Friday, Oct 18 2013 03:32 PM

Legendary BC leader gave comfort to 'Gades at war

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    By Photo courtesy of BC Archives

    Grace Van Dyke Bird

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    By Photo courtesy of Bird-Sinclair family

    Grace Bird and her grandnephew Roy Sinclair, nicknamed Jeep, in 1944, when Bird was BC president. Six of Bird's grandnieces and grandnephews, including Jeep, will attend the BC Centennial Gala on Friday.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Bakersfield College Director Grace V. Bird sat out World War II stateside, but she was far from idle.

Using the tools of the day -- a guestbook and frequent letters -- Bird turned Bakersfield College into the midcentury equivalent of an Internet server.

She encouraged men and women in the service to stop by when they were on leave, to sign in with a note on how and what they were doing, and she corresponded frequently with the men and women whose names and faces she'd memorized a few at a time each new school year.

Bird's first letter, written less than halfway through the war, begins with an apology for using what was likely a primitive mimeograph machine -- possibly enhanced by a series of inky carbons -- to reprint a document painstakingly hammered out on a standard, mechanical typewriter.

Here's how the 1940s version of an email blast went -- and keep in mind that back then, it was B.J.C., for Bakersfield Junior College:

Dear Beejayceers:

Because I want to write to so many of you, I am resorting to this mechanical device to make it possible; but there is nothing mechanical or impersonal about the greeting I am sending you or in the thoughts I am having about you. These are personal and warm.

We are given to thinking of war as something that separates us. And, of course, in a very real way, it does. But it also brings us together in another very real way. You cannot guess how often you are in our conversations. No day passes that Miss Levinson (Levvy, to you) doesn't stop at my desk to find out what is the latest news I have about you, and to tell me the latest fact or rumor she has heard of B.J.C. weddings, wings, stripes and bars, furloughs, embarcations and such like.

The college director closes with words that sound heartfelt, and a signature that she rendered quickly and legibly in fountain pen ink:

Hail to all of you!

When you turn in tonight, know that back home there is always pride and affection and a prayer for each one of you from

Grace V. Bird

A slightly later installment dated Feb. 18, 1943, opens with thanks for letters from B.C. servicemen "from Africa to China and from Alaska to Guadalcanal."

"It is as if we were hearing a well-remembered and well-loved melody hummed all around the world," Bird writes, wondering if the tune should be called "Remembering You."

Yes, remembering you--you who walked beside me along the campus path; you who struggled hard to make the grade in Tabor's math; you who took your dances stag and then tagged all our "dates"; you who gave football opponents "Up-and-at-'em, mates!"; you who picked your coeds sweet and cute and nifty; you who talked of Life and Love and Dreams out on Lawn Fifty --- remembering you? And how!!

A letter dated using the international style, 20 January 44 , opens with colossal news that's a harbinger of the women's rights movement of the 1960s:

Dear Beejaycee Men AND WOMEN in Service:

Our women are now taking their places in uniform beside our men, and my Service Letters greet you all with affection and a new pride in the ready willingness and common sense with which you are meeting the job that has fallen to you to do.

Can you guess how many men and women have left their classes at B.J.C. to enter the armed forces since Pearl Harbor? Six hundred! And this does not count the other hundreds of alumni who are Stars in our thoughts just as certainly as the Six Hundred are our official Service Stars ..."

Bird quotes a letter from across the pond that says what everyone was thinking:

Captain Jack Roberts who writes from England; ... "What a grand day it will be when we can all sit out on the lawn again and talk things over. I dream of that day often, for it is a direct reminder of the happiest days of my life."; and so on and on and on all around the clock and all around the world.

There's a reminder, however, that while women had entered the service, their lot in life was very different:

Dear Beejaycee Gals in Uniform.

First, here is a toast to our Betty Coeds in uniform: "May they free a man to win the war, and capture one to win the peace."

The director closes with a hint that troops were seeing light at the end of the tunnel:

Here is to The Day when the only column it will be possible to have in this letter is headed "Home for Good".

Our best wishes and affection,

Grace Bird

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