When Edward L. Hardy, the second president of the San Diego State Teachers College, was considering relocating the burgeoning institution, he assembled a citizens advisory council to assist with the task of identifying a suitable site.
Among the council members was Vesta C. Muehleisen, an elementary school teacher serving on the San Diego Schools Board of Education and a member of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers as well as the 9th District California Congress PTA.
If ever there were a qualified candidate to serve on the council it was she. Vesta Gates, as the Iowa native was known in her student years, had graduated with an A.B. from the San Diego Normal School in 1907.
The following year she married Adolph Muehleisen and the couple had two sons, Dolph and Gene. The Muehleisens were gracious entertainers who often invited friends and family members to meals at their Mission Hills home.
A genius in all categories
A nephew, Bud Muehleisen, remembers attending the family’s dinners as a teenager. He describes his Aunt Vesta as “polite, classy, intelligent” and always present at family get-togethers.
“I can still picture her well,” says Bud Muehleisen, who is 82 years old and retired from his San Diego dentistry practice. “If you had someone who was a genius in all categories, that would have been Vesta.
“(She was) extremely sociable and like an entrepreneur. I loved her because she was so sweet and nice and formal and smart — all of those things. I have nothing but good thoughts and memories of her.”
A highly desirable future location
Apparently, not everyone shared those thoughts. Mrs. Muehleisen was among the members of the Citizens Advisory Council who recommended moving the Teachers College to a remote undeveloped site east of San Diego.
In a letter to President Hardy dated Dec. 8, 1927, she told him, “I have spent several hours upon the property mentioned … and can … recommend the site to you and the members of your council as a highly desirable future location for the College …”
The site she described has come to be known as Montezuma Mesa. When construction was complete, Mrs. Muehleisen was among those receiving an invitation to the dedication of the new college buildings and campus on Friday and Saturday May 1 and 2, 1931.
Not long after the campus opened, a newspaper called The Broom, billing itself in its masthead as “San Diego’s Progressive Weekly” and “An Independent San Diego-Owned Paper Published in the Interest of San Diego City and County,” ran a disparaging article taking the Citizens Advisory Council – and particularly Vesta Muehleisen – to task for its site selection. The headline read: “Mrs. Muehleisen Made State College Misery.”
The article criticized her for persuading her friends to locate the college “where no one but Bell-Lloyd (the developer) profits.” She was chastised by the paper “for her lack of good judgment.”
“Mrs. Vesta Muehleisen and others put the State college into the sticks where it benefits the Bell-Lloyd subdivision interests,” the article asserted. It alleged “the cost of transportation and inconvenience is a handicap to San Diego pupils.”
Mrs. Muehleisen’s position was that she had not been chair of the committee and therefore had no undue influence over its members. She told The Broom that the new college was, in fact, centrally located for people living in La Mesa, El Cajon, Oceanside and San Diego.
Supportive and accomplished
From her days as a Normal School student through the institution’s evolution to a State College, Vesta Muehleisen could be counted on to support her alma mater. Her family placed ads for its sporting goods store in the Del Sudoeste yearbook. Both of her sons attended San Diego State and she helped found and sponsor Alpha Phi Delta, a local sorority on campus.
Although alumni groups had existed prior to the college’s move to the Mesa, Mrs. Muehleisen founded the San Diego State College Alumni Association and in 1931 became its first president. In the ensuing 83 years, the SDSU Alumni Association has had 75 additional presidents, including 15 more women.
Vesta Muehleisen would go on to achieve a great deal more before her death in 1973. From 1935 – 36 she was Director of Education for the San Diego Exposition. She served in the same capacity for the 1939 – 40 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco.
For eight years she was executive secretary of the San Diego Healing Society. Her legacy even extended beyond her own accomplishments through her family.
Her son, Dolf, was an accomplished collegiate champion tennis player and went on to become a decorated general in charge of the North American Air Defense Command. His brother, Gene, was a captain in both the U.S. Naval Reserve and the San Diego Police Department. Vesta’s nephew, Bud Muehleisen, was credited with popularizing the sport of racquetball in the 1980s and was the first person inducted into the Racquetball Hall of Fame.
The college she helped relocate to “the sticks” is now ranked among the nation’s top-tier public universities and with more than 7,500 lifetime members, the SDSU Alumni Association is still going stronger than ever.
In the board room of the Parma Payne Goodall Alumni Center hang the photos of every Aztec who has served as alumni president. No matter how many more may be added, Vesta C. Muehleisen’s will always be the first.