By Rhiannon Potkey
Reprinted with permission from the Ventura County Star
Morgan McCardell didn’t need a campus tour to convince her to attend Cal Lutheran. She was already sold on joining the women’s water polo team and working toward a degree in exercise science.
After an unhappy stint at UC Irvine, the family-oriented McCardell was eager for a fresh start closer to home and CLU felt like the perfect fit. Little did McCardell know just how close that connection to her family would be.
As CLU women’s water polo coach Craig Rond showed McCardell and her mother around campus, they arrived at the historic Pederson Ranch house and water tower. McCardell and her mother gasped. They had no idea both structures still existed, let alone were on CLU’s campus.
McCardell’s great grandfather, Edward Maurer, lived in the water tower and worked on the Pederson Ranch when he first arrived in California from Oklahoma in 1930.
“At the risk of sounding cheesy, it was one of those moments where everything kind of came full circle and I knew I was where I was supposed to be,” McCardell said. “It kind of brought it all together and brought a sense of family here. It made me believe everything happens for a reason.”
McCardell wanted to play Division I water polo after graduating from Rio Mesa High, but she never felt comfortable with her role at UC Irvine.
“They didn’t really have a spot for me,” the junior driver said. “I was a utility player and supposed to play wherever they needed me, but it really kind of turned out to work negatively toward me because they never really had a place they needed me.”
McCardell became more homesick during her sophomore season. She missed seeing her younger sisters play water polo, and didn’t even want her family at her own games anymore.
“I told my parents not to even come watch me because I knew I wasn’t going to play much,” she said. “In high school, I loved when they were there, but it just didn’t make me happy anymore.”
At the time, Rond was coaching McCardell’s younger sister, Madison, who was on a team with his daughter. The team had a game in Irvine one weekend, and McCardell came over after practice to watch. She struck up a conversation with Rond, unaware of his ties to CLU.
“I walked in and was totally beat down and looked terrible,” she said. “I had no idea who he was. I just thought he was some random dad. He asked how things were going. I told him things were not working out well, and he was really nice and told me to stay positive. That really made an impression on me.”
Although McCardell’s unhappiness at UC Irvine was emotionally taxing, it pales in comparison to the tragic upbringing of her great grandfather.
Maurer and his three brothers lost both their parents in the span of a year. His father was gored by the family bull and died when Maurer was 8. A year later, Maurer’s mother was killed when a train hit her car at a railroad crossing.
Maurer lived in an orphanage until he was 18. He had partial scholarship offers to play baseball in college but couldn’t afford the remaining tuition, so he decided to move west with some friends and find a job. He had only one dollar to his name, which he put in his shoe. The dollar remains in circulation with the family to this day.
Maurer eventually reached Moorpark and began knocking on doors asking for work. He found a position as a field hand on the Pederson Ranch and was allowed to live in the water tower. He remained in the county until his death six years ago on Christmas Eve.
McCardell’s mother, Julie, learned about her grandfather’s background while doing a midterm paper for a history class at Moorpark College.
“Like a college-aged kid I was annoyed with the whole thing and wanted to just get it over with,” she said. “But once he started telling me about his life story, it was amazing. I am so grateful that class made me sit down and write this paper. I would have never been aware of any of this if not for that.”
The story came flooding back during the tour of CLU.
Richard Pederson gave 130 acres, including the ranch house and water tower, to Cal Lutheran’s first president Orville Dahl in 1957. The house and tower were renovated in 1986 and moved from their original location to the northeast corner of Faculty Street and Regent Avenue.
Rond was telling McCardell and her mother the history of the ranch as they approached the site.
“Her mom said her grandfather worked on the ranch and started talking about this water tower and how she has a picture of him on the steps of the water tower,” Rond said. “As she is saying this, we turned the corner and I said, ‘You mean like that one right there?’ It was crazy. It was like something out of a Hollywood movie.”
McCardell is working on the fairy-tale ending. Once again sporting her familiar smile, she is leading CLU in most statistical categories this season.
“It’s nice to be a needed player,” she said. “It’s nice to be somebody who, when games get tight, is put in and expected to perform. That is what I love. I love pressure and I love the feeling of having responsibilities. I feel like I play better that way.”
More important to McCardell, her parents and grandparents can attend nearly every CLU game, and she can watch her sisters play on a regular basis. If she needs even more family comfort, she can walk by the water tower at CLU to rekindle memories of her great grandfather.
“I couldn’t be happier,” McCardell said. “It is like night and day from the last few years. Going through what I did at Irvine has made me appreciate Cal Lutheran that much more. Everything just kind of worked out like it was destiny.”
Ventura County Star, April 17, 2012