header image

[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail


Today in
S.C.V. History
June 23
1946, 11:20pm: William S. Hart, 81, dies at L.A.'s California Lutheran Hospital, leaving his Newhall estate and his (now West) Hollywood home to the public [story]
Hart dies

James Sefton teaches American military and naval history, World War II, constitutional history, and his specialty, Civil War and Reconstruction. But Sefton himself is the true historic institution, marking 50 years of teaching at California State University, Northridge this year.

Sefton, known as “Doc” by the hundreds of scholars he has mentored, estimated that he has taught 11,000 students over five decades at CSUN.

“When I got to be about 60, people asked me when I was going to retire,” said Sefton, 75. “I said, ‘I’m not going to retire until all the people who want me to retire already have.’ I’ve pretty much cleared out the original roster.”

Known for his straight-shooting candor, humor and unceasing demand for excellence, Sefton has served as a mentor and counselor to students since he set foot on the campus of then-San Fernando Valley State College in 1965.

Professor James Sefton listens to a former student pay tribute to him at a Feb. 12 celebration honoring Sefton for 50 years teaching history at CSUN. Photo: Lee Choo.

Professor James Sefton listens to a former student pay tribute to him at a Feb. 12 celebration honoring Sefton for 50 years teaching history at CSUN. Photo: Lee Choo.

“He taught me the true meaning of intellectual curiosity,” said retired Navy Capt. Dallas Bethea, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Valley State College in 1969. “And that when you make a statement of fact, make sure it is absolutely correct — it served me well during my years in the Navy and the Pentagon.”

Bethea met Sefton in 1966 when he talked his way into the young professor’s full class on Civil War history.

“My ancestors fought for the Confederacy, so I did add some diversity [to the class]!” said Bethea, who lives in Virginia. “I’m proud to say I earned an A.”

The former student and longtime friend said he plans to establish a $25,000 scholarship fund in Sefton’s name at CSUN.

“How do you make 50 years? Well, you have to start early,” Sefton said. “Being a young Ph.D. helps — I was 25. You have to insulate yourself against departmental and university politics. Create a personnel file so strong that if your friends are on the committee, they won’t be embarrassed to vote for you, and if your enemies are on it, they’ll look foolish if they vote against you.

“And go out and buy yourself a book of John Wooden’s sayings,” he said of the late, legendary UCLA basketball coach’s writings. “There are a lot of sayings in there that you can use in dealing with students. One of my favorites is, ‘Any man can make a mistake, but he doesn’t become a failure until he starts blaming his mistakes on someone else.’”

CSUN Provost Harry Hellenbrand hailed Sefton and the contributions he has made to the university.

“Friend, guide and teacher are the words used a lot to describe Jim Sefton,” Hellenbrand said. “It’s very rare that you come across a professor who can fill those roles. He’s played an incredibly important role for me as provost, as one of the three or four people at the institution whom I can trust to say what they think — and not mince words. He is one of the North Stars of this campus.”

Sefton was born in San Francisco and grew up in Marin County before moving to the Los Angeles area. He graduated from Hollywood High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree (1961) and Ph.D. (1965) in history at UCLA. He wrote his dissertation on the role of the U.S. Army as an occupying force in the South during Reconstruction, later published as a book in 1967.

Sefton has seen the size of the Department of History’s faculty expand dramatically and then contract over his five decades at CSUN. He attributed the decrease to the creation of the liberal studies major, which attracted many young scholars studying to be elementary school teachers who were once drawn to the history major.

A visitor to his office once called “Doc” a “‘strange hybrid — part of you is Mr. Chips and part a Marine drill instructor,’” Sefton recalled, referencing the famous literary character and schoolteacher Mr. Chipping in James Hilton’s novella “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” — later adapted for film and TV.

Sefton likes this description, but colleges now lean toward Mr. Chips, he said. In fact, most students need the drill instructor to teach responsibility and consequences, as they did 40 years ago. But he added, “The kids who are good today would have been good 40 years ago.”

Sefton has no children of his own, but hundreds of former students consider him a father figure, a mentor, a rock.

“He’s an amazing teacher and everything, but I’m a stutterer — and he was also a counselor for me,” said Brian Bold, who earned his bachelor’s degree in history from CSUN in 2009. “He has such a warmth with students.

“When I was in college, my stutter was worse. I wasn’t sure of myself, and he helped me through it,” said Bold, who is studying to become an occupational therapist. “Before and after class, we’d have quick chats, and we’d have more in-depth talks in his office. The fact that it’s six years later and we still keep in touch, and he still mentors me, is amazing.”

Beyond the history department, Sefton also has devoted himself to decades of Matador student-athletes. He served as faculty representative to the National Collegiate Athletic Association from 1981-90. An ardent supporter of college sports, Sefton has channeled his lifelong passion and talent for photography into capturing some 600 CSUN games and athletic events.

Had he pursued sports photography instead of teaching, Sefton quipped, he “could have shot covers for Sports Illustrated — at a lot more money.” His study of Midwestern landscapes,“Remote Roads: Photographs Along the Way,” also has been exhibited in various California venues.

Sefton photographed football games and created slideshows for annual team banquets, even traveling with the team for many years. After CSUN dropped its football program, he focused his lens on the men’s volleyball program.

“The ‘mystic chords of memory’ — that was [Abraham] Lincoln’s way of saying that, because the North and South had so much shared history, the Union would survive. I think that fits college life,” Sefton said. “So much that we do in college centers around memory and its preservation,” he added. “So, the ‘mystic chords of memory’ bind me to the 11,000 students I have taught.”


Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.


You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment

Thursday, Jun 20, 2024
Wednesday, Jun 19, 2024
See how the Advanced Technology Center is helping train the next class of skilled technicians with a tour of the facility. 
Monday, Jun 17, 2024
College of the Canyons will launch its first bachelor’s degree program in January 2025.
Thursday, Jun 13, 2024
Longtime California State University, Northridge lecturer and pioneering civil rights activist, the Rev. James M. Lawson Jr., has died, at the age of 95.
Wednesday, Jun 12, 2024
With the stigma around mental health shifting, conversations about therapy are becoming increasingly popular. However, those who seek mental health counseling know finding a therapist or an ideal therapy approach isn’t always easy. 
Keep Up With Our Facebook

Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1946, 11:20pm: William S. Hart, 81, dies at L.A.'s California Lutheran Hospital, leaving his Newhall estate and his (now West) Hollywood home to the public [story]
Hart dies
1972 - Vasquez Rocks added to National Register of Historic Places [list]
Vasquez Rocks
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and Board of Supervisors Chair Lindsey Horvath have sent an open letter to Governor Gavin Newsom urging him to continue funding the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations hand crews who currently help the Los Angeles County Fire Department tackle wildland fires.
Supes Urge Newsom Not to Cut L.A. County Inmate Firefighting Crews
Give the gift of life, an upcoming blood drive is scheduled for Friday, June 28, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., at The Centre, 20880 Centre Pointe Parkway, Santa Clarita, CA 91350. The blood drive will be held in Cedar Hall.
June 28: City Hosts Blood Drive at The Centre
The city of Santa Clarita invites local schools and nonprofits to submit a proposal outlining a project that can benefit from volunteer support as part of Make A Difference Day on Saturday, Oct. 26.
Santa Clarita Now Accepting Project Proposals for Make A Difference Day
The Santa Clarita City Council will hold a regular meeting on Tuesday, June 25 at 6 p.m. that includes a host of issues including assessments, taxes, fees and budgets in addition to continued hearings on the Town Center Specific Plan.
June 25: City Council Meets on Open Space, Budget, Town Center Specific Plan
Part of the Summer Theatre Festival by Santa Clarita Shakespeare, "An Evening of Absurdity" will run July 12-21 at the MAIN, 24266 Main Street., Newhall, CA 91321.
The MAIN Presents ‘An Evening of Absurdity’
The city of Santa Clarita has issued a traffic advisory for daytime lane closures at Copper Hill and Rio Norte Drive beginning Monday, June 24.
June 24: Traffic Advisory Lane Closures Copper Hill/Rio Norte Drive
Santa Clarita will celebrate this year's Fourth of July with the Santa Clarita Valley Rotary Club's pancake breakfast, Santa Clarita Valley Parade Committee's Fourth of July Parade and city of Santa Clarita fireworks show.
Fourth of July Events in Santa Clarita
The California Department of Public Health is warning consumers not to eat, sell or serve any flavor of Diamond Shruumz brand chocolate bars, cones and gummies, which contain a proprietary mushroom blend. These products, known as microdose products, have led to multiple illnesses and hospitalizations in 16 states, including at least one poisoning in California.
California Public Health Warns Consumers About Diamond Shruumz Products
The Cube – Ice and Entertainment Center, Powered by FivePoint Valencia, will hold the inaugural Girls and Women’s Three-on-Three Hockey Tournament on Saturday, June 22.
June 22: The Cube Hosts Inaugural Girls, Women’s Hockey Tourney
Join Santa Clarita's oldest and largest running event, the 40th annual Independence Day Classic, Thursday July 4, from 7 a.m.- 10 a.m. at Newhall Memorial Park, 24933 Newhall Ave., Newhall, CA 91321.
July 4: Independence Day Classic
A special meeting of the William S. Hart Union High School District’s Governing Board will be held Wednesday, June 26, beginning at 8 a.m.
June 26: Hart District Governing Board Special Meeting
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) reports that the fast moving Post Fire that broke out in Gorman on Saturday, June 15 around 1:47 p.m. has reached 15,690 acres and is now 61% contained. This latest CAL FIRE update was issued at 7:44 a.m. on Friday, June 21.
Post Fire 61 Percent Contained, Pyramid Lake Remains Closed
For die-hard "The Love Boat" fans, the ultimate cruise experience just dropped anchor. Princess Cruises, which is headquartered in Santa Clarita, has announced an exclusive VIP package for its Love Boat themed cruise Aug. 32-Sept. 7 that promises intimate, up-close interactions with the show's beloved characters: Doc, Gopher, Isaac and Vicki Stubing.
Princess Cruises Offers ‘The Love Boat’ Celebration Cruise
The Valley Industry Association will host VIA Cocktails & Conversation: An Evening with CA State Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo on Wednesday, July 10.
July 10: Cocktails & Conversation with Assemblywoman Pilar Schiavo
1941 - Ernie Hickson buys out Trem Carr's interest in their Monogram movie ranch, renames it "Placeritos" (later called Melody) [story]
Ernie Hickson
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) reports that the fast moving Post Fire that broke out in Gorman on Saturday, June 15 around 1:47 p.m. has reached 15,690 acres and is now 24% contained. This latest CAL FIRE update was issued at 7 a.m. on Thursday.
Post Fire 47 Percent Contained, Reported 15,690 Acres
The Santa Clarita Arts Commission will hold a study session Thursday, June 27, at 6 p.m., in the Carl Boyer Room at City Hall.
June 27: Arts Commission Study Session
Katherine Dyer has signed her national letter of intent to continue her swimming career at The Master's University.
Katherine Dyer Commits to TMU Swim Program
Every summer, Santa Clarita’s very own Central Park, located at 27150 Bouquet Canyon Road, transforms into a premiere venue for live musical performances where friends, families and neighbors come together to sing and dance the night away.
Jason Gibbs | Get Ready for Concerts in the Park Summer Soundtrack
California State University, Northridge's Trey Knight, Chase Mars and David Phillips, Jr. will compete at the 2024 United States Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. beginning June 27.
Several Matadors Qualify for 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials