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Sayles co-authors tale of terrorism

When he is not teaching history at the University of La Verne, history professor Stephen Sayles also enjoys professional baseball. In his office, among the multitude of political and historical texts, is an acrylic sealed baseball. It is signed by Negro American League first baseman Buck O’Neil and was a gift from some of his past students. / photo by Julian Burrell

When he is not teaching history at the University of La Verne, history professor Stephen Sayles also enjoys professional baseball. In his office, among the multitude of political and historical texts, is an acrylic sealed baseball. It is signed by Negro American League first baseman Buck O’Neil and was a gift from some of his past students. / photo by Julian Burrell

Amanda Larsh
Assistant News Editor

Inspired by a former student and a book that left more questions then answers, History Professor Stephen Sayles set out to explain the Symbionese Liberation Army in a book he is co-authoring.

The book explains the history of the movement and role as a left-wing terrorist group in the 1970s, including their rise to fame after kidnapping heiress Patricia Hearst.

“I felt like something better could be done and so I was talking to Steve and we decided we could dig in and get that information,” said Gregory Cumming, an adjunct history professor at La Verne.

“We found a number of unique and unused sources and we’ve just taken the ball from there and kept on running with it.”

Although they have been working on the book for six years, the pair are almost done with the final chapter. The next step for their book will be to find a publisher.

The former student started at the University in 1982, the same year Sayles started. Cumming became one of Sayles’ first students, and the two have remained close ever since.

“He was very popular among the history majors, and by senior year we had gone all four years with him so he was very popular with us,” Cumming said.

“You always wonder what impact you have, for good or ill,” said Sayles.

“In terms of Greg he had a lot going without me, but if I had any role to play in it then it makes me feel pretty good.”

After 32 years of teaching history at La Verne, Sayles has become an important player for the University.

After serving in the army, he received his bachelor’s degree in history from Cal State Chico in 1973 and his doctorate in history from the University of New Mexico in 1978.

He started out his career by taking nine-month teaching contracts from schools across the country, and it was not until he came across an advertisement for a position at La Verne that he decided to take a more permanent position.

“This has been the best work environment that you could ever ask for, and I don’t regret any decisions I’ve made in terms of my career,” Sayles said.

“I never thought I’d live in L.A. They called me up in the middle of an ice storm in Memphis and said the job was mine if I wanted it,” he said.

Although he never thought he would become a history professor, his high school history teacher played a pivotal role in that decision through his method of presenting history as a story.

“When I was in high school the one thing I could do well in school was history, it was the one class I had a real interest in,” Sayles said.

“I tend to look upon history as literature as much as anything else, it’s really telling stories about the past and making the past relevant and meaningful to the present.”

When he is not writing, Sayles finds time to create courses such as the Western Film in American Culture, a class he truly enjoys as it allows him to show students how wrong Hollywood can be about history.

In the class, he discusses the American values present in Hollywood and how these themes shaped views of the past by using the mythology of the western hero.

His fascination with the late 19th century shows itself in the class as it allows him to explain his interest in the beginning of America’s modernization and entrance as a world player .

“He’s definitely very interested in his subject and it shows in his delivery of the subject matter,” said Bridgett Pride, a CAPA student and history major.

“He was very popular among the history majors, and by senior year we had gone all four years with him so he was very popular with us,” Cumming said.

“To this day I get comments from students who’ve told me what a tremendous impact he’s had on their lives.”

Cumming compared Sayles to Herbert Hogan, a previous history professor and administrator at the University who played an important role in the school’s development.

“He was a very important part of La Verne, and that’s how I see Steve right now,” Cumming said.

“He’s a gentlemen scholar, he has been a tremendous asset to the history department and when he does decide to retire it will be a sad day because he will be very difficult to replace. He’s an amazing scholar, but an even better human being.”

Amanda Larsh can be reached at amanda.larsh@laverne.edu.

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