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The Birth of Life West: A letter from Dr. Gerry Clum

40th anniversary issue
Cathy and Dr. Gerry Clum

Cathy and Dr. Gerry Clum

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.

Read more about the beginning of Life West!

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