In the early 1980s, College of the Canyons was a relatively quiet campus, home to just under 5,000 students. If you weren’t a student, there weren’t too many reasons to travel to the campus on Rockwell Canyon.
Today, most people have COC in their GPS systems for theater and athletics, as the college hosts 24,000 students, has a performing arts center that seats more than 750 people, features a vast library and stadium where graduations and touchdowns have been the cause for celebration.
Through the years, Sue Bozman has been the school’s spokesperson, sending out the good word in rich times or calming rumors during rough spots. For more than 21 years, she’s been the person conjuring up the perfect phrase, the telling picture or deciphering a Board of Trustees decision for the public.
That era comes to an end on Friday, her last day at the college. She is retiring and can’t wait to embark on this new “career” that doesn’t involve punching a time clock.
On her last Monday at the college, she was exuberant. Her office isn’t cleaned out yet and there was one more project to finish before she could hold court at a community reception to bid her bon voyage, but her feeling of accomplishment was clear.
Bottom line, Bozman is leaving a job she loves and continues to believe in.
“I came here to get something and I got to give back big time,” she said of her decades of registrations and ribbon cuttings, financial challenges and fundraisers. “It’s huge. My life here has been a very good one and I’m very satisfied with it.”
She’s come a long way from the little girl wielding a sketch pad and pencil in the Congressional galleries, where she followed her father around, long before “take your daughter to work” became a popular event.
“Dad was a Washington correspondent,” she said. “He had a parking spot next to the Speaker of the House because he covered Congress and the White House. I would sit in the House or Senate press galleries or in the Supreme Court with my sketchpad and draw. “I have drawings of Felix Frankfurter, that’s how old I am,” she laughed.
She says she learned to read watching the teletype machines in her father’s office. As one of the founders of radio news (he worked for United Press before the merger with International made it UPI), he spent his days interviewing politicians, working side by side with legends like Helen Thomas, Daniel Schorr and training a young pup with some promise named Walter Cronkite.
“He taught me to write, but I didn’t have an intention to work in journalism,” she said. “My English teachers would mark my papers up and say I was writing too journalistically.”
She originally planned to go to law school, but fell in love with David Bozman, a young man who went into the service. They married when she was 20 and she decided a quicker career would be teaching. But she soon found her sketchbook would open a lot more academic doors.
“My interests were in history, so I planned to teach American Civilization,” she said.
”My parents had a party and there were all these teachers there and one said to me, ‘You know, Sue, I know art’s your avocation, but you need to know that history teachers are a dime a dozen, and good art teachers are hard to find. You might want to think about changing your major.”
So art and writing it was.
She wrote for a soap opera magazine when the young family lived in Dallas, which was a challenge in the pre-VCR days. She had to chain herself to a TV set to write synopses, but at the time, it was the perfect vocation for the stay-at-home mom.
The Bozmans came to California in July of 1983.
“My husband had been transferred out here a year earlier and he wanted to get me to come here with the kids, but we lived in a little apple-growing town in Massachusetts that I was reluctant to leave. I had a great job as a teacher. I was a runner, and it was pretty every season of the year.”
Dave tricked his young bride, convincing her to visit during spring break in March, when pickings at the local grocer in Massachusetts were slim and San Diego offered sunshine, perfect running weather and an unlimited supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“I told him I was only coming to California for the food,” she said.
She went to CSUN to work on her master’s degree, writing a two-volume biography of Thomas for her thesis.
“I was able to call her up and tell her my teachers would really like it if I would write her biography, which she agreed to,” she said. “I went back to Washington, where I still had lots of friends and family and I followed Helen around the White House.”
Having Thomas as a family friend, she has some regrets about the incident that caused the longtime correspondent to retire prematurely after YouTube video seemed to portray Thomas’s remarks as discriminatory.
“She’s always been open about how she feels about the Middle East,” she said. “It’s a very unfair thing. She wanted to die with her boots on, her reporters’ pad in her hand. It’s a sad thing to have created a scandal that made her have to resign. She’s broke many, many stories, covered every president since Roosevelt and all of the first ladies and asked a lot of hard questions at the White House. It’s sad her career came to an end when she’s perfectly capable. She has a historical perspective that not many other people have.”
It was only a short time later that she became part of the COC family.
“Dave and I were involved with the youth orchestra since we had a young boy who played cello. They used to perform at CalArts. We wanted to help with the development of an arts council and went to a meeting that was kind of a formation, exploratory meeting.”
At that meeting, Bozman remembers a “young, tall blonde-haired woman who had just been hired to head College of the Canyons” and decided she wanted to work for her.
“All my career I’d worked for men,” Bozman said. “I saw this position become available and wanted to work for her. I really wanted to work for a woman with her kind of leadership skills.”
She also saw the potential to help grow the college, including a futuristic performing arts center and a nurturing academic atmosphere.
“When I got the job, it was very much because I had a perspective as a parent, as a student, and as a teacher, I was in all those roles and that gave me an advantage. I had worked in media and had that perspective of outside media along with a nice portfolio.”
One of her hobbies/vocations is photography and visual arts, which she has been able to use to the college’s benefit as well as for her own edification.
“I’ve been able to bring that verbal and visual part together and promoting education at the same time, which is very rewarding,” she said. “Pulling together education, writing, editing and doing it in the context of promoting and advocating education was the perfect place and the perfect job for me.”
The college has changed significantly over the last two decades, adding an expanded library, performing arts center, media arts building, child development center, science labs, technology labs and opening a Canyon Country campus.
Students have changed as well, Bozman said, mostly because of the way they communicate. Gone are the days of blue-lined course catalogs or leaving notes for a teacher; one of her office’s current projects is developing a program that will allow students to register or communicate using their mobile devices.
Even though she won’t have another Monday with an early check-in, she doesn’t plan on going far.
“I’m not moving away, I like my home, my community, I have kids and grandkids here. I will have more time for volunteer work with organizations that I have wanted to support,” she said. “I imagine I will do some consulting work in the community. I am a painter and intend to practice my art again, for many years I have made sure to produce one or two pieces a year, but now I plan on kicking that up.”
She has an art studio in her home and looks forward to returning to the world of oil paint, acrylics, watercolor, printmaking, serigraphs, and woodcuts. She may dabble in portraits or do a still life of vegetables from her plot in the community garden.
“I am branching out with my art and want to take some classes in Chinese watercolors,” she added.
“I also want to write,” she said. “I’ve always had to do this structured journalistic kind of writing, but I have a million stories in my head that I want to get down, and I don’t care if they ever get published.”
She plans on visiting a different museum every week, even if she just sits in the garden with her sketchbook or takes in one exhibit at a time.
“Through thick and thin, I stayed at the college because I believe in their mission,” she said. “It’s wonderful to work in a place where you fundamentally, deep in your core, believe in what they do.”
She hopes people of all ages continue to seek education, despite the many challenges.
“You can’t have a democracy if people are not educated,” she said. “If people are always doing menial jobs, trying to survive and get through the day, they don’t have the background, the history to be able to pay attention to what’s going on in their community, to hold their public officials accountable, to earn a better living so what you have and what you can give your children is better. It’s so important. Education is everything.”
In looking back, Bozman said one of the most exciting events she handled as the PIO was the opening of the Performing Arts Center.
“That was a personal goal,” she said, remembering the cellist who inspired her to seek out involvement in the arts.” To see young musicians perform on their stage and their parents able to see them up there all in black and performing, it warms my heart. I couldn’t be happier.”