HAGEN HOUSE A HOME TO CLAIM JUMPERS

February 28, 2002 12:00 am

By DAN GOLDMAN

What do you do when youve got a couple of extra beds, a love for Columbia College basketball and an even deeper love for kids who need some help?

If youre Sonora resident Bob Hagen, the answer is simple. You start moving them in.

Bob and Wilma, his wife of nearly 50 years, have become a veritable Seasons Inn for Columbias basketball program over the last eight years. Since 1994, the Hagens have housed at least 15 Claim Jumpers in need of financial assistance, including Derrick Stewart and Jeff Johnson from this years team.

For some reason, I like to have young people around, Bob said. I dont know why. It could be because I come from a large family myself and I like to have people, especially young people, around me.

The Hagens appreciation of everything young is only one reason for their open-door policy.

Born and raised in Reedley, Bob grew up in a Mennonite household that did not put a premium on education. Although he tried to lift himself up by his own bootstraps, his attempt at higher education quickly came crashing down around him.

Back in the years of my parents, education was something that was not very important to them and school was not made important to us.

Because I grew up in a home that was always short on money, when I went to college, I worked at JC Pennys for $28 a week and took a full load like a dumb fool and burned out the end of my first year.

So I said to myself, if I ever ran into a kid, boy or girl, who needed help to go to college, I was going to be there for him. That would be my field.

Bob and Wilma quickly proved true to their word. Shortly after they were married in 1953, the Hagens began assisting financially-strapped college students by providing room and board, of which there had been 37 at last count.

After moving to Sonora in 1974, the Hagens kept up their practice of providing a place to stay by allowing Columbia students to stay with them despite having three children of their own.

During the next 20 years, Bob developed a passion for Claim Jumpers basketball that led him to a fateful breakfast meeting with then-Columbia coach Jimmy Saia in 1994. In between forkfuls of eggs at Perkos, Saia asked Bob to take in some of his players.