Sarah Thompson was looking for a satiny pageant-style sash that read “RETIREMENT” across the front. The party store she rummaged didn’t have one. She settled for the BIRTHDAY PRINCESS one she could fine. It would have to do. Plus, it came with a tiara.
Roanna Bennie wore it proudly — just as she did whenever Las Positas College needed her to assume a title.
“Your heart is in your work,” she said in a sit-down interview in her office. “Take advantage of that. Enjoy that. You can grow from that. And you are in a great environment where people who work here are wanting the success of the students. It’s very much of a warm community.”
After five years at Las Positas College, four as the interim president, Bennie decided to move to the next phase of her life. But first she served the college through the illness of Dr. Barry Russell and then through an elongated search for a new leader of Las Positas College.
On Feb. 10, new president Dyrell Foster started his tenure — “He seems very open and eager to learn,” Bennie said — but first the administrators said thank you to Bennie, who by most accounts expertly filled the leadership void. On Feb. 5, the administrators gave her a rousing send off in the Mertes Center for the Arts . She was moved to tears as she gave her speech. Her colleagues shed a few as well.
“There are three things Roanna really cared about: students, employees, and community” said Thomas Orf, Faculty Association leader. “Over my 30 plus years of working in community colleges, I have worked with a total of nine different college Presidents in five different schools across four states. Roanna, by far, was one of the best Presidents I have ever seen.”
Bennie contributed greatly to education across the board. In addition to teaching at both public and private universities and community colleges, she has also served on boards for the Association of California Community College Administrators (ACCCA) and the Community College League of California (CCLC). She majored in speech at Montana State University before earning her master’s in speech communication from California State University, Northridge. More recently, she was the vice president of instruction at Miramar college in San Diego.
Bennie first arrived at Las Positas College in the spring of 2015. She was hired as vice president of academic services.
“Looking at the size of the college, how successful the college was, having innovative ideas and hearing the reputation of Las Positas is what interested me in coming here,” she said. “What I found when I got here was, ‘Wow. This is really going to work.’ I like the spirit of LPC and the culture we have here.”
During the following school year, 2016-17, President Russell became ill with cancer and took a leave of absence. Bennie and fellow vice president Diane Brady stepped in to fill the duties. When it became clear Russell wouldn’t return, and he retired from the college, Bennie officially took over as interim president.
In her eyes, she explained, becoming president of Las Positas was natural, organic. It was as if the college chose her.
Bennie’s impact on campus was plentiful. She was connected to the student trustees, mentoring them along the way. She also forged relationships with the student government and the veterans, among other campus communities. She said her biggest achievement was aiding in the success of students.
There are a few things she wishes she’d done differently. Walk around the library more often. Go to more art galleries. Celebrate students’ successes with them. Wanting to be with and enjoy the people — that defines her the spirit with which she led the college, and why she was worthy of the tiara and sash.
Ana Delgadillo is a staff writer for The Express. Follow her at @aaanakd.