The Grade Blog

Friday, Aug 30 2013 05:51 PM

Twin descendants of BC's first graduate start school at the college

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    By Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian

    Bakersfield College students and twins Colby and Shelby Chase.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

Margaret Edmonston was intrigued when, browsing in a bookstore, she came across a book commemorating the 100-year anniversary of Bakersfield College's opening.

Edmonston was an alumna of BC, and so were a bunch of her relatives.

But one obscure bit of trivia in the book resonated with her more than it would an ordinary alum. The first graduate in the history of the community college was Josephine Chase, who finished her education there in 1915.

Chase, it turns out, was her great aunt, and the twin children of Edmonston's brother were about to start their first year at BC. Edmonston, a 1988 graduate of BC, knew that her deceased great aunt had attended the school, but she had no idea Josephine was BC's first graduate. Neither did anyone else in the family. When she called her mother with the news, her mother immediately called son Steven Chase and the twins.

"I thought it was pretty interesting," said Steven. "I've been doing genealogy on our family for a long time. I keep trying to teach the kids. I tell them there are all kinds of interesting things in our history."

This little factoid has captured their imagination and given them something to boast about. How many of their new classmates can say they are the great-great grand niece and nephew of the first graduate of the school?

"It's kind of cool," said Colby Chase, 18, who started classes at BC Monday with his twin sister, Shelby.

The Chase siblings joined 17,477 other students who started the 2013-14 school last week. This year's enrollment was nearly 5 percent more than the same time last fall, according to the college.

There were only 13 students when BC first opened its doors to high school graduates in 1913. Josephine was the first of them to finish all the required courses to graduate on time two years later.

She went on to UC Berkeley, the state's only public university at the time, but had to leave early because of health problems. She'd suffered from asthma all her life, said Judy Chase, the twins' grandmother.

Josephine nevertheless took and passed an exam to obtain a teaching certificate. She spent a few years teaching, mostly in Caliente, but eventually decided to go back east to pursue a journalism career.

For a while she was an assistant to famed journalist Walter Lippmann, who helped found The New Republic before becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist.

Josephine was the first female editorial writer for the New York Herald Tribune, where Lippmann worked. She met her husband, scientist and inventor George Lum, at a boat party. They retired in Colorado Springs, where Josephine lived until her death.

The twins said they're proud and surprised that their great, great aunt had a career in a male-dominated field in an era when few women even worked.

At the same time, they said, it makes sense.

"All the women in my family are very intelligent," Colby said.

"Yes, very smart," Shelby said.

Of the 13 students who enrolled in the first classes at BC-- then known as the Kern High School District Junior College Extention -- four were men and nine were women, according to Jerry Ludeke, an archivist for BC.

The dominance of females in the class isn't surprising, she added. "This was an affordable option at a time when not a lot of women went to school, and they may not have had the support of their families," Ludeke said.

BC's class of 2013 had 572 women and 264 men.

Colby is studying biology with the goal of transfering to a four-year school and becoming a pharmacist. Shelby is studying agriculture at BC, and is thinking of majoring in animal science at a four-year school. She'd use the degree to teach agriculture in the Future Farmers of America program.

Colby said he'd like to return to Bakersfield after graduating from a four-year university. If he does, maybe his children will go to BC some day.

Shelby is non-committal.

"I don't know," she said sheepishly. "It's really hot here."

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