50th Anniversary

At 50, Bakersfield College Delano Campus Remains a Popular Pathway to a Better Future

Delano center in the past with rounded doorway, b&w.

At 16, Julio Segura moved to Delano from Tijuana, Mexico, after his father died and his mom heard she could find work in the fields to support her four children.

Segura enrolled at Delano High School, where he became fluent in English. As graduation neared, he hoped to join the Army but soon learned it wouldn't provide a path to legal residency. That's when something his father told him years earlier ran through his mind.

“If you want to be somebody you need to educate yourself,” his father would say.

It motivated Segura to take the assessment test at the Bakersfield College Delano Center. He did well but dreaded the thought of being turned down to enroll in college because of his immigration status.

“Without having a green card, it's embarrassing to go and ask for help. I was kind of hesitant to reach out for help,” said Seguara, now 51.

But eventually he did. And it profoundly changed the trajectory of everything that came afterward.

A helpful administrator told Segura about grant funding that would pay for his studies and he started classes at the Delano campus. He earned his associates degree and then a bachelor's degree from Cal State Bakersfield. He worked as an elementary school teacher in Delano and then later completed a master's degree and became an assistant principal at Robert Kennedy High before he was hired by the Delano Adult School in 2013, where he is now director.

“It started at the Delano Center,” Segura said. “They opened the doors to BC and welcomed me.”

Segura is one of tens of thousands of students who have passed through Bakersfield College's Delano Campus in the 50 years since classes were first offered in September 1972. In those five decades, the college has solidified its place in the community as a means of transformation, advancement and uplift for generations of residents and immigrants.

The college has gone from servicing around 400 students per year in the 1970s to nearly 4,500 annually in recent years. The campus outgrew its original location, the Randolph Campus and moved to its current location on Timmons Avenue. A year ago, construction began on a second 40,00-square-feet, two-story building at the campus to expand course offerings and services to meet demand.

“The 50th anniversary of the Delano campus is more than a symbolic milestone. It is a story of the power of education at work, making meaningful change and delivering on the American dream for so many,” said Sonya Christian, chancellor of the Kern Community College District and immediate past president of Bakersfield College. “It is a beacon of hope and a means for life-changing upward mobility that creates lasting change for families and individuals who call the rural community home.”

A ‘new hope'

The history of the Delano campus dates back to the formation of the Kern Community College District in 1968, which consolidated a service area and revenue base that included communities served by Porterville College, Bakersfield College and Cerro Coso Community College in Ridgecrest. (Today, the district enrolls more than 30,000 students combined and serves one of the largest geographical areas of the state's 73 community college districts.)

Supporters of establishing the community college district had convinced Delano's leaders that taxes from the new college district could help one day establish a college in their community, according to BC history professor Oliver Rosales, who has taught at the Delano campus for a decade and researched its history.

After the college district formed, community leaders like Ralph Carpenter, an influential Delano resident, dentist Dr. Clifford Loader, councilman Frank Herrera and the Delano Chamber of Commerce began laying the groundwork to bring a junior college to Delano. Their work culminated in spring 1972 when the presidents of Bakersfield College and Porterville College met in Delano at the National Bank of Agriculture and agreed to jointly sponsor the Delano College Center.

The Delano Joint High School district offered a recently closed continuation school for instruction space, and in September 1972, 400 students enrolled in 24 classes, according to issues of the Delano Record from that time.

“Many high school graduates, unable to afford travel to college, had been forced into the grape fields and abandoned any hope for college education. The opening of the college center has given new hope to hundreds of economically deprived young Mexican American adults who now are becoming aware that maybe college is for them too,” Herrera was quoted as saying in the Delano Record in 1974.

In 1975, the Delano College Center Foundation was incorporated, with nearly 50 members serving on various committees. It solicited funds from prominent agriculture families like the Zaninovichs and from the Sears Logistical Services site. It also established a textbook loaning program that operated for years to help students who otherwise couldn't afford the books needed for classes.

Jess Nieto wearing glasses with hands in pockets.

When the Kern Community College District voted to build a second campus for Bakersfield College in downtown Bakersfield in the mid-1970s, Delano's leaders clamored for their own dedicated campus in Delano. That led in the fall of 1977 to the construction of a new facility on Randolph Street where 50 courses were offered to 850 students.

In homage to the community's agricultural economy and main crop, classrooms at the new center were named after grape varietals like Ribier, Calmeria, Thomspon and Muscat, according to the Delano Record. The college offered programs in agriculture, child care, education and Chicano history.

Jess Nieto, founder of the Chicano studies program at Bakersfield College, served from 1976 to 1984 as the center's director. In a column about Nieto after his death in 2017, local journalist Jose Gaspar wrote, “Nieto was a rabble rouser who was well grounded, articulate and knowledgeable in fighting for equal representation for all students.” During his time as head of the Delano campus, Nieto brought prominent guests to campus like the Ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Julian Nava, the first Mexican-American to hold the position, and the Mexican/Chicano folk singer Lalo Guerrero.

Flyer for U.S. ambassador to Mexico Dr. Julian Nava; U.S. Mexico Relations Past, Present and Future.

“I give credit to the pioneers of the community. They were not only looking at the desire for higher education here in the community but they had an understanding there would be growth in Delano,” said Romeo Agbalog, president of the Kern Community College District Board of Trustees who represents Delano and the surrounding rural areas on the board.

Agbalog himself grew up in Delano and attended the Delano Campus in the late 1990s, an experience he recalled that opened his eyes to opportunities he might have otherwise missed. “I was lucky enough to meet people there who saw things in me that I didn't see in myself. These folks challenged me to focus on my future and exposed me to things I didn't know were available,” Agbalog said.

A living legacy

"The founding of the Delano campus and its early years are inextricably linked to the current events of the era,"" said Rosales, BC history professor.

The Chicano movement was taking hold during the mid-1960s. The East L.A. Walkouts of 1968 brought attention to inequality in the education system for Latino youth, who had staggeringly high dropout rates and low graduation rates. As the Vietnam war raged, the Chicano moratorium of 1970 raised awareness of the disproportionate rate of death and injury for Chicanos fighting there.

In Delano, the grape strike and boycotts led by Cesar Chavez were in full swing, and the farmworker movement brought national attention to the small community. In 1966, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy attended a meeting in Delano of the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Public Welfare's subcommittee on migrant labor. In February 1968, Chavez fasted for 25 days at Forty Acres, and Kennedy attended the breaking of the fast. Months later, Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles after his victory in the state's Democratic presidential primary. (The high school that borders the current day Delano campus is named in honor of Robert F. Kennedy.)

Amid all the upheavel, Delano's leaders sought a way to ease the tensions in the small community and saw a college as a way to bridge a growing divide.

“During 67 and 68, you see the policy makers and movers and shakers in Delano say we need to do this, because of all this attention being brought on Delano,” Rosales said.

Winnabego with Counseling Adults for Lifelong Learning sign.

“It was a way to bring the community together in a time of great divisiveness. Everyone could get on board with providing educational opportunities to children of farmworkers,” he said.

As a result, Rosales called the college in Delano “a living legacy” of the social justice movements of that time.

A meaningful place

In the mid-1980s, Nan Gomez-Heitzeberg, now a KCCD trustee, was on the art faculty at Porterville College when she heard about an opening at the Delano campus and applied. While driving from Porterville to the BC campus in Bakersfield to interview for the position, she decided to stop off in Delano and ask around about the college. She went into a grocery store and began chatting with shoppers, asking what they knew about the Delano center.

“It was clear it was a big deal in town, that this place is meaningful to people here,” she recalled.

Nan Gomez-Heitzeberg, b&w.

In her five years at the Delano Campus, Gomez-Heitzeberg recalled a small but dedicated staff who wore many hats, from answering questions about financial aid and enrollment to helping students decide on a major.

The students were mainly Latino and Filipino, she said, and first-generation college goers. Many needed assistance to navigate the higher education system, an experience their immigrant parents didn't have.

“It was that idea of meeting people where they are and welcoming them,” Gomez-Heitzeberg said.

Because of its small size, the Delano center was able to innovate and customize programs to meet the community's needs.

Gomez-Heitzeberg remembered a group nicknamed ‘Las Mujeres,' about 10 women who worked as teacher aides in local schools who enrolled at the college because of a push at that time for instructional aides to take college classes. The women then took part in a collaboration between the Delano campus and CSUB to provide education classes. All went on to become teachers, Gomez-Hetizeberg said, and one eventually became a school principal.

“That was a game changer. Some of those women were single parents,” she said.

An early childhood educator Lucy Clark helped obtain a grant to establish a child Development Center structured to allow for early drop offs and late pickups for the children of college students and families that worked in the fields. Staff of the center served double-duty as recruiters, talking to parents about taking classes, which resulted in some going on to be preschool teachers, Gomez-Hetizeberg recalled.

In a precursor to BC's Early College program, there was even a college class taught at Delano High School as a way to spread the word about college and encourage students to continue their education at the Delano campus after graduation.

In 1993, Helen Calip was hired as an administrative clerk at the campus. She had grown up in Delano, gone to college at UCLA and worked in the banking industry in LA before she returned to Delano to care for her ailing mother.

She started at the small Randolph campus, a place where she said everybody knew each other because all the instructors had to pass through the office to get their mail or head to the faculty lounge. Her work schedule was noon to 9 PM because classes were offered in the evenings to accommodate students' work schedules.

Delano Record Tuesday, August 25, 1981 headline College Center nears first decade mark.

By 2005, the college had outgrown its space and a new building was built on Timmons Avenue, on Delano's west side, where many of the poor farmworker families lived. The new site allowed the center to serve more than 2,000 students annually. That same year Ralph Carpenter, the early booster of the college, and his wife Joan pledged a $100,000 endowment for the campus to cover books, tuition and scholarships for students long term.

Calip, now an admissions and records technician who will retire later this year, said her 28 years working at the campus have been joyful, helping students from families like hers, who migrated from the Philippines, reach their educational goals.

“It's been very satisfying to be able to see the hope that they can go to college and have a good life,” Calip said, “and then passing that on from one generation to the next.”

The Beauty of Delano

Building a college-going culture that gets passed on to subsequent generations within families and the community is another lasting impact of the Delano campus.

Segura, the Delano Adult School director who is a BC Delano alumnus, said his oldest child recently completed an associates degree at the Delano campus and is now at Cal State Bakersfield.

Since Segura and his wife are both college graduates, their three sons know that they are expected to go to college, he said.

But while it has been 50 years, continued migration from Mexico means that still today many students at the Delano campus are the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves.

Marcuis Mateo, a 2015 Cesar Chavez High graduate who moved to Delano with his family from the Philippines when he was 6, is the youngest of three siblings who all started their college careers at the Delano campus. When he spoke at the recent groundbreaking for the new building at the Delano Campus he talked about the difficulty of going anywhere else for college beyond his hometown because he didn't have a car.

Dignataries and a student in hard hats with shovels.

Another current student, Joanna Aguirre, said her father, a farmworker, always encouraged his children to continue their education after high school. Because she has to balance school with work, and she doesn't yet drive and relies on her family for rides to class, the Delano campus is an accessible pathway for her to start college. She will graduate this spring and plans to transfer to Cal State Bakersfield or Fresno State for a degree in speech pathology.

“If (the college) wasn't here, it would've been more stressful for a lot of us to handle work or younger siblings or not being able to drive yet,” Aguiree said. “It would have made us think, ‘Oh college isn't for me.”

Gomez-Hetizeberg calls that enduring story “the beauty of Delano.”

“For first-generation students, college is still an unexplored world. We can help them navigate it,” she said. “And once you have the map, you can figure it out.”

Story by Stacey Shepard; research by Dr. Oliver Rosales, Ph.D., professor of history at Bakersfield College and Elisabeth Sundby, librarian at Bakersfield College Delano Campus; photos courtesy of the Delano Record and Bakersfield College