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What It All Meant : Members of UCI's First 4-Year Class Review '60s With 20 Years of Hindsight

August 03, 1989|HERMAN WONG | Times Staff Writer

Maybe it's his naturally casual, open manner--the touch of the optimist--that makes him by conventional standards something of an eccentric.

Maybe it's his Sprout Acres compound, the private experimental ecosystems station he operates in the Laguna Beach hills, his little Shangri-La of organic crops, recycled wastes and energy innovations.

Or maybe it's the evangelistic zeal he gives to his cause: the preservation and harnessing of natural resources, the educating of the uninitiated about the beauty--and urgency--of it all.

Much about Bill Roley, UC Irvine class of 1969, still evokes the fervent advocacy, maverick life style and pure exuberance of the 1960s student generation.

Yet Roley was never a "blazing activist" while a student at UCI 20 years ago, in the era synonymous with anti-war marches and anti-Establishment sit-ins on hundreds of U.S. campuses.

That does not really matter, he says, because the protest activism of the '60s "didn't raise the social consciousness of only a few but of people throughout our society. It was the conscience of America."

Standing outside his solar-powered A-frame office, gazing across a back yard thriving with organically grown fruit trees and vegetables, he pauses.

"I like to think of these ideals as the roots of my generation," he says, his voice rising, "that these are still with us, still at work in our lives."

UCI's class of '69--its first full, four-year graduating class--is having its first reunion.

About 75 members of that 450-member class will gather Aug. 18-20 at their alma mater for traditional welcome-back events: tour, barbecue, dinner-dance and plenty of speeches.

Overall, the reunion participants are solidly mainstream, professionally successful and middle-class respectable. Almost none of the returning graduates were considered protest militants in their student days, UCI Alumni Assn. organizers say.

The turbulence and soaring idealism of the '60s cannot be far from their minds, however. Such memories are hardly avoidable these days. Media critiques and commemorations by the scores have dissected that era's defiance, tragedy and exaltation--the Chicagoes, Kent States and Woodstocks.

And UCI officials who were there in the '60s are sure to remind the '69 returnees of the historical niche of their generation.

UCI's activists then were "at times confrontational and abrasive about social change, and they did not always show how the corrections could be achieved," recalls Daniel G. Aldrich Jr., UCI's founding chancellor.

But Aldrich, who retired in 1984 after 22 years as Irvine chancellor, says the '60s generation "had the courage to speak out, to focus on the inequities of our society and to challenge the traditional organizations."

In contrast, student generations since "have shown neither the same energy nor the same social concerns," he says. "They have not stepped forward in the same way. They have not led the charge."

For this class of '69, then, the reunion becomes not only a memory game of "whatever happened to . . ." but also a recounting of "what were you doing in the '60s?"

Consider three classmates who still live in the county, maintain ties with the campus and plan to attend the reunion:

* Dennis Ettlin, 42, an economist for a Los Angeles aerospace company. He and his wife, Mary, live in Dana Point.

* Diana Janas, 41, of Corona del Mar, who operates her own Irvine-based communications consulting firm. She is also a media teacher at Orange Coast College.

* Roley, 42, an environmentalist, ecosystems consultant and Saddleback College instructor. He and his wife, Susanne, and their 3-year-old daughter live in Laguna Beach.

Their most obvious common denominator is this: They were typical of many students of their generation during one of most rancorous and far-reaching of U.S. protest movements. These students were believers, yes, but militants? No.

When they entered UCI as freshmen in September, 1965, they thought of themselves as a generation of local pioneers.

The school was built on sprawling, once-rural spaces, with buildings designed with boldly modernist strokes. The campus had just opened; the site had been dedicated a year earlier by no less than President Lyndon Johnson.

With such a beginning, it naturally seemed to the class of '69 to be an idyllic time for trust and harmony.

"The mood then was exhilarating--that's the only way to describe it," recalls Janas, who was a comparative literature major. She had attended Corona del Mar High School and, before that, a Catholic high school in Swarthmore, Pa.

How could it be otherwise? "We were there at the start, building a university from scratch, so to speak," says Janas, who was also an associate editor on the New University campus newspaper. "We felt we were in the right place at the right time."

But widespread dissent had already surfaced at older, more volatile U.S. campuses.

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