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In Memoriam: Gordon M. Bakken

Dec. 10, 2014 | Updated Dec. 16, 2014

Man in cowboy hat

Gordon M. Bakken

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Update: A celebration of life memorial service will be held from 1-4 p.m.Saturday, Jan. 24, in the Mackey Auditorium of the Ruby Gerontology Center. A map of the campus and directions are available online .

Noted historian Gordon M. Bakken, who could always be seen with an easy smile and wearing a distinctive cowboy hat while striding across campus, died Friday, Dec. 5, of cancer. He was 71 years old.

The cowboy hat was only one of several that the professor emeritus of history wore during more than 40 years on campus. A prolific author, researcher and commentator on constitutional law and western history, Bakken joined the campus in 1969 and never stopped teaching, advising or mentoring.

In the 1970s, he served not only as director of faculty affairs and records, but also as a member of the then-University Planning and Administrative councils, as well as liaison with the Office of General Counsel, and Office of Faculty and Staff Affairs at the CSU.

Off campus, he was an inaugural advisory board member on the Committee on History of Law in California, a standing committee of the State Bar of California; elected vice president of the California Supreme Court Historical Society and president of Phi Alpha Theta, the International History Honorary Society; appointed member of the Judicial Council Advisory Committee on Court Records; and served on the editorial advisory board of the California Historical Society — just to name a few.

During his career, he authored or edited 24 books, including "The Development of Law in Frontier California: Civil Law and Society, 1850-1890," "Women Who Kill Men: California Courts, Gender and the Press" and "Invitation to an Execution," as well as hundreds of articles in such publications as the American Journal of Legal History, Southern California Historical Quarterly, Rocky Mountain Social Science Journal and the Nevada Historical Society Quarterly.

For his contributions to history over the decades, Bakken was awarded the Western History Association's 2009 Award of Merit and honorary life membership. The University honored him by conferring emeritus status in recognition of his 43 years of service in 2013. In November, the Coalition for Western Women's History bestowed its Lifetime Achievement Award to Bakken in honor of his support of the field of Western women's history.

Besides his other hats, Bakken added that of donor, supporting a wide range of university scholarships and programs, ranging from the Center for Oral and Public History and the History Alumni Association to Titan Athletics.

Bakken earned his bachelor's degree in English, master's and doctorates in history and law at the University of Wisconsin. He is survived by his wife, Brenda Gail Farrington; his daughter, Angela Bakken Henderson; son, Jeffrey Elwood and his wife, Karma Kiang; and three grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to:

  • Gordon Bakken Book Fund benefiting student scholarship, attention: Alina Mircea-Trotz, director of development, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Room H-211 (checks made payable to CSFPF) or
  • Phi Alpha Theta Gordon Morris Bakken Memorial Scholarship benefiting for student research, attention: Jochen Burgtorf, Cal State Fullerton's History Department (checks payable to Phi Alpha Theta and indicate Bakken scholarship).

Both can be mailed to Cal State Fullerton, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton 92834


Tags:  In Memoriam