Lloyd Snelson touched many lives. In a classroom, a boardroom or on a football field, people mattered to Snelson.
As an educator and administrator, Snelson was the image of personality and leadership, especially as a principal at Rio Americano High School in the 1970s and Bella Vista in the '80s and '90s until retirement.
Snelson's idea of retirement was to educate audiences on the merits of his alma mater's football team at Sacramento State, where he served as a longtime booster president and No. 1 fan. Declining health sidelined "Mr. Hornet" in recent months. Snelson died Sunday afternoon after a long illness. He was 78.
"Wonderful guy who lived for the Hornets," said Wally Borland, a close friend and Sac State graduate.
Snelson supported all sports at Sac State but had a special affinity for football, so much so that he told The Bee years ago amid laughter: "When I die, my children know they can't touch a dime of my estate until they agree to sneak into Hornet Field at night and scatter my ashes over the football field."
Services are pending, but you can bet this order will be carried out by his surviving children, daughters Lisa and Kathy Snelson.
A guard at Corning High, Snelson found football to be the ultimate bonding experience that fostered lasting relationships and memories.
At Shasta College in 1953, Snelson was moved from guard to fullback in the season finale against state No. 1 Yuba College late in the game. His only carry was a 73-yard touchdown run, and his extra point provided the winning margin in a 19-18 victory to secure the Golden Valley Conference championship, paramount in landing him in the Shasta College Athletics Hall of Fame.
He played on Sac State's first football team in 1954, when a roster depleted by injuries and job hunting after the Korean War doomed the Hornets to a winless season.
Early in the 1955 campaign, Snelson's extra point following an Eddie Soto touchdown run provided Sac State with its first victory, 7-6 over Southern Oregon. That game ball rests in the Hornets' trophy case.
Snelson was a yell leader for other sports, and he never stopped yelling. He was a fixture at Hornets events and an early inductee into the Hornets Hall of Fame. He shook hands and wrote checks at fundraising events. He agonized when the Hornets lost football games, and he shook the booster suite in victory.
In 1988, after 18 successive losses by Sac State to UC Davis in the Causeway Classic, Snelson had a Hornets logo tattooed on his backside to celebrate a memorable 31-28 breakthrough. He offered to show the ink to anyone willing to look.
"I never looked, so you just trusted him," Borland said with a laugh.
During a Causeway pregame breakfast in 1995, Jamie Berry recalled a sight he and others would never forget.
"Alumni would give motivational speeches on what it meant to play the Aggies," said Berry, a Hornets Hall of Famer as a safety who now owns an insurance brokerage firm in Sacramento. "Lloyd not only spoke as if he was putting on a uniform that day, he stood on his chair, pulled his pants down and revealed his Hornets tattoo. The room went crazy. He made his mark for sure, a passionate man you couldn't help but love."
Also in 1995, Snelson offered his spacious home to first-year Hornets coach John Volek and four assistants as they sought permanent housing.
Snelson was "the most loyal man who became part of your family, a brother you never had or wish you had," Volek said. "Lloyd was the ultimate giver."
Former Hornets agree.
"Lloyd treated every player like he was his own son," said Daniel Phelps, a Sac State offensive lineman in the early 2000s who now dabbles in documentary films and teaches at York College in New York. "We always respected him, and he brought much-needed camaraderie to our small organization. It was never about his money. I think all of us strived to be as big a Hornets fan as Lloyd. We found this to be an impossible feat. Nobody had a connection to the team like he did."
Snelson wanted every deserving Hornets player to have a letterman's jacket. If he couldn't afford one, Snelson found a way.
"He bought me a letterman's jacket for graduation in 2002, and I wear it proudly every winter out here in New York," Phelps said. "I think about Lloyd every time I put it on."
Said Volek: "My wife, Vicki, said it perfectly: 'I'm going to miss that man's smile.' It's true. He made us all smile."