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Mythical Sierra Madre College Has No Students but Lots of Class

July 30, 1987|MARY BARBER | Times Staff Writer

Sierra Madre City College--whose emblem is a turkey, whose motto is "gobble gobble" and whose purpose defies explanation--has ended its academic year.

The term lasted a little longer than usual, beginning with a mobile bar in the July 4 parade and ending with a concert in the park last Sunday.

Founded in 1980 for no particular reason, Sierra Madre City College might best be described as a state of mind, because it certainly isn't a college. It doesn't even boast a building or a program, but is the product of the vivid imaginations of a few Sierra Madreans who thought it would be fun to take part in the city's annual Fourth of July parade.

Yellow T-Shirts

Since then, SMCC, as they fondly call it, has been highly visible in the form of a float in each annual parade. Its alumni are identified by the bright-yellow T-shirts that anyone can buy for $8, and it claims to have a marching band--whose leader denies any association with the mythical college.

"Our only affiliation is our name, and we get our T-shirts in the same place," said Bryant Duffy, director of the Sierra Madre City College Marching Band.

The shirts come from the Bottle Shop in downtown Sierra Madre, owned by Bill Sullivan, an SMCC founding father with a fondness for T-shirts and anything odd. Sullivan, his brother Frank, and Delos A. Bezold, Doug Warden, Bob Jones and Joe Grippi are on the college board, which has other members who prefer anonymity. The president for several years was the late Hugh Warden, a local businessman and a character actor who has had bit parts in commercials and on television shows.

In Sierra Madre, a city known as a haven for artists, poets and eccentrics, the college and the band have acquired some significance. For instance, when SMCC Marching Band members wearing the easily identifiable T-shirts walked onto the stage at Memorial Park for last Sunday's concert, the larger-than-usual crowd burst into applause before a single note sounded.

City Seal Borrowed

The emblem on the T-shirts has a familiar look. It's a copy of the purple-and-green official city seal, reworded to simply say "Sierra Madre City College."

It's a joke on the city, Sullivan explained. Apparently it's a good joke, because Mayor Andrew Buchansaid: "It's all a lot of fun. There's nothing vindictive about it."

Sierra Madre City College made its first public appearance seven years ago with a float in the shape of a schoolhouse that had "Gobble Gobble" printed over the door.

It has never been that simple again.

When the City of Sierra Madre celebrated its centennial in 1981, SMCC's founders arbitrarily decided that the college should be older than the city. Its covered-wagon float bore the legend "1879-1981," and from it alumni dispensed glasses of beer to adults along the parade route and gave candy to the children.

One year, SMCC's so-called "transportation department" had a float in the shape of a locomotive. In 1984, the year of the Olympics, a member of the athletic department sat on a float bearing an insignia of four interlocking squares, like the Olympics' interlocking circles.

Another year, a lovely mermaid waved from atop a float in the shape of a ship, entered by the college's oceanography department.

In 1985, the agriculture department had a float resembling a miniature farm, from which alumni dispensed 55 live baby roosters to children along the route.

"Their mothers wanted to kill us," Sullivan happily recalled.

There was once a fire engine from the SMCC "Draftee Fire Department," whose motto was: "Don't call us, we'll call you." Sierra Madre, with a population of 10,200, has a volunteer Fire Department.

This year the float took the shape of a bar, complete with bartenders, customers, bottles and a bewigged judge. In its wake were alumni in T-shirts, who notified parade watchers that they had been passed by the bar of Sierra Madre City College School of Law. They handed out 2,500 certified "shyster" diplomas.

Like any college, this one could survive only with fund-raisers--"usually rip-offs of some kind," Sullivan said.

'Free' Diplomas

The college offers official-looking framed diplomas. They are free, but the frames cost $8.50.

The alumni association usually holds annual dinners and sells raffle tickets for a door prize. The prize is just what it says--a door. "The rottenest old door we can find, with broken glass and torn screens," Sullivan said.

At these parties the drinks are free, but glasses cost $5. Glasses are inscribed each year, as in "Glass of 1986" and "Glass of '87."

One of the rewards for all this effort, Sullivan said, is that the float always receives its own theme prize award. "Nobody else ever gives out trophies, so we've won every year," he said.

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