Jolene Combs, a beloved journalism professor at El Camino College, died this week. My condolences to her family as I’m sure it’s a very dark time. I hope they take comfort in knowing that she meant the world to so many students who were lucky enough to take her class.
That’s JC on the far left in the red dress. (Spring 1993 Warwhoop Staff)
I went to UC Berkeley after El Camino Community College and frankly, I would compare every teacher I had to her. No one was like her. She could easily have taught at one of the bigger, more prestigious universities but she stayed at El Camino Community College and for that I’m grateful. I went to ECC for about 2 years with no direction. I took astronomy, philosophy, library studies, car mechanics, and drama with no clear focus of what I was doing. I only took journalism because I was trying to get enough units so I would qualify for medical insurance. I thought it would be an easy class. I was so very wrong.
I remember two things about her journalism class. She was always dressed very professionally, never in jeans or casual clothes. And she was tough. She practically made us memorize the AP Stylebook.
She was meticulous, unyielding and dedicated to making you a better writer. She would be critical of your articles and would call you out when you were being lazy. It was the best thing for me. After a semester in her class, I joined the student newspaper, The Warwhoop. That’s when the real work started. JC was the student adviser but she was so much more. Every day we learned something new about journalism but I think what I remember most was she taught us how to be better people. I remember long hours with JC writing articles, editing articles, spending what seemed like days in the layout room baking over hot lamps as we laid down copy with glue and rolling pins. This was before the cleanliness of digital journalism. We literally would write copy, print it out and paste it with glue on bluelines.
What was always astonishing to me was JC was there all the time. After working all day teaching students the basics of journalism and how to interview a person (ask a question, shut up, let them fill the silence) she would be with us till midnight making sure the paper was good. It was the best time of my college life. We won newspaper awards, we killed at journalism competitions, we got scholarships. The message she was teaching was clear: work hard, be decent, have fun.
After a year of being on staff at the newspaper, JC would write up a review of your work. I had completed my role as a staff writer and earned the right to be an editor in the following year. She gave me this review which I still have today.
She wrote a review for everyone on staff and I’m sure for each person it was very detailed and specific. JC paid attention to you. I don’t know how she did it with the amount of work she had. But you can tell…she really wanted you to do well. She would do everything in her power to give you the tools you needed. It was up to you to do the real work and succeed.
There’s alot of students posting on FB about their memories of JC and as I’m reading them, I am reminded that I’m not the only one who loved her dearly. She touched so many lives and will be terribly missed.