Too cool for school?
[Chico State has its share of ‘famous’ grads]
Party school? What drunken idiot thought that up? Somebody must have been studying around here, because Chico State University has a veritable laundry list of graduates who would make it on any roll call of school success stories. From congressmen to creators, from laudable to notorious, check out these former students in the where-are-they-now file.
And, contrary to urban legend, Politically Incorrect pundit Bill Maher did not attend school here; he went to Cornell. We couldn’t confirm the attendance of Nanette Kinkade—wife to “painter of light” Thomas Kinkade, author and subject of her own collectible figurine. The same goes for the woman who had the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s baby.
Love-hate with Chico State
Chico State was willing to lay claim to Ed Rollins even after the Republican political strategist dissed the school in public.
C-SPAN captured him stumbling over his words at a Ronald Reagan Day celebration, and to cover he said, “You’ll have to excuse me. I went to school at Chico. That’s in California.”
But the last straw was in 1998, when he was a no-show at an event featuring James Carville and Mary Matalin. Rollins was supposed to mediate but flaked. He’d previously visted in 1997 to peddle his book, which came after an almost career-ending incident that was one of Time magazine’s stories of the year in 1993: Rollins told attendees at a press breakfast that he worked on a campaign that spent $500,000 to suppress the black vote—and then, when called to give legal testimony, he said he made it up.
Under presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan, the 1968 political science graduate—yep, he was A.S. president—held various high-level jobs in the White House, including director of the Office of Political Affairs under Reagan. He went on to advise companies and politicians, including managing Reagan’s 1984 election campaign and Ross Perot’s 1992 bid.
Homegirl makes good in Hollywood
Everybody loves Amanda Detmer. The people who knew her while she was attending Chico High School, and then Chico State, and performing in Blue Room plays remember a funny, friendly, down-to-earth young woman who wanted to act, not be famous.
This year, she told E!online her parents are embarrassed by her terrier’s rhinestone collar. “They think I’ve gone so Hollywood.” And she was quoted using the “F” word in Stuff, when she was the magazine’s cover model wearing a revealing swimsuit in 2001.
She’s parlayed her 1995 degree in theater arts, talent and good looks into a successful Hollywood career. (Her big break came when the made-for-TV movie Stolen Innocence was filmed here.) The hard-working Detmer has appeared in movies such as Saving Silverman, The Majestic, Big Fat Liar and Boys and Girls. She’s currently co-starring in a TV sitcom called AUSA.
And she’s hella hot: Magazines and Web sites have singled out Detmer, 31, for her sexy, girl-next-door looks.
Kelly Craighead Mullen
When Kelly Craighead graduated in 1989, who knew she’s eschew her recreation administration degree for a career in politics?
Inspired by vice-presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen’s Chico visit, and active in the Associated Students, she was headed to Washington.
Craighead was President Bill Clinton’s deputy assistant, scheduling trips and such, and went on to direct the advance team for his wife, Hillary. Later, she worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign for senator and was fund-raising director for her political-action committee.
In fact, when Craighead married political consultant Erick Mullen in 2001, it was Hillary Clinton who performed the ceremony.
She’s visited 80 countries and met everyone from Nelson Mandela to Mother Teresa.
Parking it with the state
Rusty Areias, a 1974 agriculture graduate, first made his mark on campus as A.S. president. He made sure the university didn’t take over the A.S.'s businesses, protecting the auxiliary’s autonomy.
After a delicious power shift that saw Areias become a state assemblyman in 1982, supporters of Chico State’s Agriculture Department called upon Areias to successfully fight then-Chico State President Robin Wilson’s efforts to shut down the department.
Since then Areias, who also attended Butte College, was appointed by former Assemblymate Gray Davis to direct California’s Parks and Recreation Department, overseeing 1.6 million acres of land and 5,000 employees. He led a campaign to increase the public’s access to parks by lowering entrance fees.
The six-term assemblyman has also chaired the California Coastal Commission.
A Democrat, Areias ran for State Senate in 1996 and 2002 but narrowly lost both times.
Clever consultant plays party politics
Political columnists have dubbed Bob Mulholland a “bad boy” and recounted his push-the-envelope attempts to forge wins for the Democratic Party, for which he is a strategist and spokesman.
In recent years, he’s helped make Tony Blair’s Labor Party more “cutthroat,” as the industry journal Political Professional described it, quoting Mulholland as saying, “People don’t remember the good things about your guy. They remember the bad things about the other guy. That’s what sticks. You gotta go negative to win.”
Mulholland is known for his penchant for so-called dirty tricks. In a well-known incident that got him temporarily suspended by the party, he showed up at a campaign event (in Chico) and hollered out that Sen. Barbara Boxer’s Republican opponent liked to go to nudie bars. The story got picked up statewide, and five days later Boxer narrowly won.
Republican consultant Dan Schnur called Mulholland “the troll under the bridge of California politics,” but in Chico circles Mulholland is considered funny and personable.
The Vietnam veteran has been on Larry King Live and served as a delegate to the Democratic National Committee.
Locally, though, Mulholland’s wife, longtime Butte County Supervisor and former A.S. President Jane Dolan, is arguably better known.
The big ag man off campus
Bill Lyons, the director of the Department of Food and Agriculture appointed by Gov. Gray Davis, sure comes in handy when the local ag community needs a friend higher up. The 1974 history graduate is also quite a success in his own right.
He comes from a family that’s farmed the Central Valley for 75 years.
While at Chico State he won a bunch of service awards, and a couple of years ago he returned to address young future farmers.
He’s not in Chinatown anymore
Jason Peltier, who graduated in 1979, managed the Central Valley Water Project Association for more than a decade, and anyone who knows anything about water in California knows that’s a big deal.
He was the guy at the table when decisions were made about where the state’s water would flow, and how we would be able to get and store enough of it.
He resigned a couple of years ago to take a job with the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bush, after his wife landed a position with the Department of the Interior. Since Peltier lobbied for ag for so long, the appointment has worried environmentalists.
The couple was recently written up in a real-estate society-type column of Washington Life Magazine because they bought a cool, $1,350,000 home in Virginia.
Oscar de la Torre
Still fighting for rights
Former 1994-95 A.S. President Oscar de la Torre—the first Chicano to hold the position—has proven controversial at many steps in his career. He was once kept out of a Chico speech by then-Gov. Pete Wilson because organizers worried he’d be disruptive. At a university in Texas, a conservative newspaper blasted his progressive politics and mocked his Chico State alumnus status.
Among his successes here, he promoted student wage increases and got artist Javier Barajas Villanueva to paint a mural in the BMU. The Latino leader also protested anti-immigrant ballot propositions.
Since then, he’s been elected as a trustee to the Santa Monica-Malibu School District (in which he was educated) and founded and directs the Pico Youth and Family Center, which is intended to keep youths away from gangs and violence.
The graduate goes to Washington
In 1998, Mike Thompson was elected to represent California’s 1st District in Congress. Before that, the vineyard owner was a senator for eight years. The 1982 graduate (he got a master’s in 1996) even taught at Chico State.
He’s a Blue Dog Democrat (kind of conservative, like Gary Condit) from Napa Valley and serves on lots of committees. The silly watchdog Web site www.yourcongress.com gave him a “power rank” of 256 out of 437 and wrote a haiku that goes: Has a winery/a good guy to go to when/ the House is in late.
Kickin’ it in the great white north
On the flip side, graduate Don Young is a Republican congressman representing the entire state of Alaska. The 1958 Chico State graduate is originally from the tiny Tehama County town of Meridian.
This is his whopping 16th term, making him the fourth-highest-ranking Republican member of the House. His www.yourcongress.com haiku is not as funny; it’s about shooting bears.
He’s kind of controversial (mostly in terms of natural resources), and when pundits write about him, they sometimes dig up former Chico State classmates to quote.
Behind the TV screen
You may have caught the episode of Becker (that Ted Danson—what a card) in which the lead character fights a phone bill attained by a mysterious call to Chico, Calif.
The man behind the gag was likely Russ Woody, a 1979 broadcast journalism graduate who has co-produced and written for television shows including Cybil, for which he won a Golden Globe in 1997, and Murphy Brown, for which he won an Emmy in 1990.
As recounted in Chico State’s student newspaper The Orion, Woody paid attention when a producer for Soap spoke at Chico State and took her up on her offer to ‘look her up” if ever in Los Angeles. He did stand-up comedy and tended bar before moving south in 1980, and he soon got a job working on Benson and then Bosom Buddies. Finally, he started selling scripts.
He’s written scripts for episodes of Fantasy Island, Webster, Hill Street Blues and even did a pilot. For a while, he co-produced Mad About You.
Once, he made a guest appearance on Becker. In 2001, he used his dad as inspiration for an episode about a man who has Lou Gehrig’s disease and was interviewed about it on Entertainment Tonight.
Computers and cosmetics queen
Talk about diverse interests. 1975 graduate Sandy Lerner, who went on to study at Stanford, founded Internet networking powerhouse Cisco Systems and, years later, turned around and co-founded Urban Decay Cosmetics, which is distinguished by its funky, unusual colors.
Naturally, she’s one of several people on this list whom Chico State has presented with distinguished alumni awards. She lives in Virginia.
Trading card - Michael Dailey, Associated Student President