Pepperdine Prologue

Meet Carmen Landrum ('38), one of Pepperdine's first graduates remembers the earliest days of the University.

November 22, 2010  | 5 min read

Carmen Landrum was Pepperdine's first female graduate and is the only member of that founding class still with us today. Just days after her 96th birthday, Pepperdine Magazine sat down with Carmen in her Los Angeles-area home to remember those early days at the University. In this "Pepperdine Prologue," we share some of those stories in her own words.


The Road to Pepperdine

I'm from Tompkinsville, Kentucky, a little town of about 3,000 to 3,500 people. I had gone to David Lipscomb College in Nashville, and taken classes at a business school. Then the Depression hit, and people just didn't have as much money as they had before. So I lived with my parents and worked for three years.

When I was ready to go back to school to get my degree, it just so happened that George Pepperdine College was opening. Mother and Father liked the idea of Pepperdine, but of course they didn't like the idea of me being so far away. Instead they talked me into going to the University of Kentucky in Lexington. I spent two overwhelming days on that big campus before discovering that it would take me more than two years to finish. It would take just one at Pepperdine.

I called Mother and Father, and the next morning I got on a bus to travel the 140 miles back to my hometown. From there my father me took me to Nashville to catch a train, beginning a very long journey to California, to Pepperdine. It was my first time alone on a train, and the first night I fell asleep in the wrong seat. Then it felt like days to cross Texas. Eventually I made it.

No one made long-distance phone calls back then except in case of death or emergency, so Father wired Ms. Middlebrooks, the matron of the dormitories at Pepperdine, who had been my matron at David Lipscomb. He said, "Carmen is arriving at 8 o'clock. Please meet her." At the time there were two train depots and my father didn't know to specify at which I would be arriving. She took a chance and greeted me right off the train.


The Early Days

Pepperdine was a new adventure for me. This was September 1937 and I was 22, going on 23 years old. I had never been far from home, but I'd always wanted to come out to California. The campus buildings weren't finished when all the students arrived, so we lived for two weeks in the William Penn Hotel down on 8th Street. A tour bus would appear every day after we'd eaten breakfast, and take us to see all the tourist sights around Los Angeles. I remember exactly how the lobby and our rooms looked. Mrs. Pepperdine had picked out the decor. We had tan-colored bedspreads with lettering on them.

The campus was so new and raw-looking, and the architecture was modern. I never much cared for it myself, but it was certainly exciting. The campus felt barren at first, but then the palm trees and shrubs grew and it was lovely.

There were just four of us seniors—three boys and myself—a couple of juniors, but mostly sophomores and freshmen. I was older than the other girls, since I'd worked and gone to school elsewhere. At that time in your life an age gap makes a much bigger difference, but we all liked each other and got along quickly.

I knew Ms. Middlebrooks, and Dr. Baxter, the president—we called him Brother Baxter—had been president of David Lipscomb while I was there. I had known Brother Baxter the way a student would know a president, but you get pretty close to a matron when you're in the dormitory and she's telling you when to go to bed or when to get up. Dr. Baxter's wife was so nice; we just loved her. To me, being so much younger, he was a real serious man, and that's good; you don't expect him to be a comedian. Knowing them made it easier for me, and for Mother and Father, too


A Student's Life

I majored in business administration and took a minor in English. I only dropped one class in my life and that was German. All the students ate together in the dining hall and we had wonderful conversation. There was a church right at Vermont, and a lot of the students went there.

When I first arrived, the school helped me get a job at Southwest Way, a little newspaper halfway between Pepperdine and downtown. I took ads on the phone. It was a tough job for a new person in town, so soon I started working for Mr. Campbell, the registrar, in his office. I did a lot of typing and it helped with my tuition and expenses.

We had access to streetcars, and sometimes I'd go downtown. I went shopping at Bullock's and saw pictures at the Loews Theatre across the street for 35 cents. There seemed to be a See's Candy on every corner. I had lots of friends and good memories: Dolly Todd, who helped throw a surprise party for me, and Louise Babb, who lived within walking distance on Vermont. In those days people went for Sunday afternoon rides, back before freeways. One time we went to Knott's Berry Farm for pie and fried chicken; on another occasion we watched the Rose Parade in Pasadena.

Norvel Young was just a year younger than me, and I knew both him and Helen. He had asked me on a date back when we were at Lipscomb, but I was going with someone else at the time. There was a radio program once a week with a cappella singing. I didn't have much of a voice, but we all used to go down there and sing a few lines. We all loved Hugh Tiner, and he was so handsome. He was only 29 and I was 23, so I noticed these things.


Working for Mr. Pepperdine

After graduation I wanted to stay in California, so Mr. Pepperdine gave me a job in his office at Western Auto Supply on the corner of 11th and Grand. He had a private secretary named Edna Thompson, who was the wife of a faculty member and had been with him for years. He called me in each morning, and I'd fill the inkwells on his desk. He'd sit down and dictate; I had learned shorthand and typing at my business school, but I was a nervous wreck the first time. I was making $80 to $85 a month in salary.

Mr. Pepperdine was a very nice man: sweet, polite, and even-tempered. Occasionally Mrs. Pepperdine would come in with the children. They lived on West Adams Boulevard, and I remember they had us over for barbeque. There were hamburgers for everyone in the backyard.

I worked there for almost a year to the day, until he decided to sell his share in the company. He gave me an introduction to four or five banks, and I went on to work for Bank of America for many of my working years.

Four students of George Pepperdine College donned caps and gowns on June 6, 1938, to become the school's first graduating class. E. H. Ijams, president of David Lipscomb College, delivered the commencement address honoring the pioneering students: Malcom Hinckley from Harding College; Richard Gibson, a transfer from Abilene Christian College; and Paul Tucker and Carmen Landrum, who had attended David Lipscomb College.

Listen to these and more of Carmen Landrum's stories.