Golden Grad Recalls ‘Golden Opportunity’

Jim Toepfer, Class of 1964, is recognized as a Golden Grad by President Joseph F. Sheley during the May 30 commencement ceremony.
​Jim Toepfer, Class of 1964, is recognized as a Golden Grad by President Joseph F. Sheley during the May 30 commencement ceremony.

Golden Grads (from left) Etta Weaver, Marita McElvain and Hanna Giesbrecht Hoyt join alumni speaker Marny Fern and President Sheley during commencement on May 29.
Golden Grads (from left) Etta Weaver, Marita McElvain and Hanna Giesbrecht Hoyt join alumni speaker Marny Fern and President Sheley during commencement on May 29.

Jim Toepfer was born in Turlock and graduated from Downey High School in Modesto before beginning his higher education at Modesto Junior College.

He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do from there, though, and going away to school to finish his degree didn’t work out. Things changed for Toepfer when his wife graduated from the nascent Stanislaus State College in his own hometown in 1962.

“Seeing her go across the stage, I said ‘One of those diplomas is going to be for me,’” Toepfer recalled. “When Stan State opened, it was a golden opportunity.”

Toepfer enrolled, and in 1964 he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences. Last month, he was one of four members of the Class of ’64 to be recognized at CSU Stanislaus’ commencement ceremonies as Golden Grads.

The Golden Grads program was initiated by President Joseph F. Sheley in 2013 to recognize those who graduated 50 years prior. Three other Golden Grads were recognized during this year’s commencement ceremonies:

  • Hanna Giesbrecht Hoyt, who earned her bachelor’s degree in education and is now a retired elementary school teacher living in Winton;
  • Marita McElvain, a social science major who later worked as a mental health program specialist in Sacramento; and
  • Etta Weaver, who graduated with a degree in education and went on to teach in elementary schools in Atwater, where she still lives today.

Like his fellow Golden Grads, Toepfer attended the university at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds, before it moved to its current location in 1965. As a laboratory assistant, he was charged with packing up lab materials and moving them to Turlock High School for summer classes held during the county fair. Later, he helped the science department move to its location at the new campus.

He continued his education there, receiving his teaching credential in 1966 and a master’s in education with an emphasis in school counseling in 1974, and he went on to spend 30 years as a teacher and counselor in Modesto schools.

Toepfer, who served as student body vice president during his undergraduate studies, said he appreciated the new campus for all of its strengths and its beauty but missed the intimacy of those early years at the fairgrounds.

 “Some classes only had two or three students and the professor sitting around the table; it was really like private tutoring,” he said. “Stanislaus was an excellent school, and we had wonderful professors. It was just such a good experience for me.”