California State University, Fullerton

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Alumnus Endows Scholarships to Honor Debate Coach

Fund Named in Honor of Lee Granell, Former Director of Forensics

Nov. 9, 2012

husband and wife in studio photo

Jim and Mary Peterson

How much is experience on a debate team worth to you? For alumnus Jim Peterson, it's worth at least $100,000. That's how much Peterson recently donated to establish the Lee Granell Debate Program Endowment in honor of his former coach. The announcement of the gift was made at a recent 50th anniversary celebration of the Cal State Fullerton Debate Team.

"The year was 1962, and I needed a speech class. I signed up for 'Argumentation & Debate,' taught by Lee Granell," Peterson recalled. "During the first class, Dr. Granell described the course and mentioned the forensics program. I'd never joined any after-school clubs, but forensics offered one credit! I thought it would be an easy credit. Little did I know..."

Peterson had dropped out of high school, joined the Air Force — serving four years — spent three semesters at Riverside City College then transferred to CSUF. In his first year in forensics, Peterson recalls losing every debate. Every single one. But the second year was different.

"My partner, Tom Carey, and I started winning," he recalled. "Another of our friends, John Flowers, had access to a big computer at work so he helped with research. We won or placed well in most tournaments and were undefeated in several. That led to Tom and I running for, and winning, spots in student government. I was president and Tom was vice president."

There is no doubt in Peterson's mind that his years in debate and student government led to his first job and, eventually, to establishing his own business, Peterson Properties, as a successful real estate developer. Peterson also credits debate with helping him develop friendships. "I met three other guys that I will forever remember," he said. "My debate partner, Tom, – a dear friend who later become warden of several California prisons. And then Bob Woolery and John Flowers — two absolutely legitimate true geniuses; you know it when you meet one.

"In looking back on my life, I've had time to reflect on those who have influenced me over the years," he said. "There are friends, family members, business associates — even lenders. But when I think of the most influential people, my thoughts often go to that guy who taught a class I took in 1962. His name was Lee Granell."

Granell joined the faculty in 1960 and during his 24 years on campus, he served on the then-Faculty Council (now Academic Senate), the University Curriculum Committee and as department chair, in addition to director of forensics for nine years. He died of a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 50.

The money from the endowment will be designated for student scholarships for debate team members, with preference given to those who have a financial need or are military veterans. Recipients of the scholarship will be chosen through the Human Communication Studies scholarship selection process.

By: Valerie Orleans, 657-278-4540

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