SRJC's Day Under the Oaks fills Santa Rosa campus
Published: Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 4:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, May 6, 2013 at 8:11 a.m.
The iconic oaks of Santa Rosa Junior College spread their limbs above thousands of visitors strolling across the campus. On Sunday, the old was new again.
The annual Day Under the Oaks had returned.
The celebration of the college, its diversity and its ties to the community had been suspended since 2009.
“I'm really happy to see all the community come back,” said Tomoko Sekitani of Cotati, a former SRJC student who said she had missed the event in the years it wasn't held.
“It just makes a bridge,” Sekitani said, browsing the art and crafts booths on the front lawn. “The JC is a great site for community people and cultures; it's one of the great events of this community.”
As the day got underway, the Sonoma County Symphonic Band struck up a sprightly Latin American tune, and smoke rose from a charcoal grill at the Black Student Union's tent into a day of grayish light.
At Pioneer Hall, home to the college bookstore, Harriett Oden of Santa Rosa gave away stickers and books and beckoned people to express themselves at her coloring table.
“I've been pulling kids in,” said Oden, a SRJC student and a bookstore employee. “I'm even recruiting grown-ups; they can come up and color right here at this table.”
It was just past 10:30 a.m. and already the crowd was healthy.
“It gives people a chance to know what the JC is all about, to let people know what we have to offer,” Oden said of the event.
“Feel free to come back and get a sticker,” she said to a visitor as he departed.
The event was started in 1978, but in 2009 the swine flu pandemic forced its cancellation. Then, as they dealt with steep budget cuts, college administrators kept it off the table.
“I've heard about Day Under the Oaks from the day I interviewed for the job,” said college President Frank Chong, who joined SRJC in 2012.
That spring he vowed to bring it back and this January announced it would return. On Sunday, he stopped to chat by the Classified Staff Fountain, in front of the Lawrence A. Bertolini Student Center.
“It's symbolic of the resurgence of community colleges around the state and certainly in this community,” Chong said.
At the same time, while the college's financial prospects have indeed improved, it has not put any general fund money into the event, which cost a little over $50,000 to put on.
The college foundation chipped in $30,000 and the college raised $22,000 from corporate sponsors, said Chong. “We're moving forward to having it be self-sufficient through community support,” he said.
The revived event also took a concerted effort by dozens of staff, who on Sunday were visible everywhere in blue T-shirts, said Robert Ethington, director of student affairs.
“The community of people who work here has just gone above and beyond,” he said. “They've really stepped up and said we want to bring this back.”
A few rain sprinkles fell, but very lightly. The sun pressed through now and then.
Chong said he expected 10,000 to 15,000 people. It was hard to tell how many showed up, but the college's parking was full, as were spots on all the surrounding streets.
From over there, to the west, back behind Analy Hall, drumming could be heard. A lot of people were going that way, and several hundred were were already there, clustered around two dozen vendors of American Indian crafts, watching a Pomo “Show-Off” dance and lining up for Indian tacos and strawberry shortcake. When the wind rose, it whipped around the aroma of fry bread.
The dancers moved in a line around a circle, stamping and swaying and lifting their arms, sometimes in unison, sometimes in a more freestyle display.
“This dance is what your spirit tells you, what you want to bring to the table, that's what you're going to bring,” said Joe Salinas, a Kashia Band Pomo.
The Native American Spring Celebration has continued through the years, even when the larger event was suspended, demonstrating the college's support of a ritual that both preserves a tradition and contributes to a healthy future, said Salinas, youth health coordinator at the Sonoma County Indian Health Project.
“This right here is the next best thing we have to a Sonoma County Pow Wow representing the Native people of this area,” he said. “And without this kind of thing, the kids turn to the street.”
Members of tribes from around Northern California come each year, said Lorilei Fakhouri, a Dry Creek Pomo. “We just come in a start hugging and embracing.
“It's nice to see other family members and to get together and honor our ancestors and embrace our culture and carry on,” Fakhouri said as, from a distance, back east across the campus, a jazz ensemble blew a battery of horns.
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