It was 1952 when an eight-year-old James (Jim) Cardella, accompanied by his parents, left his home in Firebaugh to board the “California Zephyr” train in Oakland and begin an epic journey that took him nearly halfway around the world. The train took the Cardellas to New York City, where they boarded a transatlantic liner to France and another train to Italy.
While technically at the start of the “golden age of travel,” airplanes were still primarily reserved for the wealthy. Although slow, the family’s terrestrial travel had an advantage as a new world enveloped young Cardella.
“[O]ur family was surrounded by new sounds, different foods, and interesting people. All of it was a terrific experience,” said Cardella. “The world had become larger for the little boy who had been raised in the farming community of Firebaugh, California.”
What began as a desire for his immigrant parents to return to Italy and visit relatives left a lasting impression on Cardella’s young mind and an enduring passion for learning everything he could about this “new, strange world.”
Nine years later, he arrived at Fresno State.
“I didn’t know I would be in college for six years. It was a different way of life for me: new friends, large lecture classes, crazy dorm life, long hours of homework, and even Vietnam War protests.”
By 1965 he had achieved his B.A. in Spanish with a minor in French, his secondary teaching credential in 1966, and earned his M.A. Spanish in 1967.
After his education, Cardella embarked on a 35-year career teaching foreign languages at McLane and Bullard High Schools. Throughout that time, he maintained a connection to Fresno State.
“In the 70s, we held the first Foreign Language Fair on the grounds of Fresno State. In the 80s, our local foreign language organization worked with Fresno State teachers to present workshops to area teachers. In the 90s, secondary teachers worked with Fresno State instructors in the early Foreign Language Projects.”
After retiring from high school teaching, Cardella came to Fresno State and taught a methodology class in world languages and supervised student teachers for seven years.
Currently, Cardella serves on the Italian Studies Committee, which aims to organize an interdisciplinary approach for the study of Italian. The forthcoming Italian Studies program will be housed in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures.
“Jim Cardella has already given so much to Fresno State through his dedication to teaching our students, yet he decided to continue his support by joining the Italian Studies Committee,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, interim dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “This small group of dedicated community members has made substantial gifts and has been organizing events in support of a new Italian Studies minor being developed now by Dr. Andrea Polegato.”
Beyond Cardella’s generous gift of his time, he also supports students through financial contributions. When asked why he gives, Cardella’s answer narrowed it down to the practical matters that many students face.
“Because I was a teacher, my interest in being a donor was always for scholarships that would go to college students,” he explained. “Back in my college days of 1961, tuition was minimal, only $50 a semester. Textbooks were less than $35. To live in an apartment across Shaw with three other roommates cost me $40 a month. Today, college students cannot meet expenses. It’s these scholarships that help supplement what a student can acquire.”
Through the scholarships, he hopes Fresno State students can have the opportunities he had and achieve greatness without financial worries.
Chapman summed up Cardella’s generosity, saying, “Jim exemplifies the spirit of community service that we value at Fresno State, and his good cheer inspires us to work even harder towards providing enriched educational experiences for our students.”