By Alex Lontoc and Christina Vargas
Accomplish your goals. Support what you believe in. Leave an imprint on the lives of others.
The district officially announced Barry Russell’s retirement after he vowed to return as president of Las Positas College, a post he’s held since 2013. He has already left his temporary post at the district, ending a nearly two-decade career in education. A retirement reception was held on April 17 at Las Positas to honor and celebrate Russell’s career.
Students, staff and colleagues turned out to honor Russell, who has been fighting a public battle with metastatic melanoma, a type of brain cancer.
As the sixth president in school history, Russell leaves behind a legacy many will remember. His supportive outlook throughout the school’s changes and development made Las Positas a growing community college. He oversaw the reconstruction of the outdoor amphitheater on campus.
Also, during his years as LPC’s president, the Las Positas College Foundation received the biggest donation in history at last year’s “Best of the Best” gala. The money will go toward scholarships and help students succeed in their education.
But those who knew him best talked about how much he cared and how much he was willing to give.
“His belief in students and wanting to give back to students — that has been his thing,” Chancellor Jannett Jackson said, “even to his detriment sometimes.”
“He was generous with his time, his money, and his support. Welcoming student interaction and interviews and attending many, many events showcasing the amazing LPC students,” said Melissa Korber, Mass Communications department head and “Express” adviser, at Russell’s retirement reception.
As the campus continues to grow, distancing itself from its genesis as a satellite of Chabot, Las Positas College is becoming more of an upscale institution.
But the core of the educational spirit has always resided in the intimacy and the homely vibe of the school. Russell was able to maintain that spirit, even while LPC expanded and upgraded under his watch.
Perhaps his impact will prompt his successor to keep that element alive at this growing institution.
Becoming a college president had always been a goal of Russell’s, and he was able to achieve that goal at Las Positas, where his legacy will remain. From director to vice president, vice chancellor and then on to dean of colleges, Russell has accomplished what he had always wanted. And he’s held that title for five years, achieving many things for both students and the school.
“He doesn’t see this as work. This is the love. This is what he’s always wanted to do,” Chancellor Jackson said.
Before stepping foot on LPC’s grounds, Russell held many positions.
He has been Vice President of Instruction at College of the Siskiyous and the Dean of Fine Arts and Communication at Cerritos and Southwestern colleges.
In addition to being the Director of the Central Texas Tech Prep Consortium, a member of the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Russell was also a faculty member in music and computer science at Paris Junior College.
A love for the arts was obvious within Russell’s passion.
Titian Lish, the Theater Arts department coordinator, said Russell attended many of their theater performances and music events on campus, as well as assisting with the amphitheater renovation process.
“His strongest connection for us was his ardent support for the arts in education and culture. A lover of music and theater, and an accomplished pianist, Dr. Russell understood that valuing arts was fundamental in creating passionate learners,” said Lish.
Russell’s ability to connect with people is his dexterity. Ask any staff member from the many places he has left his legacy.
His love for the arts brought closer relationships between him and staff members.
Cerritos College’s former Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences Francine DeFrance said, “He has the largest network of anyone I know, with people from every phase of his life enjoying an active ongoing friendship with him.
His engaging interest in others, generosity with his time and delightful sense of humor are caring qualities that all of us who know him enjoy.”
“He felt everyone should enjoy the arts, and as such, took the division staff to the Walt Disney Hall when it first opened to the public, the Getty Center, to very nice lunches,” said Alva Costa at Cerritos College.
He also “arranged a ‘field trip’ to Santa Ana College so that the fine arts and communications staff could meet their counterparts at another institution.”
As his role as Las Positas’ president comes to an end, his legacy will live on. The achievements he’s accomplished and what he’s done for LPC will resonate in the lives of many.
From attending district meetings to watching the school plays, Barry Russell was more than just a president. He was one of us. He belonged on campus.