When John Hund enrolled at California State University, Stanislaus, in 2015 to pursue a degree in geology, none of the credits he earned at UC Berkeley transferred.
Why? Because they were about 40 years old. "They expired decades ago," John said, seated in the Turlock campus's Naraghi Hall of Science on a recent Friday afternoon with his daughter, Amelia Hund.
The two will graduate Friday morning, John with a bachelor's of science degree in geology, and Amelia a BS in molecular and microbial biology. Their path toward walking the stage included several detours for serious health problems: a broken back for Amelia, heart attacks and osteoarthritis for John, and cancer, a heart attack and carotid artery surgery for Myrna Goldsberry, who is John's wife and Amelia's mother.
But John's personal journey also included overcoming the obstacle of viewing himself as "a real loser" for dropping out of Cal in the 1970s after two years of study.
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A strong student, the Redwood City youth earned a scholarship that paid his tuition to Berkeley. "I was studying premed, like every other white male in the state."
But he found himself unemotionally prepared for the ubercompetitive university. His high school girlfriend had broken up with him, and "I didn't realize how emotionally important that was to me," he said. "And I just felt alone and adrift" on the campus.
John became a service representative for Pacific Telephone, but a love of British sports cars and motorcycles and a talent for repairing his own cars led him to make his career as an auto mechanic.
As for ever returning to college, the 64-year-old said, "as years passed, the idea of trying to pick up the pieces was looming harder and harder and harder."
John, a mechanic for 37 years, moved to the Valley about 25 years ago with his family: Myrna, son Aaron and Amelia. Always an avid outdoorsman, he recalled being asked by his attorney brother during a backpacking trip "the world's dumbest question: Do you ever regret dropping out of college?"
Of course he did. What would he have done differently, his brother asked. "I'd have majored in something I was interested in: geology."
As her dad recalled the conversation, Amelia chimed in, "That was my childhood, him talking about all the rocks and formations around us." Still, she really had to twist his arm to take a geology class with her at Modesto Junior College in 2010.
"Together, they took Garry Hayes' physical geology course, which proved to be so inspiring that John decided to keep taking classes at MJC," wife Myrna wrote to The Bee. Her dad had the highest grade in the class, Amelia noted. They both earned A's, but he had 102 percent and she had 98.6 percent.
"John was something else," Hayes told The Bee in an email. "He asked a great many perceptive questions that sometimes challenged my own level of expertise in geology. Both (John and Amelia) came on a number of our field studies courses, in which they both excelled, but John also saved one of our trips because of his skills as an auto mechanic (a radiator hose problem in the middle of nowhere)."
John soon found that re-entering college as an an older adult was a real joy, his wife said. He attended classes in the evening and online for five years, while still working full time. He also decided to become a geology major.
Just three weeks before Amelia was to leave for Portland State University, where she'd study environmental chemistry, John had a heart attack. With a stent in place, he returned to work and school a month later. That was 2013.
In 2014, Amelia broke her back in a bicycling crash. She rode everywhere in Portland, she said, and she and friends would keep times on how quickly they could ride various courses.
"One day, on my way to work, I took a hairpin turn in the rain and managed to lose control and go off a cliff," she said. Firefighters told her she fell about two stories and slid an additional 300 feet or so. She was riding alone, and no one saw her go off the cliff. She wasn't paralyzed, but at the time could move only her right arm. A hiker found her within about 10 minutes.
It was a long time before she could stand or walk, Amelia said. She still has nerve damage — not much feeling in her right leg, and control issues with her right arm. She lives with back pain, frequently fidgeting and repositioning herself as she sits, she pointed out. And she lost about two inches in height, now standing 5-foot-5.
After the crash, “there’s a good year I don't remember, including starting here” at Stan State. Amelia was depressed, she said: did not want to be in California, in the Central Valley, attending the Turlock university. In a move she now appreciates, her mother went behind her back to enroll her in classes. "I couldn't drive, couldn't walk alone. Mom got me to class and sat outside to wait for me."
In 2015, with his hands causing him constant pain, John was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and had to quit working as a mechanic. So he joined his daughter at Stan State, enrolling in its geology program. That same year, Myrna had a heart attack and learned she had cancer, as well. After surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, she was declared cancer-free about a year later.
Horacio Ferriz, professor and geology program coordinator for Stan State's department of physics and geology, recalled John coming to visit him on campus before classes started. "I thought, oh, we're exactly the same age. ... What is it going to be like to have myself as a student?"
He admired John's gumption in returning to college, Ferriz said. "It is not easy for an older student to join a group of students much younger than him, but he did it and did it well. He participated in group projects, studied with his young peers, interacted with faculty his own age, and overall did a great job as a student."
With the interest Amelia and her dad share in science and the outdoors, the professor said, they've made a great "tandem team" at the university. "I even recruited her help to make sure her dad was up to speed in the use of Excel for scientific applications."
John is the geology program's top graduating student scholastically and earned a Dean's Award for Academic Excellence. He and another student in the department, Ferriz said, were nominated for membership in Phi Kappa Phi, which was founded in 1897 at the University of Maine and is the nation's oldest, largest and most selective honor society for all academic disciplines.
John said he's loved the camaraderie in the geology program of only about 25 students. It's been fun showing the much younger students that "the old goat" can more than keep up academically and during some strenuous hikes for field studies. Even a second heart attack in March barely slowed him, Myrna said. "After having two more stents inserted and a week out of class, he continued back to school, determined to stay on track for graduation."
Though his and Amelia's course schedules have kept them from commuting from their Modesto home together, they cross paths all the time. She's had some fun with that, 27-year-old Amelia said. Before a lot of students caught on that they're dad and daughter, "I'd walk up and fake flirt with him. Say, 'See you at home' and blow him a kiss, and all these young people would be looking at me like, 'Oh, my God.'"
She's very proud of her dad, who was always her hero, her "Tarzan" who could do anything, she said. "To do what he's doing at his age, it's so much harder than being a youth and going to school."
But what of after school? As graduation approaches, what's next for the Hunds?
Amelia, who said fermentation is her obsession, has been accepted into the brew-master program at the University of California at Davis. The further she went in her microbial biology studies, she appreciated beermaking as a science and art form. "It's unlimited. You see, every day, people coming out with a new type of beer. This program at Davis is the only program you can take to go into any facet of the beer industry."
She'll go wherever in the world the industry takes her, said the daughter of a beer-loving German ancestry. She'd love to work in Europe, where microbial development has been maintained for more than 5,000 years, she said. But she'd also love to work right here in the Golden State, especially for Anchor Brewing. "It's the oldest brewery in California and still does open-vat fermentation," she enthused.
Though John shares his daughter's love of beer, his studies have led him to pursue work involving only its main ingredient: water. "One of the things I’ve found most fascinating is the discipline of what’s happening with the groundwater beneath our feet," he said. "It’s a really complex, multifaceted field.
"I’ve gotten involved with seismic studies on the levies, and well monitoring, and well-proofing. I just ended up doing a report on migration of hydrocarbon plumes from gas stations and I find it all really fascinating," said John, who's seeking work among the geological firms in the area.
First things first, though. As of early this week, Amelia still was seeking permission to cross the stage abreast with her father, vs. being called up individually. A perfect way to end their time together at the university, they both said.
If that exception isn't granted? Well, John deadpanned, "We're gonna streak."