Louis Wildman had a ritual of clipping out newspaper articles every time one of his former students took on a leadership role as vice principal, principal—even superintendent. Over his 30 years as a standout professor at CSUB, he learned to keep the scissors handy.
“He would put the newspaper article on his door and then talk about it all day — in the hallway, with colleagues,” said Mahmoud Suleiman, professor of teacher education. “He was so proud. That’s Louis.”
The subject of several of those clippings was Christine Lizardi Frazier, former Kern County superintendent of schools and a CSUB Hall of Fame inductee. Frazier reflected on her mentor Thursday, following the news that he died Wednesday. It was Wildman who persuaded Frazier to join the doctoral program.
“He was just the kindest man I think I’ve ever met,” said Frazier, who retired as superintendent in 2017. “He had a heart for the students he was teaching as well as the students we would be serving in our capacity as leaders in the schools.
“People very much went into administration thinking that they did not want to disappoint him and making sure they wanted to serve, particularly students in the county, as well as he expected us to.”
CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny said the loss of a professor so central to the university’s tradition of excellence is difficult, especially for the colleagues who served with Wildman during his tenure, from 1987 to 2018.
“Dr. Wildman enjoyed the universal respect of the faculty in the School of Social Sciences and Education,” Zelezny said. “He was a renowned scholar with a prodigious body of published work. But when you talk to his friends about him here on campus, they will tell you they miss his humor, kindness and zest for life the most. I have lived a rich, full life and didn’t waste a moment of it.”
In accepting his induction into the CSUB Faculty Hall of Fame in 2021, Wildman explained his philosophy on education:
“My focus has been on understanding rather than learning a set of rules and regulations and procedures. And while those are certainly important, I look for a little broader perspective than that. I believe educational administrators should live what the schools they lead teach.”
Wildman filled a variety of key roles at CSUB, starting as an associate professor in 1987, becoming chair of several programs, and director of graduate studies in education, among his many other contributions.
The Association of California School Administrators named Wildman Professor of the Year in 2005, and he earned the Living Legend award from the National Council of Professors of Education Administration in 2006. At CSUB, Wildman was granted professor emeritus status in 2017.
“Why did we nominate Dr. Wildman for the Faculty Hall of Fame,” said colleague Aaron Wisman in a video for the Hall of Fame ceremony. “I think in terms of (public) K-12 educational leadership, and education more broadly in Kern County, this guy’s a legend. Before the pandemic, when I could get out in the community and talk with educational leaders, when I would mention my affiliation with CSUB, almost always, folks would ask about Dr. Wildman.”
Retired professor Dr. Gus Garcia echoed Wisman:
“Half the principals in this town took courses from him or got their master’s through him.”
After teaching at Cal State Bakersfield early in the school’s history, Garcia returned to CSUB in 1987, the same year Wildman arrived. He recalled his colleague’s work from him in starting a doctorate program in Education Leadership in partnership with the University of the Pacific, a precursor to CSUB’s current, independent Ed.D program.
“He was in Advanced Educational Studies, and I was in Teacher Education. What inspired me was we had a professor who was trying to get us a doctorate program for 10 years. He was trying to get us a joint program with UC Santa Barbara. Their faculty said no, we don’t want to be associated with that dinky little program in Bakersfield. So Louis took over, and within a year we had a joint doctoral program with UOP. A lot of people in this town have an Ed.D. because of our joint program.”
Originally from Portland, Ore., Wildman was a superintendent at a school district in his home state before coming to Bakersfield, said Garcia, who noted that unlike most disciplines, CSUB requires that professors in the Education Department have experience in the field before joining the faculty.
“Dr. Wildman used to have these brown bag lunches,” recalled Suleiman, who joined CSUB in 1999. “He would invite superintendents and colleagues from the school of education and people from the community. We always had fun.”
Wildman’s hero was Horace Mann, a 19th century reformer widely regarded as the father of public education in the United States.
“He was a public schools advocate,” Garcia said. “Very strong, everywhere he went.”
In accepting his induction into the Faculty Hall of Fame, Wildman said, “Public schools are the foundation of our democracy, and democracy requires an educated citizenry.”
When his long career in education came to an end, he devoted his teaching talent to another passion: music. I have taught classes at CSUB and Bakersfield College for several years. His friends say he had mastered several instruments, but his favorite was the marimba, which he played during parties at his home.
He was exceptionally close to his mother, Garcia said, and built a house within a house at his Rosedale home when he moved her from Portland to Bakersfield.
“He was very devoted to his church and was a big exerciser, playing basketball,” Suleiman said. “He loved what he did, and he worked well with everybody.”
Garcia put it simply: “I owe him an awful lot.”
During his induction ceremony, Wildman quoted philosopher Immanuel Kant:
“Education partly teaches man something and partly develops something within him.”
Wildman is survived by his wife, Olga. Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.
Jennifer Self is a public information officer for Cal State Bakersfield.