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The Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology

Jordan College alumni celebrate 50th anniversary reunion at North Bay event

Ag One Santa Rosa North Bay Alum Celebration - 50th Reunion Group

A group of five Jordan College alumni enjoyed an extra special Ag One North Bay Alumni and Friends Dinner this year with a 50th anniversary of their graduation.
Four members from the college’s class of 1966 - Bill Bettinelli, Lee Brians, Steve Olson and Jim Porter – celebrated the event with another classmate Richard Bolman, whose graduation was delayed until 1970 due to military service. They were joined by other area Fresno State agricultural alumni, Dean Sandra Witte, campus farm manager David Sieperda, viticulture and enology chairperson Dr. Eric Person and Ag One staff.

The event was held at Shone Farm at Santa Rosa Junior College and included wine-tasting, a silent auction, social hour and a program highlighting accomplishments by Jordan College students, staff and faculty.

After graduation in the spring 1966, the group all eventually returned to the North Bay area and led successful careers, many of which inspired future generations as college ag teachers themselves.

Their relationships started early in their college careers for Brians and Bettinelli who were roommates at the campus dairy and Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity house all four years. Olson was also a fraternity brother and became roommates with Porter while they studied for their ag education teaching certificates at UC Davis.

The group fondly remembered their animal science classes, working at the campus dairy and showing Fresno State cows at area Holstein shows. One of their dairy judging teams that included Bettinelli, Brians and Porter placed top five nationally under the guidance of dairy unit manager and professor Robert Selkirk, while Olson competed on that team and the livestock judging team the next year.

Bill Bettinelli learned the dairy trade working on his family farm starting in junior high school. His experience helped develop a sharp eye for detail that was utilized by the Fresno State dairy judging team that won team and individual judging contests all along the West Coast. He also served as president of the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity and on the campus student government as it drafted its initial by-laws.

After graduation, he went to law school at Berkeley and got his JD degree and then practiced law for a Petaluma firm that did mostly ag-related work from 1969 to 1977. He then served as a Sonoma County superior court judge from 1977 to 1991, then became an arbitrator for the last 25 years. More recently, he has also managed the Trentadue Winery in Sonoma’s Alexander Valley while other members of his family have continued to run area farms.

“My agricultural experience at Fresno State has come in handy as a lawyer, judge and mediator,” Bettinelli said. “I’ve worked a lot of cases involving dairy and poultry operations and vineyards, so basic knowledge of topics like rootstock vs. varietals have come in handy. I’ve made sure to stay attached to farming at least tangentially from managing some vineyard acres to supporting the Farm Bureau member for 50 years.”

Richard Bolman was on track to graduate in 1966 before being drafted where he spent most of the next 3 1/2 years working as an instrument repairman at Hamilton Air Force Base in the North Bay Area. The Scio, Oregon native had grown up helping on hay and barley farms, and at Coalinga Community College he worked at the dairy, which prepped him for Fresno State’s program. At the latter, he worked at the campus dairy and creamery and also took part in dairy, cheese, milk and ice cream judging before getting a dairy industry degree.

After graduating from Fresno State summer school in 1970, he began a 16-year career with the Petaluma Co-op Creamery in a variety of processing, quality control and testing positions. In 1986, he became the head dairy farm inspector for the Sonoma County Environmental Health Department that also served Marin County. In 2006, he became a consultant and plant inspector for the California Milk Advisory Board, and also served as president of the milk and dairy sanitation state board.

“I learned a lot from the faculty like Clayton Pfluger and Robert Selkirk,” Bolman said. “Having the dairy barn and processing plant right there on campus not only provided milk for the dorms, but also milk, butter, cheese and ice cream that was sold at the retail stores. What I learned about processing and sanitation on campus I used the rest of my career.”

Lee Brians was a dairy science major and served as a co-chairperson of the annual FFA Field Day. After graduation he become partner in the family ranch and operated the Jersey cow dairy until 2002. Since then has run an angus beef cattle operation and raised oat hay and silage.

“It was such a fun group,” Brians said. “We took all types of classes and met all types of farmers from the Valley that raised various crops. We were from Sonoma County, and the grape industry hadn’t expanded there yet so it was good training for what was to come. Your college education is as much about the people you meet as the facts, figures and skills you learn. Living in the fraternity house gave us a wide variety of ag experience since we met people from different areas of the industry. All of those acquaintances and the instructors made it a great atmosphere, and you got to know everybody since it wasn’t a huge department.”

Steve Olson, who was raised on a dairy and small poultry operation in Santa Rosa area, was recruited from Santa Rosa Junior College. He became an agronomy major, and his future teaching path also benefitted from his interest in livestock and dairy cattle and FFA Field Day chairperson duties.

After graduation he taught ag education at Ferndale High School for three years. He then worked 37 years at Santa Rosa Junior College as an agronomy and soil science professor, dairy judging team coach, dean of its community and vocational programs and vice president and executive dean for the Petaluma campus before retiring in 2007.

“It was unusual for an agronomy major to also be on the livestock judging team, so I was lucky to go to a college that afforded me that chance,” Olson said. “Working as Wayne Behler’s lab assistant for a few years was great training for me to learn about college instruction and helped lead me into education. Being in the middle of the world’s leading ag region gave me first-hand experience in a variety of field crops and exposure to range and pasture management, a foothill experiment station and a large farm with lots of irrigated land.”

Jim Porter followed a similar career route after growing up in Sonoma County. After showing pigs in FFA contests as a youth with Olson, the pair then went to Fresno State and later UC Davis for their teaching credentials. They then taught together at Santa Rosa Junior College, and still continue the friendship even in retirement with frequent get-togethers.

Porter was an animal science major at Fresno State and competed on the livestock, dairy and meats judging teams, and worked on the school farm. He also ran FFA livestock judging contests that prepared him for his own college teaching career.

He fondly remembered the livestock judging team that he was on with current Fresno State instructor Ken Heupel, Dick Gates and John Edwards that traveled to competitions at Kansas State, Colorado and Texas A&M. That team went undefeated in West Coast judging events and competed at the national contest in Chicago.

After Fresno State, Porter was a high school ag instructor at Galt and Santa Rosa High Schools for seven years, then taught at Santa Rosa Junior College for 30 years, and also raised sheep and beef cattle.

“I learned if you worked hard and were trained by professionals, that you could be successful,” Porter said, “and all the principles that I learned I were valuable in training judging teams. I really enjoyed coming back to Fresno State for the judging competitions through the years, and am happy to see the judging teams active again and doing well because that’s an invaluable resource for the students and their careers.”

The annual Santa Rosa event celebrated its ninth year in 2016 and was started initially with help from former Fresno State professor, assistant dean and Petaluma native George Ilg.  Earlier gatherings would invite alumni from the area for a bbq of a lamb or pig purchased from the county fair. Today’s Ag One event is organized locally by Mark House with assistance from Olson and Porter and incorporates many of the college’s viticulture and enology alumni.

“This event is important to keeping a strong connection with Fresno State and area alumni,” Brians said. “We even get to see second and third generations of students today that we knew their fathers or grandfathers. There were so many other professors that were important to our education like Jesse Bell, Bill Verdugo and Lloyd Dowler, and there’s a continuity from our experiences to the current ag department today. It is great to meet the new staff to keep us updated with all the things happening on campus and the farm. We’re also thankful to all the outreach by Ag One to keep us updated on the college.”

The 2017 Ag One North Bay Alumni and Friends Dinner is in the planning stages and will likely be in a similar location and date. More information will be posted at the website.