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A ‘Viking’ legacy of discipline and kindness

In a career filled with journalism and teaching, Long Beach City College advisor retires this week after 30 years of guiding students

Video by: Denny Cristales

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Patrick McKean woke up last Monday morning, perhaps at around 6:30am, as he usually would in preparation for the school day ahead of him. The journalism advisor and full-time instructor would normally linger in his bed a little bit longer, enjoying every inch of mattress cushion, but this time was different.

In his 30 years instructing the students of Long Beach City College (LBCC), this would be his final time, and he found an extra pep in his step that morning to drive to campus, get to his classroom and make sure all the boards and papers were set, all while prepping his lasting thoughts for his students.

“I wrote ‘freedom’ on Friday’s calendar,” McKean told the Signal Tribune this week, as he anticipated his first day of retirement life– June 8. McKean, who began working at LBCC in 1988, has been the honoree of multiple retirement parties and well wishes at the end of this semester as he approached his final academic week.

In spite of his declaration of “freedom” on his calendar, McKean said his job has been anything but restrictive. Being a teacher has been rewarding in unimaginable ways, he said.

“I didn’t get rich teaching, but rich in other ways of recognition in awards and the students,” he said. “Melding lives. The comments I’ve read on Facebook and heard in person the last couple of weeks has been overwhelming. The beautiful comments of the leaders of the college and community and institutions and ‘legend’ and ‘irreplaceable.’ I don’t know who they’re talking about– I looked around and thought, ‘I think it’s me.’”

As advisor for the Long Beach City College Viking News student publication, McKean has overseen 526 issues of the newspaper. In addition to his 30 academic years teaching at LBCC, McKean has also taught part-time at Moorpark College, Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State University, tallying up his academic-year total to 31.

On Monday, June 4, the Signal Tribune was present during McKean’s final class session of the semester. Students shuffled in– of course, some late– and exchanged their pleasantries with their professor sitting near his podium as class began. That day, the class would be dedicated to critiquing the final issue of the Viking News print edition and handing back a résumé assignment.

True to his students’ words, McKean displayed a mixture of poise, discipline and kindness as he pointed out both flaws and successes of the most recent issue, not lacking the instruction to ensure his students don’t repeat the same mistakes again.

“I definitely do feel honored being one of the people to carry on any life lessons that he had given us,” said Maila Bringas, student and editor-in-chief of the LBCC Viking News, “not only as a teacher, but as a person in general and in the journalism world.”

McKean made it a point Monday morning to ask every student in the room what they learned in his class that semester.

In an interview, McKean said his goal in teaching is to propel students to the next level. On the surface level, that would obviously mean getting them to bump up their credit to the next letter grade, but the most tangible quality is simply getting them to show up and turning in some type of work. Some of the more rewarding parts of the job are getting a “D,” “F” or “W” withdrawal student to come to class and put in the effort.

One semester, a freshman student apologized to McKean for her reckless behavior during and outside of class. She initially dropped his course, but she returned the next semester strong, he said. A year later, she became editor-in-chief of the student newspaper and is now currently working as an educator in journalism and computers.

“To see that progress from those that are at the very challenging part of that grade scale,” McKean said, “[…] I love that interaction with students.”

And it certainly doesn’t go unnoticed.

“Well, it’s been amazing having Pat as an instructor,” said Steven Matthews, student and staff writer with the LBCC Viking News. “I think the most important thing about Pat is his attention to detail. He manages to catch every single detail, mistake or anything we make in any of our work, and he helps us correct it. His criticism is very constructive, so it’s very necessary, and it’s also good for a student to hear. It doesn’t ruffle the feathers or anything.”

In perhaps what was a physical manifestation of McKean’s efforts over the years, the LBCC Viking News publication at last earned its first-ever Pacesetter Award, the top honor earned by student newspapers at the annual Journalism Association of Community Colleges for general excellence, last March in Burbank. McKean had always hoped, especially in the last five years, his students would one day achieve that recognition.

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Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
Patrick McKean, longtime journalism advisor and full-time instructor at Long Beach City College (LBCC), is pictured here during his final class session Monday, June 4 at the campus. As of Friday, McKean has retired from his work as advisor and teacher after 30 academic years at LBCC.

In answering questions from those in the community as he concludes his teaching, McKean said his student interaction and inspiring them have resulted from the values his parents have instilled in him. While most would begin working at around age 16, McKean earned his living in half the time– at age 8, when his dad, Norven Bosworth McKean, opened a restaurant in Ventura named Chicken Delight in the mid ‘60s.

“I loved it,” he said. “Some of my other brothers and sisters went with my mom to see Mary Poppins, the original version, and I said, ‘No. I want to go work in dad’s store.’ […] In the late ‘60s, minimum wage was a $1 an hour, and he doubled my salary from 50 cents to a $1 an hour. And I said, ‘Dad, you’re now paying me as much as the adults who are working there.’ And he said some words that I’ve never forgotten, and I get choked up a little bit each time I tell that story. He said, ‘You’re worth just as much.’ That was valuable.”

McKean earned his next job as a paperboy thanks to his mother, Margaret Kraker McKean, nicknamed “Maggie,” who wrote news and features for the Ventura County Star-Free Press. McKean would deliver the news with his fraternal twin brother Paul in the afternoons.

Throughout the years– working jobs in gardening, paint and hardware, McDonald’s and food stocking, among others– he finally made his way into journalism, not as a paperboy, but as a writer. In his youth, McKean worked at various publications, such as the Thousand Oaks News Chronicle, Santa Maria Times, Lompoc Record, Camarillo Daily News and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.

At the Ventura County Star-Free Press as a sports intern, every Friday night McKean would need to gather every local school’s sports scores and analysis to include in the newspaper. In total, there were 24 high schools, two community colleges at the time and a private university.

“We’d be back in there Saturday morning, so sometimes I’d finish at two in the morning and come back at 7am on Saturday morning,” he said. “I learned a lot. I remember some tired, tired mornings driving in. […] But, a great experience at the Ventura County Star internship that lasted two years. I worked every Friday and Saturday night for two years. Again, I’m an 18-, 19-year-old college student. I think I had two weekends off in two years. I learned the dedication of hard work at the Ventura County Star.”

At the Thousand Oaks News Chronicle, McKean covered Los Angeles Governor Jerry Brown’s Ventura County press tour. On a weekday at noon, McKean interviewed the governor and his press staff for a story, and that was when the press officer told McKean that Brown’s team was on its way to the Ventura County Star for a meeting with editors, which happened to include McKean’s famed journalism mom “Maggie.”

“I said, ‘Oh, be sure to tell my mother hi.’ She worked there at the feature section at that time,” he said. “So, all these years I’ve been Maggie McKean’s son and proud of it. She was a famous journalist in Ventura County, wrote print and, later on, in radio. So, ‘Maggie McKean’s son, Maggie McKean’s son.’ I loved it. [She was] a great journalist. Miss my mom dearly. But that day, the press officer for the governor came into the Ventura County Star-Free Press, asked to chat with Maggie McKean, and he says, ‘I’m here to chat with Pat McKean’s mom.’ That was neat.”

Courtesy Patrick McKean
Patrick McKean is pictured in his purple shirt (center back) with his Los Angeles Herald Examiner news and copy desk co-workers in 1989

In 1988, after working with the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, McKean moved to the Orange County Register, his dream job. For eight years– nearly the entirety of the 1980s and, as McKean himself pointed out, virtually all of President Ronald Reagan’s two terms in office– he applied to the Register and was turned down. He applied again, and he was turned down. Applied. Turned down. Applied. Turned down.

As he finally updated his résumé, got new jobs and earned more prestigious positions, he finally got his job at the Orange County Register.

“‘This is it. I don’t need the LA Times. I’m in Orange County. Wonderful place, brand-new building,’” McKean recalls telling himself.

He would only work there for eight months.

What drove him away from his supposed dream job was the institution he would call home for the next 30 years– Long Beach City College.

In the newsroom of the Orange County Register, McKean read a flyer about an opening for a full-time teaching position at the school. The prerequisite for the position was a master’s degree, with a preferred applicant also having a doctorate’s degree. McKean had neither, and he also happened to have zero experience teaching full-time, despite his part-time endeavors instructing at Moorpark College and Cal State Northridge.

However, he felt compelled to apply for the position, perhaps out of pure irrational confidence or impulse, but more than likely his decision stemmed again from the values his parents taught him. In addition to those principles, McKean always seemed to have an affinity for public speaking and guiding youth.

“Certainly my mom and dad deserve credit for the hard work and teaching me how to spell,” he said. “My mom always said, ‘Ask intelligent questions.’ This was not necessarily as a journalist, but this was when we were going to 2nd grade or 8th grade, and I had six siblings, including two sets of twins. […] She would say every day to all of us as we all went to school– again, this was seven kids– […] ‘ask intelligent questions.’”

Despite being unqualified, McKean wowed the panel of interviewers for the position. Nancy Redmond, a former LBCC journalism advisor who was one of the panelists during the interview, recently said during one of McKean’s farewell parties that he walked into the room with a certain energy that day and expressed an impressive enthusiasm about journalism and teaching.

“It was just one of those powerful interviews that went really well,” McKean said. “I said I had taught part-time, done news writing, sports writing, layout, photos, features, obituaries, food pages, covered the birth of donkeys, covered President Reagan in office, interviewed Jerry Brown as a governor. Everything went well, and I got the job.”

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Denny Cristales | Signal Trribune
Patrick McKean, pictured here on June 4 returning a résumé assignment to his students during his last full-time class session at Long Beach City College

Before he knew it, 30 years came and went. In three decades, McKean had built a family. In recognition of his legacy, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia’s chief of staff, Mark Taylor, recently presented McKean with a lifetime achievement award for his service in the community. He has also been recognized by the college’s board of trustees and Superintendent-President Reagan Romali.

McKean’s retirement won’t be without its fair share of projects and hobbies to keep him busy. Although he’s fresh off his final class as a full-time instructor Monday, he will continue his work part-time next academic year– a testament, he said, to the passion he holds dearly for teaching. His replacement, Walter Hammerwold– a current LBCC journalism teacher with experience advising a student publication up north at American River College and teaching at Cerritos College in Norwalk– requested that McKean returned to the campus.

McKean said he will continue his advocacy work at community colleges to incorporate journalism programs at institutions that lack a student newspaper or journalism curriculum.

And aside from journalism, McKean intends to visit all 50 states– 13 more to go– and, as a baseball fan, plans to visit more major-league parks, including Fenway Park in Boston and Wrigley Park in Chicago.

For future students or people in the work force, he encouraged them to do what is typically said to constitute 80 percent of what life is all about– showing up. He emphasized being present, asking intelligent questions, turning in any kind of work– good or bad– and giving maximum effort.

“There’s a lot of average days and boring and routine,” McKean said. “There’s a lot of real horrible days where we deal with tragedies or illnesses, severe, death, firings […] so enjoy all the good days. Relax when time is done. Earn your days off. I got three sabbaticals– I was able to obtain those at the college. It was a godsend and a great gift from our college and our taxpayers. Enjoy the breaks, however long they are. Maybe it’s only an hour, but enjoy it. Relax, laugh, don’t sweat the small stuff. A flat tire is not a big thing. My niece dying of breast cancer at age 40 is a big thing. You’ve got a sniffle and a cold, get some medicine and don’t sneeze on people, come to class. You can probably gut it out. […] Broaden your horizons. Take on new challenges. If somebody asks if you can cover that story, say, ‘Yes.’ Can you do this job? ‘Yes. I’ll give it a try.’”

Podcast edited and produced by: Denny Cristales

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A ‘Viking’ legacy of discipline and kindness