Westmont Magazine A Family Heritage of Faith and Service
The evening Lynne Small Tahmisian ’67 arrived in Santa Barbara, a glorious sunset welcomed her. A transfer student, she sought a better fit and found it at Westmont. “I always felt the closeness of community there,” she says. “While I didn’t know every student on campus, I had this feeling of real community, and I loved it. Everyone was friendly, and I made lifelong friends.”
She led the way for family members who followed her. Dwight Small, her father, had pastored a church in Wheaton, Ill., before joining the faculty at Westmont to teach sociology, especially classes in marriage and family. He wrote well-known books on Christian marriage. Her aunt, Marjorie “Marge” Petersen, had served as an assistant dean at Wheaton College. She and her husband, Hugh, also moved to Santa Barbara and developed La Arcada Plaza, a charming shopping center on State Street. Marge became a longtime Westmont trustee.
Lynne majored in literature and education and married Jim Tahmisian ’66, moving with him to Kentucky where he earned a doctorate in psychology and she completed a teaching credential. She taught in an urban school there for several years, witnessing overt racial prejudice for the first time. The experience shocked her and strengthened her determination to serve others. The couple then spent a year in Nebraska for Jim’s post-doctoral studies. When they returned to California, he started a practice as a child psychologist in Santa Maria, working with a pediatrician. Jim later became director of mental health for Santa Barbara County. Lynne stayed home with their three sons.
Her youngest child was six months old when Lynne started teaching Community Bible Study, and she spent 12 years as a teaching leader for a big group in Santa Maria. “I loved it,” she says. “It opened a lot of doors for me to teach, speak and lead retreats, which became a big part of my life.”
As her sons grew, she worked for several banks in customer service and later became a background checker at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo. Through careful research, Lynne determined that a woman claiming to be a scientist had presented false credentials, and armed guards escorted her out of the facility. Lynne also belonged to the League of Women Voters and worked with first offenders at the Corrective Behavior Institute.
To earn a master’s degree in counseling, Lynne spent two years at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. “Around midnight one evening, my oldest son wanted to talk, but I had a huge paper due the next day,” she says. “I realized that my sons would be gone before I knew it, so I stopped my studies. But God never wastes one thread of our lives, and the training in counseling has been so helpful to me.”
With her children grown, she moved to Santa Barbara in 1997 and worked with Hugh Petersen at La Arcada. When his health began failing in 2001, he put her in charge of the center. “He never once asked me about La Arcada after that day,” she said. He died in 2003, and she became president of the La Arcada Investment Corporation and a director of the Petersen Foundation.
In 2011, Lynne joined the Westmont Board of Trustees. “It’s been a real joy to serve on the board with fine people who love the Lord and love the college,” she says. Through the Petersen Foundation, Lynne and her sister support student internships at Santa Barbara churches and with Young Life, an initiative that has grown under the leadership of Campus Pastor Scott Lisea and his wife, Jamie. “This program helps Westmont students and also benefits churches and Young Life,” she says. “I love the whole idea.”
Her passions include teaching the word of the Lord and mentoring young women—and an occasional young man—from Westmont. She leads Capax Dei Bible study groups and meets with members of the Student Alumni Association at one of the restaurants in La Arcada. “Students want friendship, and it’s been such a blessing to me as well,” she says.
“She’s been an amazing supporter and source of leadership in my life,” says Isabella Biscarini, a graduating senior from Italy.
Lynne’s family has grown to include five grandchildren. Her son Tim ’97 graduated from Westmont, works as a chiropractor and does research in holistic medicine. Greg owns a computing company and has developed a platform for processing unemployment applications. After a corporate career, Bryan managed finances and communications for a seminary in Russia before he and his wife were detained and deported from the country. They continue to serve the ministry from its U.S. office.
“I’m so grateful I have a heritage of Christian parents, grandparents and great-grandparents,” Lynne says. “It’s something I’m privileged and honored to pass on.”