A country boy from Tennessee named C. Ernest Davis chose an “old field school” nestled among Southern California orange groves when he set out to go to college in 1910.
Davis likely did not imagine that Lordsburg Academy — renamed La Verne College in 1917 and the University of La Verne in 1977 — would one day boast a roster of 65 of his family members including alumni and staff that have carried the Davis lineage through three generations.
University record keepers say it is one of the largest numbers of La Verne Leopards in one family tree.
Davis married Grace Heisel, who also attended Lordsburg, in 1915. He earned two degrees before ultimately becoming president of La Verne College in 1938.
The Davises produced five University of La Verne graduates: Philip ’39, Barbara ’42, Chuck ’48, Rodney ’48, and Virginia ’51, whose allegiances did not end with their diplomas.
Barbara Davis (Enberg) went on to teach English at the college and ultimately served on the Board of Trustees. Rodney taught psychology and started an accelerated degree program for working adults.
And, of course, each of the Davis children married and produced new La Verne Leos.
“There is a very strong sense of family, both literally and figuratively, and a sense of belonging to the community and the university,” said Melvin Stark ’88, Virginia’s youngest son.
Stark is one of 17 Davis grandchildren who grew up in the university’s neighborhood and is a proud University of La Verne name dropper.
“As a kid growing up, my best friend was Don Hanawalt, and his dad Dwight would bring us down to the college to hang out with the football team,” he said. “We got to watch players like Roger Hanawalt and Curtis Frick and we hung out in the student center with Len Harper. So, it was just sort of assumed we’d go to La Verne.”
He and his family share a sense of pride about the foundation established by his grandfather as well as the evolution of the school to a successful modern university.
Along the way, marriages have extended the many branches of the family tree to include not only the last names of Davis, Heisel, Stark, and Enberg, but Dickinson, Robinson, Johnsen, Wickert, Woody, and Ott, among others.
C. Ernest’s daughter-in-law, Mildred Streit Davis ’46, was director of alumni relations. Grandson Craig Enberg ’70 was the university’s librarian; granddaughter Cynthia Ewert ’75 worked in the school of education, and grandniece Gail Heisel ’82 worked in the American Armenian International College.
There are two Alumni of the Year among Davis’ proud lineage: half-sister Alice Davis Ott ’21 in 1956 and Mildred Davis in 1984.
The expansive Davis clan has included editors of the yearbook, writers for the Campus Times, debaters, and theater students both in front of and behind the curtains. But not many athletic superstars.
“We weren’t that encouraged in the sports areas,” said 87-year-old Virginia, although she did run the scoreboard during campus basketball games.
That could all change with the enrollment of Stark’s daughter, Madison, a nationally-ranked soccer star who is applying to University of La Verne’s law school for fall 2018.
That would make her the fourth generation of C. Ernest Davis’ legacy at the University of La Verne. And probably not the last.