According to a 2013 study by the University of Southern California, Los Angeles has “shifted from a place of transplants to a home where the majority are native Californians.” Yet, there is a common aphorism in LA that “you’ll never meet a native Angeleno.”
This is because many residents of LA, or Angelenos, have a story about why, when and how they became residents of Southern California. Some aspired to work in Hollywood, LA’s trademark entertainment business, or to be located in the United States’ largest manufacturing and trade hub. Others just wanted to live in a place where the sun is constantly shining down over palm trees.
Each area of LA is unique to the rest, but is still part of its collective expanse. Passing through the sprawling metropolis reveals a vast collection of diverse individuals from various backgrounds, nationalities, professions and socio-economic statuses. Equally diverse are the unique group of Angelenos with the common bond of having graduated from SUNY Oswego.
There are more than 600 Oswego graduates living in the City of Angels, working in different professions from lawyer to author (see Jennifer Thompson Jackson ’94 in Author Finds Inspiration in the Performing Arts), to apparel manufacturer to filmmaker to PR professional. Despite the geographical distance from their alma mater, many of these alumni are still connected to their Oswego friends, classmates and former professors, and leverage those connections. Some, like Kyle Crowell ’14 and Ryan Farmer ’14, even took the risk of moving to LA together (read more Oz to LA: Young Alumni Filmmakers Leverage Connections).
To better prepare tomorrow’s television and entertainment graduates, Oswego provides an opportunity to look inside the LA lifestyle and network with alumni working in the industry with the Hollywood POV program (read more in Oz to LA: Oswego Students Get Inside Look At Entertainment). In an ever-expanding society, the story of Oswego alumni helping one another has been told time and time again by generations of graduates— as far reaching as the opposite corner of the nation.
Making the Move
Ted Gerdes ’74 was immersed in music at Oswego. He enjoyed national acts that visited at that time, like David Crosby and Gordon Lightfoot, and he played in a band called The Second Coming, as well as Oswego’s Solid State jazz ensemble under the leadership of Professor Emeritus Hugh Burritt.
But his passion for music was only the first step of his winding path to become founder and principal of Gerdes Law, a media and copyright law firm located in Beverly Hills. Gerdes, who grew up in New Jersey, moved to Pulaski, N.Y., when his father purchased the Pulaski Democrat. He attended Oswego because he enjoyed the program and had friends already there.
Gerdes knew he wanted to pursue a master’s degree, and considered journalism after working for a few years at the Democrat, but visited a friend studying law in Southern California and enjoyed the environment. One evening, while driving to Pulaski with then girlfriend, Kathleen Mooney ’82, to whom he is now married with three children, a terrible snowstorm hit.
“We got hit with a whiteout blizzard where we couldn’t see the road,” Gerdes said. “We decided during that ride that wherever we were going to go, it was going to be warm.”
Gerdes and Mooney were paired as lab partners in a photography class at Oswego in 1973, and they’ve been together ever since.
Unlike Gerdes, relocating to Los Angeles was always an interest for Long Island native Heather Krug ’94. UCLA was one of the schools she considered attending, but Lake Ontario and SUNY Oswego’s great reputation made her ultimately come to Oswego to earn dual degrees in creative writing and psychology.
“My playwriting professor, Brad Korbesmeyer [now the interim dean of Graduate Studies], left a huge impression on my writing,” Krug said. “Coming out of school, I thought I wanted to be a screenwriter. I had some publishing experience, so I transitioned to a PR role and it was a natural fit for me.”
Krug was working for a small PR firm in New York City and was hired by Rogers & Cowan, a national public relations company, and relocated to work in their LA office managing the consumer, sports and entertainment division.
“I only knew two people in LA,” Krug said. “It was a leap of faith that I’d recommend for anyone. If something scares you, that’s a good thing.”
Since then, she has worked at a few major PR firms, working with such clientele as Coca-Cola, General Mills and NFL. She was recruited by adventurer and television personality Bear Grylls to run his global company, Bear Grylls Ventures.
Most recently, Krug has been doing PR work with her business partner and friend Jon Harris through her own firm, Heather Krug PR & Marketing Consulting LLC, for Al Roker Entertainment, owned by Al Roker ’76 and based in New York City. Krug said that a proximity to LA’s entertainment capital makes it the perfect place to work in PR, although technology makes it easy to work with clients around the world.
LA also happens to be the perfect location to find fashion inspiration, said David LaDuke ’82, founder and president of American Garment, an apparel manufacturing company that has produced for many well-known brands such as Calvin Klein, DKNY, Polo Jeans and Kenneth Cole. After earning a degree in business administration at Oswego, LaDuke enrolled, alongside Ivy League graduates, in the highly competitive Macy’s Executive Corporate Training Program in New York City.
“I’m from Upstate New York, but I was living in the city working for Unionbay, managing the East Coast women’s business,” LaDuke said. “I was getting tired of the everyday bustle of New York City, so I left my job.”
LaDuke landed in LA after being recruited by a major denim production company. In 2004, LaDuke founded American Garment from the connections he had made in the apparel manufacturing business. Although much of his role is overseeing the day-to-day operations, LaDuke enjoys the creative side of the process. He started his own line of clothing called Laila Jayde and enjoys painting on the side.
“Sometimes just from walking the streets of LA or going to restaurants, you can get a feel for the colors and trends that people are wearing and buying,” LaDuke said.
Despite being 2,684 miles from Oswego, LA alumni still find ways to stay connected to their alma mater and their friends they made at Oswego.
“Some of my closest friends are still from Oswego,” said Krug, PR pro. “There are about eight of us who keep in touch regularly and meet up whenever possible.”
Attending or hosting regional events in the area, speaking with current students and recent alumni, supporting the college financially or returning home to speak to current students and see former classmates are just a few ways that the powerful network of alumni in the LA area stay involved.
“Going to college at Oswego, you learn a lot about yourself, and you learn a lot about other people,” copyright lawyer Gerdes said. “You’re in close quarters, often because of the cold, with people from all areas of life and people that you might never have met otherwise. It was an amazing experience.”
–Tyler Edic ’13
Learn more about Oswego alumni in the Los Angeles area in Oz to LA: LA Fast Facts.
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I am a New York expatriate myself, came to Los Angeles right after graduation, and feel that it was one of the best moves of my life. It’s an amazing place to live.