Guardian of higher education
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — It has been almost 40 years since Roberta Mason stood in what was once an old motel parking lot to direct Lake Tahoe Community College’s very first students around the campus.
She was one of the first members on the college’s Board of Trustees — a position she’d never give up until this week — and had been working diligently to help bring a higher education institution to South Lake Tahoe.
And after 10 years of work, LTCC was finally opening in what is now the Econo Lodge on Highway 50. The only problem was, Mason didn’t know if anyone would show up.
“This was a completely new idea,” Mason said about the college’s early days. “We made lots of plans, but was anyone going to come?”
Students did come, and they haven’t stopped for the past four decades.
Meanwhile, Mason, known as both the mother and guardian of LTCC to her colleagues, has been watching the college grow from her front-row seat on the board.
She was there when the school opened in 1975, when it moved to its current location off Al Tahoe Boulevard in 1988 and most recently when the institution gained enough support to make a $55 million bond measure successful.
“In a way, it’s almost very similar,” she said, when comparing the college now to the first day it opened. “Because (opening day) was exciting. It was all new. We didn’t know what was going to happen. Now, it’s exciting because we have new four-year programs, the incarcerated student program, the bond — I mean there’s so many exciting things.”
Mason, now 85, admits the road that brought LTCC to where it is today was at times a little bumpy. At one point she even questioned whether she should remain on the board because of her own health issues.
That doubt came about in 1994 during her fight with breast cancer. It was the closest she ever came to leaving the college, she said.
“It was a hard year,” said Mason, a cancer survivor. “I did think about whether I should resign because I couldn’t contribute like I had been.”
It wasn’t until a year later that Mason started getting some of her energy back. She then continued to serve the college for the next 20 years, deciding at some point in 2012 that she would finally retire when her term ended in 2014.
It just so happened that 2014 was exactly 40 years after the college was formed.
“Everything sort of fell into place,” she said. “It was almost like it was meant to be.”
Before her last board meeting on Tuesday, Mason’s friends and colleagues honored her for her many contributions to the college. Current LTCC President Kindred Murillo was one of the speakers at the event.
“I hope I’m like her when I’m her age,” Murillo said. “I would love to be able to say, ‘I’m like (Mason)’. That’s the honest truth, and I haven’t found that many people that I thought I wanted to be just like.”
Mason said the evening was a mix of happy and sad emotions.
“It’s a lifting of a responsibility I’ve felt for 40 years because you do want the college to be successful,” she said. “We’ve had some rocky times over the years, but we’ve always tried to do our best, and I think we’ve done fairly good.”
Despite leaving the board, Mason affirmed that she wants to remain close to college issues moving forward. Part of her retirement plans include applying for the Citizens Oversight Committee for the new bond.
Otherwise, Mason just plans on taking things easy.
“It’s time,” she said. “I need a rest. I think I’ve earned a little rest.”