Barbara Mertes, the first dean of what is now Las Positas College, died Friday at the age of 85.
Mertes was an integral part of the LPC community since it opened – as the Valley Campus of Chabot College – in 1975. Her 13 years of advocacy and hard work was rewarded when the “Valley Branch” became Las Positas College, as separate entity complete with its own list of majors and course studies.
Former Chabot-Las Positas College trustee Barry Schrader has worked alongside Mertes since 1972.
“I would say without hesitation she was my hero and a role model for so many of us – always positive,” Schrader said in an email to The Express. “Even in the face of adversity and overwhelming odds, she was indefatigable in her efforts to take the college to greater heights and inspired the faculty and staff to do likewise.”
Born and raised in Livermore, Calif., Mertes was a product of the Livermore Public School System. After earning her doctorate from University of California, Berkeley she began teaching English.
Her tireless work toward the introduction of secondary education in the Tri-Valley bore fruit in 1988 when Chabot College Valley Branch became Las Positas College. For her work, Mertes is widely considered the founder of the school.
Along with her husband David, former chancellor of the California Community College system, Mertes’ work did not conclude with LPC’s inception.
The two continued by obtaining more than $100 million of allocations outside of normal operating budgets. They also formed partnerships with nearby colleges and surrounding businesses in order to maintain necessary resources for the campus for which she was so devoted.
“Barbara Mertes was the one person who persisted in making Valley Campus into a fully-accredited and stand-alone college that it is today. She began as the founding “godmother” of that campus,” Schrader said. “She kept that dream alive for 20 years until she saw it accomplished.”
The couple complimented each other in their collective endeavors in education, according to the Mertes’ nephew, Mike Francisco,
In 2003 the couple was the joint recipients of the Livermore Chamber of Commerce’s Community Service Award.
David, 83, died Oct. 9.
Campus employees were prohibited from commenting by the district chancellor, who did not respond to requests by press time.
Several members of faculty and staff recall Mertes’ health beginning to fade at the time of her husband’s death, however.
Also, President Barry Russell did speak to the school’s loss at the time of her retirement.
“I was very sad,” Russell told The Express, “it was an ending of the era of great leadership on her part.”
Mertes’ era of leadership came not just as the college’s dean and president, but also as the District Vice Chancellor of Institutional Planning and Facilities Development. While carrying that mantle, Mertes was praised for her allegiance to Las Positas, her devotion to students and heavy involvement in educational policy issues.
“(She was) probably more successful at obtaining grants and state funding than any other college district in California at the time.” Schrader said.
After 25 years with the campus, Mertes was appointed to the Chabot-Las Positas Community College District’s Board of Trustees in 2000.
She served the board in Area Seven, which includes Livermore and portions of Pleasanton.
After 14 years on the board, Mertes announced her retirement on December 10, 2014.
President of the Board of Trustees, Donald Gelles, complimented the Mertes for her 40 years of devoted service at that time.
“Dr. Mertes has been a very compassionate and dedicated Board Member since 2000,” Gelles said. “She is highly respected by her peers on the Board as well as the community. She has always put students and the colleges first when making decisions.”
Now gone, Mertes will forever be commemorated on campus in the naming of the school’s theater and performing arts building, as well as in the lasting impression she left on the campus.
“The amazing thing about Barbara is that she always put students first,” said Ted Kaye, former CEO of Las Positas College Foundation. “The saying students first – the tagline of the college – was so important to her.”
Schrader, who unsuccessfully led a campaign to have Las Positas College renamed “Jack London College.” Now he believes there is a more fitting name for the campus.
“I would be willing to join an effort to rename the college in her memory,” Schrader said. “Think of it, the only college in California to be named in honor of a woman.”
Mertes’ contributions to the school and district certainly make the honor arguable.
It’s so easy to speak highly of Mertes, but so difficult to speak of her in the past tense, according to Kaye.
Those who have been on campus for long enough, however, may choose to remember her cruising through campus or the city of Livermore in her classic bright yellow Volkswagen Bug. Along with the numerous contributions she made in the creation of Las Positas College, as well as those made in the longevity of the college and district.