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A family business

Doug Dreier’s teaching career came home to a very unusual classroom

Story by John Thompson

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Doug Dreier curates his family’s private collection in Santa Barbara. | Photo by John Thompson

The Dreier Collection, home to hundreds of thousands of artifacts of Americana in the hills of Santa Barbara, got its start with Chad Dreier¹s love of baseball cards.

The family collection grew along with Chad Dreier’s career as a homebuilder in Southern California, culminating with his position as CEO of Ryland Homes, one of the nation's largest homebuilding companies.

Before too long, the hobby had morphed from some baseball cards into a major investment – an investment that needed tending to. Chad had an idea who the right person for the job was, but persuading him wasn’t going to be easy. The timing had to be perfect.

In 1991, Chad Dreier’s son, Doug, was a 6-foot-2-inch All-Los Angeles area offensive tackle wooed by some big university football programs. But the big-city kid wanted more of a small-college experience, and after hearing about Western from a friend, he came up on a recruiting visit.

“Coming from L.A., Bellingham was so green and so lush … the campus was just amazing. I loved it, everything about it,” he says.

But even as he signed up for the Vikings he could feel his interest in football waning.

“My dream was to become a teacher, and that was always my focus,” he says.

He finished his freshman year on the team, and left the team after that. But his passion for learning and for the academic programs at Western continued to grow.

“There weren’t too many football players in the Theater Department, but I really wanted to have a really varied academic experience that would prepare me for life after college,” he says.

After graduating in 1996, Dreier went east to get his master’s degree in instructional design from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, with an eye toward teaching inner-city youth. A paid internship at a West Baltimore middle school became a full-time position after he finished his degree.

“I was thrown right into the fire,” he says, “taking over for a teacher who had left in the middle of the school year.”

What followed were two of the most difficult and rewarding years of his life. While he knew he was reaching some of the kids and making a difference in their lives, some days he came home after work so emotionally wrung-out that he just put his head in his hands and cried.

“I wouldn’t trade those two years for anything,” he says, but when an offer came to work at a school in Albuquerque, he was ready to take it. By 2003, he was increasingly burnt out, and more than a little homesick.

“It was right then that I got a call from my dad. He basically just said ‘Hey, we need you back home. Come back, take over this collection, and make it something you can be proud of.’ I took him up on it, and have been here ever since,” he says.

“I knew I could take all this knowledge I had gained at Western, and at UMBC, and from my jobs in Baltimore and Albuquerque, and make it all come together,” he says, “because in the end, this is all still about the educational process.”

Read more about the family collection here.