Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Gary Jennings: Remembering Cuyamaca College’s First Year

Cuyamaca College held its first Commencement on May 30, 1979, with a graduating class of 38 students. Gary Jennings was among the original 38.

“We were a small group,” said Jennings, now a 63-year-old resident of Crest. “There were only a few folding chairs that day, and they could probably fit into your garage.”

With Cuyamaca College celebrating its 40thanniversary, Jennings has joined dozens of others in recalling how life at the Rancho San Diego campus has changed over the years.

Jennings’ path to Cuyamaca College was a bit circuitous. Born in Pomona, raised in Temple City, he spent one semester at Southern Colorado State College in Pueblo, Colo., before moving back to Southern California, where his father worked as the U.S. Postal Service’s Southern Section manager overseeing San Diego and Imperial counties. Jennings enrolled at Grossmont College’s graphic design program in 1977, but when courses were moved to Cuyamaca a year later, he became among the first 1,947 students at the brand new campus.

It was a much different place. 

“Where the library is now was just a big dirt parking lot,” Jennings said. “I can’t believe what it looks like these days. I get lost whenever I go there.”

Jennings earned his associate of science degree in technical illustration the following spring. He had a successful career in the printing and publishing business over the next few decades using the skills he learned from Cuyamaca College. 

His career took a turn after the deadly 2003 Cedar Fire destroyed the home of his and his wife, Heather. With some on-the-job training while his house was being rebuilt, Jennings and a brother later went into a home remodeling business together. 

Time has not diminished Jennings’ ties to Cuyamaca. His younger brother, Brian, enrolled a few years after Gary Jennings did, and his sister-in-law, Nancy Jennings, is a Cuyamaca College communication professor and department chair.

“The way he told it to me, Brian was taking a class that Nancy was teaching, and he decided to ask her out. She said she wouldn’t date one of her students, so the next day he shows up with an apple and a drop slip and said, ‘I dropped your class; I’m not your student anymore. Will you go out with me now?’”

The two later married, and Brian would go on to become a political science instructor at both Grossmont and Cuyamaca colleges. Brian Jennings lost his life this past April when he was struck by a minivan while riding a mountain bike on a bicycle path alongside Olde Highway 80 near Flinn Springs County Park. 

“Our whole family has been attached to those two colleges for the past 40 years,” Jennings said.

What does he remember most about Cuyamaca College’s first year?

“Everything was new. Plus, we were the first students at the school. We were pioneers.”

Despite the changes over the years, one thing has remained constant.

“The faculty was amazing,” Jennings said. “Totally dedicated. Gave me all the confidence in the world.”