On June 21, 1966 the Board hired Dr. Stephen E. Epler as the first President / Superintendent. Dr. Epler had a B.A. in Education from Cotner College in Lincoln Nebraska; a Master’s degree from the University of Nebraska and his doctorate from the Columbia University Teachers College in New York City.
The 57-year-old Epler was a former naval officer and had 33 years of experience in education. His administrative experience began as Dean of Men at Southern Oregon College. Following a three-year stint in in the Navy as a training officer, Epler returned to Oregon as a veteran’s counselor for the Oregon State System of Higher Education. While with the Oregon State System he developed the idea of offering lower division college classes in Portland’s Vanport public housing project and he was named administrator of the program. In 1948 the Columbia River overflowed its banks and all but wiped out the fledgling college. Under Epler’s leadership, the college was rebuilt. It later became what is now Portland State College.
An interesting addendum to Epler’s early career is the fact that he devised the game of six man football in 1935. The game was played by many small high schools throughout the country as well as being the part of many city recreation programs.
In 1956, Dr. Epler left Vanport to become Superintendent of the Reedley High School District, in Central California. He was asked to help plan and pass a bond to build a campus for Reedley Junior College, which had been housed in the high school since it was established in 1926. The bond passed and the campus was built. Dr. Epler stayed in Reedley until 1960 when he was hired to be Superintendent/ President of the College of Marin in the north San Francisco Bay Area.
One of the Reedley high school students at the time was a young man by the name of Floyd Hogue. Floyd graduated from Reedley High School in 1957 and enrolled in Reedley Junior College. Two years later in 1959 he was a member of the college’s first graduating class on the new campus. Thirty-five years later, in 1994, Dr. Floyd Hogue was named President / Superintendent of Ohlone College, the fourth in succession from Dr. Epler.
When Dr. Epler reported to work in the summer of 1966 he was the only full time employee reporting to the seven Trustees who had been elected six months earlier when the District was approved. Lloyd Messersmith had served as part-time interim administrator and a secretary from Newark Unified School District was assigned some hours to support the Board. The administrative offices had been located in a small leased space on Thornton Boulevard in Newark.
The accomplishments during Dr. Epler’s first year were substantial, to say the least. The first full fiscal year budget was developed. A bond measure to build a permanent campus was attempted (it failed). A full time administrative and classified staff was hired along with a full time faculty of 24. A temporary site for classes at the Serra Center and other locations were identified. A curriculum was established and a schedule of classes set. The temporary campus was made ready for instruction and college operations. Students were recruited and enrolled. A name for the college was approved. And classes began on September 25, 1967. While all of this was going on he continued working with the Board to find a location for a permanent campus and planning a bond measure to fund the construction.
During the first year of classes, Dr. Epler continued to lead the effort to find a location for a permanent campus. Ultimately the Huddleson Ranch on Mission Boulevard, own by Ed and Irene Huddleson, was approved as the site and a bond to fund its construction was passed in June 1968. Over the next six years, while the college continued to grow at the Serra Campus and other locations, Dr. Epler led the planning and construction of the permanent campus, which opened for classes in September of 1974.