Students arrived on the University of La Verne campus Monday toting backpacks and hot coffee, some still sleepy-eyed from months of summer relaxation and others raring to go for the first day of t...
The man from Kenya made a positive impression on La Verne College long before he rose to the post of Minister of Finance in his home country.
When La Verne alumnus and ex-Kenyan minister Arthur Magugu died in Nairobi, Kenya, in September, his passing was observed with reverence and a heavy heart by many of his La Verne classmates.
“Let me suggest that Magugu was surely one of the most distinguished alumni of ULV,” said alumnus David A. Hollinger ’63, a professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley. “He was a major figure in the politics of Kenya for many years, a member of parliament, finance minister, etc. When I told a colleague here at Berkeley, a native Kenyan who is on our faculty, that I knew Magugu personally, she was eager to tell me how prominent he was in her home country.”
Magugu, former minister of finance in Kenya, graduated from La Verne College in 1963 with a bachelor of arts degree. Magugu endeared himself to many at La Verne, where he became one of the guys.
Galen Beery, president of the La Verne Historical Society, said that his parents had a special connection with Magugu that lasted beyond his time at La Verne College. Beery’s father, Dr. Cleo C. Beery, of the La Verne College Education Department, and Beery’s mother, Miriam Stover, an elementary school teacher, welcomed many, including Magugu, into their home.
“Both very much enjoyed having foreign students at La Verne come over and often invited them for gatherings,” Galen Beery said. “My mother, in particular, liked Arthur, as he would be in the kitchen with her and just joshing around as she cooked.”
“He called her ‘my American mother’ and she really liked that,” Beery said.
After Dr. Beery retired, he and his wife traveled to many countries around the world, including Kenya, where they visited Magugu.
“Arthur was delighted to see them, and made sure that they had two prime seats in the national stadium to see the celebration of Kenya’s national day,” Beery said. “He was part of the festivities elsewhere, so he could not then be with them; but my father, looking around, realized that Jomo Kenyatta himself, President of Kenya, was seated only about three rows down and five seats over.”
Though Magugu was a world figure, he did not forget his La Verne roots.
In her autobiography, Beery’s mother recalled a visit that she had had with Magugu in Kenya.
“This was home to our friend, Arthur Magugu, who became a member of our family while attending La Verne College 10 years before,” she said. “We loved him.”
And though his time at La Verne was relatively short, Magugu made quite an impact on all who knew him. One was La Verne alumnus Ben Conner.
“We became friends when Arthur came to La Verne,” Conner said. “Arthur was a special kind of friend. I will miss his smile and laughter. His family was a wonderful gift to our family and we appreciate Arthur being an amazing part of our lives. Our friendship turned into a lifelong friendship. He was the type of friend that we could take up where we had left off no matter how long it had been between. We could just hang out and not even speak and then see something and look at each other and the other would know what they were thinking.”
“He told me of how friends in Nairobi would walk around with their arms around each other,” La Verne alumnus Lloyd J. Thomas said. “One day, he asked me if we were friends and if we were, ‘Why don’t we ever walk around with our arms around each other?’ ”
Thomas said that they then walked around campus with their arms around each other because they were friends.
“I remember his sense of humor, his quick smile and laughter, his gentle way of speaking,” Thomas said. “He will always remain in a very special place in my heart.”
It was sitting in the La Verne library while reading The Manchester Guardian Weekly that Hollinger met Magugu. Magugu approached him and asked Hollinger why he was reading it and after Hollinger explained it was a good way to keep current on political affairs, a friendship began.
“I vividly remember the day Art told me that apartheid would never end in South Africa until the white people were driven into the sea,” Hollinger said. “He proved to be wrong about that, of course, given what happened in the Mandela Revolution, but the comment stuck with me because I took it as a sign of Art’s trust in me as a white American that he could speak so candidly in my presence about his own sense of the destiny of the African peoples.”
During their time as students at La Verne, Magugu tutored Hollinger before a delegation of the United Nations, where they modeled Somalia. Hollinger learned a lot during their time together.
“In these and countless other conversations, Art displayed a relaxed and modest confidence about vast domains of human action that were foreign to me,” Hollinger said. “He helped me not only to understand vital fragments of these distant domains; more important, he enabled me to understand that, with a little effort, it really was possible for someone like me to appreciate people radically different from myself, and to engage cultures worlds apart from the one that had shaped me and most of my friends.”
After positively impacting the lives of many who were fortunate enough to know him at La Verne, Magugu returned to his home country and served as a politician to make a positive impact of which La Verne Leos could be proud.
— Story by Susan Acker