The George Mason University Oral History Program staff always looks forward to speaking to an alum and recording their memories of Mason. Oral history helps us capture multiple interrelated layers of history: the personal story of the interviewee, their interactions with their schoolmates and professors, events on campus, and the “vibe” of the campus community during that period. These all add to the larger narrative of the university’s sixty-two year history. It is especially gratifying to speak to someone who was there at the beginning of an era-in this case the opening of Mason’s Fairfax Campus.
Lynne “Buzz” Decker and his wife Cindy visited SCRC on March 18 and sat down with us for an oral history interview. Decker, who lived in the King’s Park subdivision about 4 miles east of George Mason, was a 1964 graduate of W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax. He recalled there being a buzz (no pun intended) among his high school classmates about the new college that was be being constructed only minutes away from Woodson. The fact that the college was part of the University of Virginia was an added plus. He ventured over to the construction site several times and took photographs of the buildings being erected on the previously heavily-wooded lot just south of town.
In our interview Buzz recalled the September 14, 1964 opening of George Mason College at Fairfax. He described the overall sense of “newness” of the place. Everything looked, and smelled, new. In fact, construction had not yet been completed. There were no sidewalks, the parking lot had not been paved yet, and there was mud everywhere one walked. Plywood was laid down in strategic places so that students and faculty would not have to walk through ankle deep mud. He remembered that there had been very little in the way of orientation for the 356 freshmen and sophomores in 1964. By fall of 1965 the Student Assembly, of which he was President, had put together an orientation program for incoming students. At that time the student body was comprised mostly of graduates of local high schools, with the occasional out-of-towner thrown in.
Decker found the courses and professors “challenging”. The faculty, of which there were about twenty in 1964-65, were “high-caliber”, and were mostly graduates of the University of Virginia or other Virginia institutions. Among his favorite professors were: Hyman Feinstein (chemistry), R.A. Turner (mathematics), and Dale Story (political science).
Since Mason had a small student body, and had no dorms, social life here was not as vibrant as on other college campuses. George Mason College was only a two-year branch of the University of Virginia (in fact, the University characterized Mason as a “community college”), so most of the early Mason students transferred to another university after two years. Buzz and his classmates can be credited for creating a campus atmosphere at Mason while at Fairfax. During that period clubs and organizations appeared on campus. Among them were the Young Republicans (there were no Young Democrats for some reason), Sports Car Club, People to People, ION (an organization dedicated to getting students involved in campus activities) and the service organizations SAGE (for women) and Symposium (for men).
Buzz and his cohort were also instrumental in the beginnings of athletics at Mason and in the choosing of the school colors. He and several of his athletically-inclined friends were involved in a competitive intramural football league on campus. When baseball season came around, Decker and friends Ted McCord and Kevin Boyle looked to start a baseball team. There was no intercollegiate athletics program, let alone a baseball program at Mason, so the trio formed a team on their own and canvassed local college teams as to whether they would like to play against their Mason “team” for tune-up games. They found takers in Bowie State College, American University, Galludet University, and a team fielded by Army personnel at Fort Belvoir. But in order to play they needed uniforms, and uniforms required team/school colors.
The Student Assembly polled the students in the spring of 1965 as to what they would like to have as the official George Mason College colors. Decker remembered that the student body didn’t appear to be too serious about choosing school colors. As President of the Student Assembly, Buzz tried to move the process along by obtaining pennants and decals from various universities to show the students different color combinations they could choose from. Still, student leaders could not get enough participation to arrive at a conclusion on the school colors. Decker’s father had been an athlete at the University of San Francisco, and that institution’s colors were green and gold. Decker’s suggestion of green and gold gained traction among his peers, and he was able to move the decision forward to Dean of Students, H. Mebane Turner.
Decker recalled that Dean Turner, a former athlete and coach himself, next moved to purchase uniforms with green and gold lettering and accents to outfit the team. The players were pleased to see the new uniforms when they arrived, but they found there were no numbers on the backs of the jerseys. Turner explained to team members that adding numbers to the jerseys would drive the price above the small budget allotted for the uniforms.
Mr. Decker discussed a number of other topics during our 55-minute interview. He spoke about how he and his fellow students wore jackets and ties or dresses/skirts and blouses to college classes, students’ growing opposition to the Vietnam War, and his transition from the two-year program at George Mason to the University of Virginia.
He closed by stating that George Mason’s Fairfax Campus is a “beautiful place”, and that he is “very proud to have been a part of the early years of it.”
Follow Special Collections Research Center on Social Media at our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts. To search the collections held at Special Collections Research Center, go to our website and browse the finding aids by subject or title. You may also e-mail us or call if you would like to schedule an appointment, request materials, or if you have questions. Appointments are not necessary to request and view collections.