From underground in the gold mines to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, Huell Howser showed every nook and cranny of this state in his numerous television series, most notably California’s Gold. One place that caught his eye in particular was Chapman University (CU) in Orange.
CU hosted Huell Howser Day on Feb. 8 to remember the broadcaster and display his contributions and collections.
In one of Howser’s last speeches, on Oct. 18, 2012, he discussed his fascination with the CU campus. “When I first walked on the campus at Chapman, it was a transformational experience for me, literally,” he said. “This is where I want to spend some time. This is where I want to donate shows. This is where I want to start a scholarship fund. This is where I want to donate to California. This is what I want to do. This will be my legacy– Chapman.”
Howser passed away on Jan. 7 at the age of 67 due to prostate cancer. In his will, he donated money, a house, personal belongings and his art and artifact collection to Chapman University.
The house, located in the Mojave Desert, is known as “The Volcano House.” It has become a unique center for CU students and faculty to go on study trips and do research projects in environmental science, biosciences, astronomy, film, television and more.
More than 1,800 books on California and its history were donated, as well as approximately 5,000 tapes of raw footage shot for the show from which Howser and his crew edited the finished episodes. These tapes are now stored in a temperature-controlled vault in the Leatherby Libraries in CU.
In addition, the California’s Gold Scholarship was established. “What will happen a hundred years from now, long after people have forgotten me and that television show and all of that stuff, is that the words ‘California’s gold’ will come to mean…those students who are the future of the world and who appreciate those scholarships,” Howser said. “They will mean what California’s Gold always truly has been…not the gold…the literal gold nuggets…not the riches that people got when they came here…but the dreams that brought people here and are still bringing people here.”
Mayra Gonzalez, a junior from Garden Grove, is the first recipient of the scholarship.
During president of CU James Doti’s welcoming presentation, he included Howser’s speech at CU during the 2011 congregation when he accepted the president’s medal for broadcast journalism and television production. Howser explained the significance of California’s Gold.
“The most important thing when I look back on what these years have meant [has] not just been the geographical journeys I’ve taken around this state,” he said. “But it’s the people I’ve met, the stories I’ve heard and the lessons– the life lessons– I have learned from these people.”
Howser kept a relationship with several of the individuals he met in his travels. Some of the people who were featured in episodes and attended Huell Howser Day included: Dali Yu, owner of the Soap Kitchen in Pasadena; Slater Barron, a Long Beach artist who uses lint as a medium; Carole Kaufman, a two-time world champion musical whistler in Monrovia; Candace Frazee, co-owner of the Bunny Museum in Pasadena; and Joe Rinaudo, collector and restorer of early-movie-music machines in La Crescenta. Luis Fuerte, Howser’s long-time camera man, was also present.
Yu met Howser after she wrote a letter to Howser in 2006. “I wrote a letter to him and described to him what we do here at the Soap Kitchen– how we make soap from scratch the old-fashioned way,” she said. “The very next day, he called me…and he was very interested in what we did.”
The Soap Kitchen episode was produced in 2007. Yu described him as a “big kid.” “He was a character,” she added. “[He was] fascinated by many things.”
To help the shop, Howser purposefully aired the episode every Christmas. “Of course, it was crazy every time he played our show,” she said. “The next day, we would have people waiting outside.”
After every time the episode was broadcasted, Howser would call Yu and check up on their business. “He would personally give me a call on the phone and ask us how things were going,” she said. “He would always tell me to say hi to my mom and [ask] how she was doing. He was just a really great guy.”