Jerry SamuelsonCaption: Jerry Samuelson peers through an opening in Bernard J. Rosenthal’s Terrace Screen steel sculpture, installed in 1968 as part of the construction of the Visual Arts Center. Photo by Karen Tapia Download Photo

47 Years of Extraordinary Service

Samuelson Left UCLA to Join New Campus in an Orange Grove

JERRY SAMUELSON, emeritus professor and dean of the College of the Arts, retired last year as the longest-serving dean in the university’s history. He spent 34 years in that post — a record of service for CSUF deans that is not likely to be broken.

Samuelson had arrived on campus in the summer of 1962 as an art instructor — his specialty, graphic design. He had left a teaching position at UCLA to be part of new campus that, at the time, was largely an orange grove.

President Milton A. Gordon, speaking at the dean’s May 2009 retirement ceremony, characterized Samuelson’s 47 years of campus service as “extraordinary.”

“Jerry, your artistic vision has resulted in three nationally-ranked departments — Arts, Music and Theatre and Dance — all continuously accredited since 1962, each providing the highest level of arts education and all providing the community with access to approximately 300 arts offerings — performances and exhibitions annually," Gordon said. “Your contributions to the arts, to arts education, to the university and to Orange County’s cultural life are both significant and numerous. For instance, you were instrumental in forming the Pacific Chamber Orchestra — later to become the Pacific Symphony Orchestra — as a professional ensemble in residence on our campus 31 years ago.

“Working in partnership with the city of Santa Ana, Mike McKee, director of our Art Gallery, and many others, you created and developed the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana’s Artists Village 10 years ago; and more than 20 years ago you had a dream and a concept for a performing arts center on our campus that you never gave up on and on Jan. 13, 2006, that dream was realized with the dedication of a new 102,000-square foot performing arts center, recently named the Joseph A.W. Clayes III Performing Arts Center.”

Gordon went on to say: “Cal State Fullerton now has state-of-the-art facilities to match our top-rated performing arts programs — all resulting in more performing arts offerings for the public, including visiting professionals and student ensembles.”

20 Years in the Making

Samuelson cites the opening of the Clayes Center among “happy events” in his CSUF career. He developed the program scope and space concept for the center. In addition, he interviewed architects, coordinated faculty requests, prepared justifications, revised plans to meet educational needs, lobbied legislators, and led tours of the facility during its construction for donors and prospective donors. He was part of the team that garnered the second largest private gift in the university’s history — a $5 million naming gift from the Joseph A.W. Clayes III Charitable Trust, established by the former student body president.

Samuelson became the focus of a companion fundraising effort, led by an arts alumna, to name a center rehearsal room in his honor. The effort garnered 78 gifts, raising more than $108,000.

Later on, in the months leading to his retirement, another outpouring of gifts came — from community members, alumni, faculty and staff members who, together, donated more than $1.25 million, including $1 million from longtime College of the Arts patrons and supporters Lee and Nicholas Begovich.

“Your leadership qualities together with your passion for all of the arts, have enabled you to garner the academic resources necessary for the College of the Arts to grow and to offer sophisticated, strong, renowned academic programs attracting the best and brightest students from all over the world,” Gordon said.

He noted that during Samuelson’s tenure as dean, the number of College of the Arts graduates grew by 13,500. They studied in 40 concentration areas within 12 undergraduate and graduate degrees programs.

Upon their graduation, Gordon continued, all were “ready to take their place in the professional arts world as animators, graphic designers, painters, sculptors, glass artists, actors, writers, directors, set designers, costume designers, musicians, opera singers, vocalists, dancers and educators.”

Other milestones during Samuelson’s tenure as dean of the College of the Arts included the launch of Front & Center and Concert Under the Stars, which have drawn thousands each year to these showcases for College of the Arts student and alumni talent. Samuelson helped to develop and orchestrate the events and served on the Blue Ribbon Committee for Front & Center.

Over the years, the event has featured successful College of the Arts alumni known to television viewers, and concert- and theater-goers around the world, including actress Kirsten Vangsness of CBS' "Criminal Minds,"  Grammy-nominated opera singer Rodney Gilfry, and Marc Cherry, creator of ABC-TV's "Desperate Housewives." Grammy-nominated baritone Jubilant Sykes is scheduled to be master of ceremonies for Front & Center 2011.

With the launch of  Vision & Visionaries in 1994 to honor distinguished graduates, Samuelson served as artistic producer. For Concert Under the Stars, first staged in 1984 as part of the university’s 25th anniversary, Samuelson designed the printed programs and invitations and also created the set designs. He continued to assign himself those tasks in successive years, until budget constraints put the popular event on hold in 2009.

Yet, this month, he was at it again. For the Music Associates' one-night-only Carol Candlelight Dinner — an annual fundraiser for music scholarships — Samuelson reprised his familiar role as the event's art director, designing the invitations, program, room arrangement and decor. Attendees to the sold-out event Dec. 18 enjoyed the program of holiday music in the university's Portola Pavilion, transformed for the occasion by the glow of lighted, silver Christmas trees and lit snowflakes gleaming on towering pillars behind the stage. During the program, Samuelson was among those applauding the University Singers, who were accompanied by Grant Rohr on the piano, under the direction of Robert Istad, conductor and professor of music. 

Visual Arts Arena

Throughout the years, Samuelson worked with various groups, community members and alumni to amass an outdoor sculpture collection on campus. In four decades, 30 pieces of sculpture were added to the collection, garnering an award for the campus from the Architecture Foundation of Orange County for art in public places.

In addition, Samuelson served on numerous college and campus committees, including the planning committees for the university’s 25th and 50th anniversary celebrations. He also designed the logo and other graphic pieces for the yearlong salue to the university's first quarter century. 

During his more than four decades as a campus administrator, Samuelson continued teaching — at least one graphic design course each semester. In addition, he stayed active as an artist by designing catalogs for museum and gallery exhibitions. Beyond campus exhibitions, he designed catalogs for the Laguna Art Museum, Fine Arts Gallery of San Diego and the Frederick S. Wright Art Gallery at UCLA. In addition, he was the founding designer of the former university quarterly Titan News.

His work as a designer, plus ongoing contact with students and experience leading classes grounded his leadership of the college.

Admired Leader

During his retirement reception, among the many tributes paid to him was that of John Leighton, a former student who later joined the Art Department faculty, rose to the rank of professor and became head of the department’s glass program. As a gift for the retiree, Leighton created a work of art — a bowl — with the help of Joe Cariati, that was unveiled during the reception program. Leighton’s accompanying letter was read aloud by Gordon.

“You have dedicated your life to creating a college where the performing and visual arts are not just studied, but they are constantly questioned, examined and redefined. You have inspired and improved many students’ lives, and you have literally helped to shape our world,” Leighton stated. "I am grateful to have been your student. I am proud to serve on this faculty, and I am honored to have my work included in your retirement ceremony.”

Additional tributes followed the next month when community volunteers, donors, alumni and College of the Arts faculty members gathered in the Quad for “A Celebration of the Samuelson Years.” As part of the program, the monetary gifts to the college that were raised in the outgoing dean's honor, were announced — more than $1.25 million.

After almost a year into his retirement, Samuelson could be seen beaming in the audience of well-wishers attending the dedication for the renamed Main Art Gallery, recognizing longtime volunteers and donors Lee and Nicholas Begovich. The couple had been the first to make a pledge when the fundraising effort associated with Samuelson's retirement was announced.

Lee, who taught first-grade classes for two decades in Fullerton, speaks proudly of her now-grown former students, including the twin sons of Samuelson and his wife, Mary Lou. And Mary Lou was among Lee’s classroom volunteers decades ago, while Lee was one of the early art gallery docent volunteers in the Art Alliance, which Samuelson organized.

Fast forward to April 9 of this year, during the dedication of the gallery’s renaming. Taking his turn at the microphone, Begovich announced to the audience that two words describe the reason for the couple’s $1 million gift to the Art Department: “Jerry Samuelson.”

A Sampling of Prominent College of the Arts Graduates

  • Linda Emond, Class of '82, Tony Award-nominated actress
  • Marc Cherry, Class of '95, creator the hit ABC -TV series "Desperate Housewives"
  • Rodney Gilfry, Class of '81, internationally acclaimed opera singer
  • Sara Hess, supervising producer, executive story editor and writer of hit TV series "House M.D."
  • Jubilant Sykes, Class of '79, opera singer and recording artist
  • Joaquin Valdepenas, Class of '78, two-time Grammy-nominated clarinetist is the principal clarinet player and a conductor, Toronto Symphony Orchestra
  • Kirsten Vangsness, Class of '96 stars as Penelope Garcia on the hit CBS TV series "Criminal Minds"
  • Emigdio Vasquez, Class of '78 and '79, acclaimed muralist
  • Linda Woolverton, Class of '79, penned the screenplays for the animated film blockbusters "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Lion King"
  • Rafael Zentil, Class of '98, animator with numerous films to his credit, including "Horton Hears a Who," "Ice Age: The Meltdown," "Robots," "Rocket Power" and "Rugrats."

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