Remembering Ernie Garcia, UCR’s first Hispanic graduate

Garcia, advocate for the arts and former Dean of Education at CSUSB, passed away April 5.

Courtesy of UCR Special Collections

Dr. Ernest “Ernie” F. Garcia, longtime educator and arts advocate, and UCR’s first Hispanic graduate, passed away April 5th. He was 93 years old.

Garcia, the youngest of four children, grew up in Colton, the son of Mexican immigrants. Growing up in the 1930s and 40s, he found one of his first jobs as an orange and potato picker, where he demonstrated a strong work ethic. Eventually, “he was able to pick and fill 100 boxes of oranges a day,” according to UC News. After attending Colton High School, Garcia embarked on a path of higher education where he obtained an associates degree from San Bernardino Valley College. However, having enlisted as a reserve with the U.S. Air National Guard, Garcia’s higher education was briefly interrupted in the early 1950s due to world affairs. With the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, Garcia was deployed to Japan, where he served as a staff sergeant in charge of supplies, according to UC News. 

However, when he returned to the U.S., he quickly dived back into his education by enrolling in the newly inaugurated UC Riverside in 1954. Garcia was part of UCR’s very first graduating class. In his time at Riverside, he was elected to ASB and quickly took interest in the selection of UCR’s new mascot. Garcia suggested the coatimundi, a relative of racoons, writing in a memory book that, “I thought we should have a catchy and unusual mascot that would make [UCR] known immediately!” As Garcia already had multiple years of college under his belt from a different institution, his time at UCR was short, and he graduated in 1955 with a degree in social sciences.

After graduating UCR, Garcia pursued a career in education, obtaining a master’s degree in School Administration and Curriculum from the University of Redlands, and became an educator in the Rialto Unified School District, according to the San Bernardino Valley College Foundation. In 1966, he completed a doctorate at UCLA in Instructional Technology. Afterwards, he became a professor at the University of Redlands and, a year later, at California State University, San Bernardino. At CSU San Bernardino, Garcia was named dean of the School of Education in 1979, a position he held until retirement in 1990. In 1994, UCR included him in its “40 Alumni Who Make a Difference” list, and Dr. Ernest Garcia Elementary School in Colton is named after him, according to UC News. In the San Bernardino Sun, those that knew him expressed the great impact he had made on the community. According to Syeda Jafri, a spokeswoman for Rialto Unified, “still today, his influence reaches far and wide in the Inland Empire.”

Garcia’s impact is still felt in his contributions to the arts. Early in his life, Garcia expressed a passion for the arts, creating art from discarded items he found in the local dump. In adulthood, he continued this passion, singing in various chorales and choirs in the Inland Empire, and acting in multiple plays, according to the San Bernardino Sun. In addition to partaking in the arts himself, he has helped support them. He served on the board of the San Bernardino Symphony and National Orange Show, and was president of San Bernardino Valley Concert Association (SBVCA). When involved in the SBVCA, Garcia helped advocate for the renovation of a vacant adobe building to be used as a cultural hub. In 2013, the SBVCA dedicated the building in downtown San Bernardino as the Garcia Center for the Arts, in honor of Garcia and his wife. Events at the center have ranged from opportunities for children to dance ballet with professional dancers to political cartooning workshops, according to The Press-Enterprise.

Garcia is survived by his wife of 70 years, Dorothy Garcia, three sons, and 5 grandchildren.