The retired San Joaquin Delta Community College president died last Friday in Stockton at the age of 84.
A number of people who remember Larry will tell you there wouldn’t be the Delta College we know today without Larry’s contributions over a critical 24-year period in the college’s development.
In 1963, when the Delta College district was formed to take over community college education from the Stockton Unified School District, Larry was selected as the new district’s first business manager.
As superintendent of the Waverly Elementary School District east of Stockton, Larry was a unique choice, but in retrospect, not completely surprising. He had developed a reputation during his 10 years as Waverly for mastering the intricacies of the byzantine world of school finances while administering an education program. Burke Bradley, Delta’s first president, and the first board wanted someone with that kind of expertise.
A few years later, when Delta passed its construction bonds and Joe Blanchard, former superintendent of the Manteca Union School District, was president, Joe and Larry became a team that was amazingly successful in leveraging $19.8 million in bond money with state and federal funds to finance construction of what became one of the handsomest community college campuses in California. Delta became known throughout the state by actually making money on the bonds.
Larry’s wife, Alma, remembers the team.
“Joe and Larry worked very well together. They both had their areas of interest that complemented each other, but together, they made sure Delta’s campus was well financed and completed on schedule.”
After Joe retired, Delta trustees promoted Larry to be president. Again, it was not the normal course to make the business manager the college president. But they recognized his talents and overriding commitment to Delta.
With his business background, Larry formed a team that included Phil Laughlin, dean of instruction who later became vice president of academic affairs.
“Larry had been business manager, but he wasn’t only interested in college finances,” Laughlin told me. “He cared deeply about everything at Delta, and that included the students and the staff.”
Other members of Larry’s team included Bob Yribarren, business manager, and Felice Rodoni, dean of students.
There is always give and take between administrators and boards, but Larry managed to work effectively with trustees.
My wife, Joan, served 13 years on the Delta board, including the first four years with Larry as president. She stills holds Larry as the very best.
“You have to have trust between the president and the board, and Larry built that trust,” she told me. “You knew Larry would give you the unembellished truth and all the information you needed to make a decision.”
The result was that the board and the administration worked well together, a far cry from what has been the often-contentious history of Delta governance in the past few years.
Over the years, I’ve shared meals with Larry and Alma, and through my wife, we have become friends. During those gatherings, Larry would provide some insights into his history.
He was born in Stockton in 1923, but when he was 3 years old, his family returned to their native Lucca, Italy. After four years in Italy, they made their way back to Stockton after Mussolini came to power.
Larry couldn’t speak English when he started school in Stockton at the age of 7, but he was a quick study and soon became proficient.
After graduating from Stockton High School, he worked for a year or so at the Bank of America branch in Stockton. In addition honing his financial skills, his most vivid memory was meeting A.P. Giannini, founder of B of A, when he visited the Stockton office. Giannini recognized Larry’s Italian name, and they exchanged a few words in Italian.
Larry spent World War II in the U.S. Army. Most of his four years was spent in the Aleutian Islands, where he served in a headquarters unit.
If you don’t know much about the little-known history of the Aleutians during World War II, you didn’t know Larry. He had an encyclopedic memory of the campaign to keep the Japanese from establishing a foothold on that long string of islands off the Alaskan mainland, and he didn’t hesitate to relate that history.
After the war, Larry enrolled in the then-College of the Pacific, earning three degrees — education, business and history — in three years.
After graduating in 1949, he started his career in education at Castle Elementary School, a two-room rural school southeast of Stockton, and then at Waverly. During his tenure there, one of his rookie teachers was a young guy named Tom Hawkins. And Tom, the retired Jefferson superintendent who recently ended his tenure as a Tracy Unified School District trustee, recalls the mentoring Larry, his first principal, gave him at Waverly.
Alma married Larry, whom she always called Lawrence, the day after he graduated from Pacific. She recalls that Larry mentioned that his goal was to combine his interests in finance with education.
Goal achieved, and community college education our area has been the beneficiary.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at email@example.com.