If you were a member of ASSE in the mid 1990′s and lived in Bakersfield, you understood that you would have to make a 90-minute drive north to attend a monthly meeting. To make things worse, the meetings were held in the evenings which made for a very long day. The Central Valley Chapter, based in Fresno, was the chapter designated for all those living in Kern, Inyo-Kern, Mono, Fresno, Madera, Merced, Tulare and Mariposa counties.
It was apparent to one individual that ASSE was an important and viable resource for individuals like himself that were in the safety profession. He thought, “We need to have a chapter in Bakersfield”. He visited other safety organizations like Golden Empire Safety Society and the Westside Safety and Training Group in hopes of finding someone other than himself to take the initiative in forming a chapter. It soon became apparent that he would have to be the lead.
So, in early 1995, he started his quest. He contacted ASSE National in Des Plaines, Illinois and inquired about forming a chapter in Bakersfield. It was explained to him that he would first have to form a section through the parent chapter and was directed to Doug Jern, the president of the Central Valley Chapter. His contact with the Central Valley Chapter proved to be fruitful and was given all the information needed to form a Bakersfield Section of the Central valley Chapter. He collected the required signatures, wrote the Section bylaws and submitted them to the Executive Board of the Central Valley Chapter.
On June 8, 1995, The Bakersfield Section was granted its charter. This was the beginning of our great chapter. We owe the vision, hard work and birth of our chapter to one individual, Frank Malquist.
The first section meeting was held on January 18, 1996 at 6 p.m. at Hodel’s. William Van Der Mullen, Regional Vice President, flew down from San Francisco to present the Charter. Frank was the Section Chairperson and Gary Stanfill was the Secretary/Treasurer. There were 38 people in attendance. It was decided at this meeting that all future meetings would be held on the first Wednesday of each month, just as it is today. Frank knew that in order for the Bakersfield Section to survive, help would be needed. During the first meeting a request for help was expressed. Individuals like Mark Ruder, Catherine Jones, Chris Vochoska, Neal Walker, Jim Smith and Richard Laney quickly stepped forward. High quality volunteerism is exactly what our section needed to become successful. Chris Vochoska agreed to be the chair for the programs, which is the backbone of any safety organization.
The meetings continued on a monthly basis but attendance started to wane. Concerns were being aired as to the diminishing turnout. Everyone knew that something needed to change but was unsure as to what. In January of 1997, the meetings were changed to a morning meeting. The first few months failed to show an increase in attendance over the evening meetings. Concerns were still apparent. The attendance had gone from the 38 from the original meeting to about 20. By mid to late summer, attendance started to show an increase. The financial status of the section was far from good but the increased attendance showed hope.
In July of 1997, Frank passed on the reins of Chairperson. The Bakersfield Californian’s “People in Business” section ran an article about the election of officers. The article stated that the officers include: Chairperson Mark Ruder; Secretary/Treasurer Jack Iriart; Professional development Jim Smith; membership Catherine Jones and Steve Coffman; program committee Chris Vochoska; and past chairperson Frank Malquist. In an effort to become more solvent as a section, the Executive Board approached the parent chapter in hopes of getting some additional financial support. The E-Board recognized that half of the Central Valley Chapter members resided in Kern County. They were in hopes of increasing the amount per member that the parent chapter was required to give to the section. The parent chapter refused the request. The Central Valley Chapter’s explanation of the rejection was stemmed on their belief that the Bakersfield Section was ready to become a chapter. The Bakersfield Section’s E-Board was disheartened and surprised at the reasoning. The E-Board came home and mulled over the future of the section. The more they talked about the rejection, the angrier they became. The E-Board stewed for quite a while and finally said: “Fine! We have half of the Central Valley Chapter’s membership right here in Kern County; we have already obtained the necessary signatures so we will apply for a chapter charter.” Some of the members of the E- board were against the move to become a chapter but the majority voted to pursuit the vision. This was a crucial decision.
So, Frank, Mark and Jack, along with a lot of help from the section members, embarked on a new mission to become a chapter. Again, they wrote the bylaws, and submitted their petition for approval. On August 20, 1998, Frank and Jack attended the Regional Operating Committee in Costa Mesa and formally submitted their petition to the Region I Board of Directors. The board voted unanimously on the issue and Bakersfield was approved as a chapter. On October 4, 1998 Bakersfield was officially chartered as the 20th chapter in Region I. On January 8, 1999 the new Bakersfield Chapter held a Chapter Charter Presentation Ceremony at the Double Tree Hotel. Approximately 60 people, including the Mayor of Bakersfield and the Mayor of Arvin, attended the festivities. ASSE President Fred Fleming and Regional Vice President, Joe Adams, presented the official Chapter Charter to the first set of Chapter officers. The officers included: President Jack Iriart; Vice President Mark Ruder; Secretary Catherine Jones; Treasurer Fred Hrenchir and Delegate Frank Malquist. Included in the festivities of the evening was the presentation of the Bakersfield Chapter’s first Safety Professional of the Year award to a well deserving Frank Malquist. On January 21, 1999, The Bakersfield Chapter held it first seminar on Respiratory Protection. The half-day event proved to be very successful.
In October of 1999, the Bakersfield Chapter took on a larger challenge to provide safety to the community. California State University at Bakersfield (CSUB) had elected to drop their Symposium Series which included a symposium on safety. The CSUB Safety Symposium Series, which was held in March, had been an annual event for the past four years. Some of the chapter membership had worked with CSUB and recognized that the community supported the safety track of the Symposium Series. Being a new chapter, the financial status was not at its best. The E-board had concerns as to whether there was enough money to get the symposium off the ground. The decision was made to, again, go forward. So, committees were formed to select a location for the event, choose the best topics and speakers, acquire sponsorships, gather vendors and promote the event in hopes that attendance would be adequate enough to break even. The E-board questioned whether five months was enough time to make the symposium successful. Time was short but the committees forged on.
As it is with any new endeavor, things did not go exactly as planned. The brochures were late in getting mailed which did not help the already short time frame. With two weeks left before the event, registration was looking dismal to a lot of the E-board. Chapter President Jack Iriart was still optimistic. Jack tried to sooth the nerves of the E-board by telling them that, “You know, Bakersfield is a last minute town”. That phrase stuck and is still used time to time as a joke and a friendly reminder.
Well, as it turned out, the symposium was a great success. The chapter showed a good financial benefit from the event which helped greatly in its solvency. Questionnaires indicated that the community was in appreciation and support of the symposium. The E-board was delighted and relieved. Now as an annual event, the Symposium has expanded to include topics in Workers’ Compensation and Human Resources as well as safety.