Two Cal Poly professors lead double lives. One day, they might be teaching in their respective communication studies and journalism departments. On another, they are at a mansion filled with luxurious works of art and surrounded by manicured gardens and pools — they are at Hearst Castle.
Dan Eller, a public relations lecturer in the journalism department, oversees public relations at Hearst Castle, and Jeffrey Schultz, a communication studies professor, leads tours at the castle on weekends, holidays and during the summer.
“The word you hear most from visitors is ‘Wow,’” Schultz said, who has been at the castle for 15 years and estimates he has given approximately 7,000 tours. “That’s a neat thing.”
And on each tour, Schlultz shares the history of the castle with visitors.
Newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst had the estate built during the first half of the 20th century and entertained guests there until his death in 1951. After Hearst passed away, the castle was donated to the State of California and became a historic landmark. Patty Hearst occasionally visited her grandfather’s extravagant estate, and Eller said he recalls one such visit as one of his most interesting memories at the castle.
“I found her over a two-week period filming ‘The Secrets of San Simeon’ for the Travel Channel,” Eller said. “She was polite, engaging with the lowest level of staff and very knowledgeable about the castle.”
During Patty’s visit, Entertainment Tonight was at the castle too, reporting on the Travel Channel’s report on Hearst Castle.
“Media reporting on media reporting on media is always fun to see,” Eller said.
During the filming process, a horse was brought down to the pergola in the gardens for Patty to ride, and Eller recounted Hearst’s vision for the pergola.
“(Hearst) said he’d like it to be tall enough so a very tall man wearing a very tall hat on a very tall horse could ride through the pergola on a hot summer day,” Eller said. “Patty got on the horse, and while she was sitting there, she said something to me I’ll always remember — ‘To all of you standing around me, none of you can really truly appreciate what my grandfather meant.’”
But Eller knew what she meant, because he knew Hearst’s favorite thing about the castle was the view.
“It really is the most captivating view from any building anywhere,” Eller said.
Not only does the castle hold an incredible view but an impressive array of artifacts as well.
“We’re a world class museum,” Schultz said of the castle and added there are more than 22,000 pieces of art and other artifacts in the collections.
At Cal Poly, Schultz teaches public speaking, and he described guiding tours as a complex type of public speaking.
“It’s inside and outside, there’s all kinds of weather and as many as 56 people or as few as two,” Schultz said.
Schultz relates his job as a tour guide to topics in his public speaking class, and said he’s thankful for gaining experience in his career before returning to Cal Poly.
“I’ve been teaching here for 11 years, and I love teaching classes,” he said. “I’m glad I came to teaching in my 50s though. I did my career, and then, I came back and by that time I was ready (to teach).”
Schultz began working at the castle in 1998 and completed his master’s thesis on Hearst and the castle’s architect a few years ago, but his interest in the castle dates back to his college years.
“Back in 1971 when I finished my undergrad degree from here in history, I would have worked at the castle if they had hired one more person that summer,” he said. “So when the opportunity arose later, I decided to take it.”
Eller got started with Hearst Castle 20 years ago when he learned the castle was hiring guides.
“It’s the best entry-level job in the castle,” Eller said. “Not that it’s at the bottom, but it teaches you everything and you really learn the ins and outs of the place.”
Eller worked his way up from tour guide to overseeing public relations for the castle.
“And then I got a burning desire to go back to teaching,” Eller said. “I was hired by the late George Ramos who actually worked as a guide at the castle during his senior year at Cal Poly. I took the job and was reminded of my true love for teaching.”
When the position as a full-time lecturer in pubic relations at Cal Poly opened up two years ago, Eller took it. He said he’d always wondered what it’d be like to give up his work at the castle, but instead of giving up the job, he lessened it to Saturdays.
“I basically just shifted my hat,” he said. “From full-time PR director and part-time lecturer, to full-time lecturer and part-time PR.”
Eller said his favorite part of his jobs, without a doubt, is the people.
“At Cal Poly, it’s the students; at Hearst Castle, it’s the people who take the tours,” he said. “And the fact that I get to speak on behalf of Hearst — how humbling.”