Loss of a Pioneer


By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Feb 12, 2008 8:58 AM

Ann Sumner memorial today

With the death of Bruin Pioneer Ann Sumner '26 comes the passing of an era.

The 103-year-old UCLA alumna — who died Feb. 9 at her home in Westwood — had a love affair with the campus that lasted 86 years. From the moment she first enrolled at UCLA's Vermont Avenue campus in 1922 until the day she died, Sumner's life was inextricably linked to UCLA. In fact, the loyal Bruin made her home on Westholme Avenue, just north of Sorority Row, to ensure that she stayed in close proximity to the campus she loved so well.

Sumner's remarkable accomplishments in relation to the fledgling campus began when she was just a teenager. As a junior writer for the Los Angeles Evening Express, she became friends with Regent Edward A. Dickson — who owned the paper — and his wife, Wilhelmina, who treated her like a member of the family. Dickson, of course, was the impetus behind the creation of the Southern Branch of the University of California, later to become UCLA.

Sumner (center) at her graduation in 1926 with Wilhelmina and Edward Dickson.

A charter member of Delta Gamma sorority, Sumner graduated with a bachelor's degree in history in 1926 and became a full-time writer for the Express, where she served as the nation's youngest women's page editor on a metropolitan daily newspaper. She also found time to write eight romance novels — with titles such as The Love Talent and Dream Kiss — which ran serially in more than 20 U.S. newspapers, six of which were published in book form. Sumner would later call them "junk," but admitted that "people enjoyed them. They sold like mad."

In 1932, Sumner was appointed by Ernest Carroll Moore, then head of the Southern Branch, to UCLA's brand-new news bureau and moved into the newly created job of chief publicist for University Extension in 1939, a job she held until her retirement in 1967.

During that period, Sumner involved herself in an astounding array of activities, including: founding member of Gold Shield, Alumnae of UCLA, in 1936; vice president of the UCLA Alumni Association from 1938-1939; president of the Los Angeles City Panhellenic Council from 1947-1948; president (and founding board member in 1937) of UCLA Affiliates; founding member, Friends of the UCLA Library, 1951; founding board member, UCLA Art Council, 1952; president, UCLA Faculty Women’s Club, 1958-1959; member of the founding board of directors of the UCLA Faculty Center, 1959; and being the first woman to receive the UCLA Alumni Distinguished Service Award, 1962.

An endowment Sumner established with Gold Shield continues to provide funds to purchase life memberships in the UCLA Alumni Association for graduating Gold Shield scholars. So far, more than 215 life memberships have been awarded.

Named Writer's Digest's "Best-Dressed Woman in the Newspaper Business" in 1930, Sumner never went out without being impeccably dressed, from her white gloves and pearls to her stylish suits and hats.

"A fine morning walk," she would say, "is past the Faculty Center to pick up a copy of the Daily Bruin, north to Lu Valle Commons for a cappuccino, past the Murphy Sculpture Garden and south to the inverted fountain, thus passing halls memorial to Dodd, Powell, Bunche, Campbell, Dickson and Knudsen. I knew them all."

A memorial service will be held today, Feb. 12, at 1 p.m. at St. Alban's Episcopal Church, 580 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. A reception will follow at the UCLA Faculty Center at 2 p.m.



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