AN "AMAZING" AFTERNOON: Huell Howser day in Aggie land draws crowd, support
May 23, 2011
By Pat Bailey
It was all Huell Howser — and UC Davis — as more than 400 Californians gathered last Saturday (May 21) to reprise the broadcaster’s popular 2007 Road Trip with Huell Howser episode that featured the university.
The event was hatched by Howser as a fundraiser for KVIE-Ch. 6, which regularly airs Howser’s Road Trip show as well as his long-running travel show, California’s Gold.
As incentive, viewers who donated $150 per couple during the public broadcasting station’s spring pledge received tickets to have lunch with Huell at UC Davis’ Segundo Dining Commons, as well as a T-shirt, emblazoned with Huell’s iconic saying, “That’s amazing!” Plus, they would also get an opportunity to tour the same UC Davis points of interest that so impressed Howser in 2007.
The idea worked, and more than 500 viewers were quick to respond, providing $35,000 in support for public broadcasting. On campus, many units offered to open their doors for the big day, and the event soon grew to include 20 venues.
“I came for a T-shirt and a picture with Huell,” quipped John McCuen — only half joking — as he and his wife, Sharon Rucker McCuen, waited at the south entry parking structure for the double-decker bus that would ferry them around campus.
In fact, the Howser-at-UC Davis tickets were a 25th wedding anniversary gift from the Auburn couples’ children. The gift provided a sentimental journey for Sharon, who lived in Davis for 20 years, teaching journalism at UC Davis and working as an editor for the Davis Enterprise during the 1970s.
For a Saturday, the campus was unusually alive with activity. Visitors registered at the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, where they toured the Good Life Gardens, sampled olive oils and viewed the Good Life Collection of campus products — olive oil and bath products, books, designer scarves, and wood bowls and vases, all available at the UC Davis Bookstore
Across the arboretum at the Cole Facility, people spent time with the horses and toured the meat laboratory. Children, including Kaitlin Wylie of Davis and her cousin Kyle Martin of Paradise, enjoyed feeding hay to the mares and petting the young foals.
“What makes a mule a mule?” was a frequent question for student Lisa Burley, the Horse Barn’s stallion manager. Along with barn manager Joel Viloria, the Department of Animal Science’s student production team members showed off their horses and provided a horse-breeding demonstration.
At the Bohart Museum of Entomology, Professor Lynn Kimsey found that Howser was not the only celebrity on campus that day. One visitor told Kimsey that she had seen Lynn on television and just had to come meet her.
Kimsey and museum scientists Steve Heydon and Andrew Richards were busy answering questions about the hundreds of specimens in the museum and guiding visitors through the “petting zoo” of walking sticks and giant hissing cockroaches.
“If I pick it up, I’ll scream,” said Nicole Fossun of Sacramento as she watched Richards lift a walking stick. “All these bugs — it reminds me of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” said Fossun, visiting from Sacramento with her husband Matt, a former UC Davis student.
Showcased programmatic breadth
Other visitors to the Bohart Museum brought their own critters for identification, including a jelly jar of tiny snails, which Etta Thomas of Elk Grove had found swarming her garage door, and a spider that another visitor thought might be the invasive “brown widow” spider. Kimsey promised to share the specimens with colleagues for identification.
Heydon, the museum’s senior museum scientist noted: “There are people here who made a special effort just to see the museum,” he said.
At the campus’s California Raptor Center on Old Davis Road, horse lovers Terry and Bill Rosier road in from Elk Grove on their motorcycle to view the birds before heading over to the horse barn.
“We had no idea of the scope of what goes on at the campus,” said Terry Rosier.
“It’s a beautiful, well groomed campus,” added Bill Rosier.
‘He is so much fun’
Throughout the day, Howser was going non-stop at the Segundo Dining Commons, greeting guests and reminiscing over past episodes of California’s Gold.
“How’re y’all doing? Where are you all from? Let’s get a picture,” said Howser enthusiastically, as if each guest were the first he had met that day.
“He is so much fun — just the same off camera as he is on,” said Israel Macias, as he and his wife Madeline enjoyed lunch at a nearby table and watched Howser’s reception line. Longtime fans, the couple had driven nearly 200 miles from the town of Chilcoot in Plumas County for the day.
“Tell him we love him,” said Israel.
“Huell’s been going like this all morning,” said UC Davis executive Chef Andy Burtis, after slipping yet another soda onto a table within Howser’s reach.
Burtis and Brennan Connolly, general manager of resident dining said they had added fish tacos — a favorite of Howser’s on his first campus visit—to the Saturday menu. They had also called in all of the Segundo chefs and extra staff for the day. Following lunch and a visit with Howser, the visitors — many of whom found the UC Davis campus to be far bigger than expected — slowed down just a bit.
'Fuel for Huell'
Some people found their way over to the Mondavi Institute’s sensory theatre for beer and wine presentations and tastings, offered by professors Charlie Bamforth and Andy Waterhouse.
Bamforth’s energetic talk on beer was titled “Fuel for Huell.”
Attending the presentations were alumni Jay and Deb Greenwood, who had found students to be remarkably friendly and helpful as they maneuvered their way around campus. The couple, who met in Voorhies Hall as students here, were intrigued by a presentation about native Hawaiian duck preservation at the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology.
Just before the wine presentation, Howser stepped into the sensory theatre to greet the visitors one last time and thank them for their participation. He noted that people frequently ask him if he’s running out of places to go and people to see. Quite the contrary, he assured everyone.
“As we all know, we’re never going to run out … of California’s Gold,” said Howser as the exhausted but happy crowd joined in the chorus.
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