small grade-school size desks
- The very short urinals and sinks in the mens (boy’s) bathrooms
- The ground owls in the field behind the classrooms
- Playing basketball in the gym/auditorium
- Teaching and taking continuing education classes on most weekends, and then walking past the smoking bingo people (bingo was a major source of revenue in the early years) on Sunday afternoon
- The incredible team-work effort to achieve accreditation
- Moving the school’s outpatient clinic from “B” Street in Hayward to Main street downtown (an old hospital) and to an industrial area for awhile
- The effort and excitement of securing our new campus in 2000
I met so many talented and dedicated faculty that all helped me in many ways. Most important for me was the feeling of family, the Life West family. It is a feeling that I still have. I am grateful to Life West. I am proud of our college and the quality of chiropractors that graduate from our efforts.
Barbara Delli Gatti
“You and your snake have to leave the computer lab!”
Barbara Delli Gatti, Life West’s library director, has a long history with the college. She was hired to work at the San Lorenzo campus.
“When I first walked up to the school for an interview, I thought, ‘Whoa, this is a college?’ “ Things have changed — Life West moved to a new campus 20 years ago — but her most memorable stories feature the people.
One day, former Student Life director Jackie Biron was running around campus, trying to find a student named Seth. She had heard that he had a boa constrictor.
Barbara said Amy, who worked in library, was in back and not making sense, so she went into the hallway to see what was happening. Jackie asked, “Have you seen Seth?”
“I said no, then she says he brought his boa constrictor and I heard he was heading for the library!” Now Barbara was looking for Seth too. And she didn’t have to go far. She walked into the computer lab, and there’s Seth at the computer with a boa constrictor around his neck.
“I didn’t get real close, but I said, ‘Seth, you and your snake have to leave the computer lab and the library because you’re scaring people!!”
Barbara also recalls a visit from football great Jerry Rice. She was in the hallway when he walked by, and she had her timesheets in her hand. As he walked by, she blurted out, “Will you sign my timesheets?” She thrust the timesheets, the only paper at hand, toward him, which he signed. Those did not get turned into the boss later.