In 1952, sheep were still roaming the fields of Long Beach State College, a small school that took hours of driving to find. A couple hundred students took classes on the newly formed campus each semester in barracks and converted apartment complexes.
It was around this time that Harold Katz graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Chicago. The 27-year-old World War II veteran needed an escape from the cold weather and to begin his search for a teaching job. His older brother, Arthur, suggested California.
Teaching positions were scarce, a possibility Katz wasn’t prepared for when he set off for Long Beach. Further delaying his search, the state felt he wasn’t qualified to teach, despite having minored in education, and instead required that he enroll in an audio-visual education course.
“California did not make it easy for people from out-of-state to be credentialed,” Katz said.
Forty-five years after his brief encounter with the little-known school, Katz decided to return to Long Beach State. This time, he was newly retired. He was a senior citizen. And when he walked into his first class, he could have been mistaken for the professor — until he took a seat with the other students.
“I live to learn, and I learn to live,” he said. “My life sort of goes on through the process of learning.”
Since the late ‘90s, Katz has regularly taken courses as part of the Senior Citizen Fee Waiver Program, a program that allows senior citizens to take any class on campus with the consent of the instructor. In the past, he has taken courses in art with his late wife Barbara and courses in physical education.
“[Each year,] I look into the catalog and I say, ‘what’s interesting now?’” he said.
This semester, Katz is enrolled in Chris Burnett’s Political Science 423 American Presidency lecture. For someone who can recall Franklin D. Roosevelt’s fireside chats, the class might not be as much of a learning experience as it is a chance to relive history.
“I’m just blessed to have him,” Burnett said. “Older students bring a lot of real-world knowledge, and above all, they’re really interested in learning.”
Every day, Katz takes his usual position in the front and center. Off to the side of the room, a transcriber types nearly every word that is said during the discussion. Because for Katz, who is hard of hearing, the input from the other students is just as important as what Burnett is saying.
“[Burnett] is very good because he elicits student participation,” Katz said. “A lot of teachers just want to lecture.”
His love for the classroom isn’t limited to the student desk. Though he never fulfilled his dream of becoming a full-time teacher, education has always been his passion.
After his time at LBSC, Katz taught at a private school, a one-year stint he didn’t enjoy. Since schools were looking for people with degrees that he didn’t have, applying to other teaching jobs had no luck, either.
“I got to know the unemployment office pretty well,” Katz said.
Nevertheless, his educational background and analytic skills helped him in various positions throughout his career.
In the mid-1950s, Katz handled inventory for a Texaco warehouse in Signal Hill. But after the state built a freeway through the location, he left to work for Revell, a toy company that quickly fell due to competition.
Later, during the early stages of the aerospace industry, Katz joined North American Aviation, where he did cost estimating and advanced planning for 13 years. Before being laid off, he helped the company during the Apollo project.
Katz got the chance to work for University of California, Los Angeles in the ‘70s after getting a master’s degree in Public Administration. Though he wasn’t teaching, he was given a more authoritative role, working in the Office of the Chancellor analyzing campus improvements.
Katz officially retired in 1991. But while his career ended, his drive to learn did not.
“It’s sort of a self-generating approach,” he said of his ability to keep moving.
Katz, who turned 94 last month, plans to continue taking classes at LBSU, “so long as I’m able to get to campus and have the ability to absorb the education.”
He added that he feels lucky to have his two daughters, seven grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren for support.
“Motion is life,” Katz said. “Without motion, well, where are you? The alternative, [which] is not very good.”
Katz still lives in the same Lakewood house he bought with money he received from the GI Bill almost 65 years ago. Around that time, Arthur and his wife gave Katz an oak tree as a housewarming gift, which he planted in his front lawn.
Three weeks ago, that tree fell.
While Katz was home, he didn’t hear the impact. He was too busy moving.