Nearly five days a week when the sun is out, students can see a group of older men walking their way around campus at about 11 a.m. In the 1970s Cal Poly students saw some of that same group running past buildings and on the paths behind Cal Poly.
The group has no official title but is filled with recognizable names and faces.
Among them is Frost Fund Coordinator Phil Bailey, the former College of Science and Mathematics dean, former interim provost and interim Dean of Education Bob Detweiler, retired mathematics professors Paul Murphy and Myron Hood, retired political science professor Reg Gooden and retired physics professor Willem van Wyngaarden.
As the years went on, professors and administrators came and went. The group, which would occasionally run through the train tunnels behind Cal Poly, got wiser and decided to stick to safer routes. And eventually their pace changed from a run to a walk.
“Some of them called it running but their walking was actually faster,” Detweiler, who joined the group after they switched to running, said with a laugh.
Despite their slowed gait, the quick-witted conversations remained.
“In the old gym, in Mott, that’s where we used to run from, but they ousted us,” Gooden said. “It was just despicable, the whole administration.”
“Even the dean couldn’t help us out,” van Wyngaarden said, in reference to Bailey.
“They still blame me,” Bailey said. “They remodeled [the gym]. I thought we were pretty good in there.”
“Yeah the teams used to do a lot better when we used to shower in there,” Gooden joked. “Cal Poly had a lot of records then.”
According to Bailey, they walk approximately four miles throughout campus every week day, if the weather is permitting. The group used to run eight to 10 miles through Poly Canyon, encountering everything from bobcats and rattlesnakes to running cows and rabid squirrels.
“We were always running at noon,” Hood said. “There was a group of us. It varied over the years, but there was a core that always ran at noon, and as we got older we quit running and started walking.”
According to Bailey, since they first started running together, “everything has changed.” In an email to Mustang News, Bailey wrote that when he first arrived at the university, the University Union (UU) was just being completed.
The group saw the days when the Dexter Building served as both the library and bookstore.
They saw the Cal Poly that students know today being built before them. Over the decades on their daily route, the group saw Cerro Vista, Polly Canyon Village, and yakʔitʸutʸu resident community come to be. Bailey said the group remembers a time before there was Fisher Hall, Baker, the Recreation Center and the original Vista Grande.
When asked why the group began running to begin with Detweiler, who joined the group after the pace slowed, quickly responded.
“I never had that problem,” Detweiler said.
Everyone else laughed.
Detweiler was a first-generation college student. Before working at Cal Poly, he was a history professor and later a college dean at San Diego State, the Vice President at CSU San Bernardino and the university president of CSU Dominguez Hills.
At Cal Poly, Detwieler said he worked a number of “odd jobs.” Bailey clarified Detweiler’s odd jobs included serving as the vice president of student affairs, the university provost and dean of the school of education.
Bailey, however, came from a very different upbringing. Bailey was raised in Texas and attended segregated schools, because that is what they had at the time, he said. Growing up, he said the only Black person he knew was his family’s maid. It was not until he went off to college that he realized his privilege, he said.
“Eventually, all those things drove me into, I don’t know what you’d call it, an advocate for people without the same opportunities I had,” Bailey said.
At Cal Poly, Bailey helped undocumented students advocate for their rights on campus and helped fund several sponsorship for undocumented students. He was also influential in establishing the DREAM center.
“Nobody, and I mean that sincerely, nobody did more to promote diversity and opportunities for underrepresented students, first-in-family and nonwhite and legal and undocumented immigrants than Phil and his wife, Tina,” Detweiler said.
Gooden, another group member, also had a very different upbringing. Gooden said he and his family moved from Cuba to the Panama Canal region in 1945. From there, he attended college at UCLA.
“My Spanish background afforded me an opportunity to research the politics of Latin America and that’s where I started as an undergraduate degree in philosophy at UCLA, and then I moved into political theory,” Gooden said.
After getting his master’s at UC Santa Barabara, Gooden began teaching at Cal Poly in 1970. Both he and Hood served on the Academic Senate during their careers at Cal Poly.
Another long-time frequent walker, van Wyngaarden was raised in the Netherlands. He came to Cal Poly in 1964 to teach physics after earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees in Canada. He said he wanted to contribute to a culture where students can engage with professors, something he said he felt was missing from his college experience.
The 14-time marathon runner said he joined the group because of his love for running and exercise.
“With this beautiful campus, you know, it would be silly not to run here,” van Wyngaarden said.
But he stayed for the camaraderie. And Murphy shared that sentiment.
“I‘ve been very fortunate, I’m lucky to be here and be in this town, it’s just been a wonderful existence, [and] the camaraderie within the math department and the school of science was really important,” Murphy, who began running after he came to Cal Poly in 1970, said.
Despite their diverse backgrounds and fields of interest, they each found a home at Cal Poly, one that even after retirement they visit nearly every weekday.
When asked what their favorite aspect of their daily walk is, Detweiler quipped, “When it’s over.”