Educator’s legacy lives on through campus endowment

Throughout his 51-year teaching career, John Elia made a profound impact on the lives of more than 10,000 students. Now, his legacy will continue through an endowment created by his family.

A gift from the John Elia Education Endowment Trust will fund scholarships, fellowships and programs at UC Merced.

“Mr. Elia is cherished as a vibrant educator and civic leader in the San Joaquin Valley,” Chancellor Dorothy Leland said. “We appreciate his family’s desire to further his commitment to education by expanding the horizons for countless students at UC Merced through this wonderful endowment.”

In 1971 and 1983, Elia was commended by the California Legislature for his record of service in education and for his many contributions to the community.

Elia had a strong commitment to educating youths and serving the community. He taught wood shop at Longfellow Junior High School and Fresno High School, both of which he attended as a youth. He was a substitute teacher at other local high schools until his retirement in 1983.

He also taught in the Fresno County Apprentice Painter’s program at Fresno City College and served for four years as the director of industrial arts exhibits for the Fresno County Fair.

He served as a Boy Scout troop leader and was active in the Las Palmas Masonic Lodge. He was honored as Teacher of the Year by the Lions Club in 1965.

His wife, Victoria, was a homemaker and a part-time salesperson at Roos Atkins Department Store and shared his passion for higher education.

“The contribution to UC Merced is our family’s way of saying thank you for the opportunities afforded us by this Valley’s community,” said Kenneth and Richard Elia, his sons. “We chose UC Merced because it gave us an opportunity to participate in a new UC in the Valley.”

A portion of the money will offer scholarships to students who are veterans or undocumented, and some will provide fellowships for graduate students. Additionally, the money will provide programming and services for undocumented students.

Elia, who is thought to be the first Armenian to teach in Fresno, taught diverse students and had a special affinity for immigrant struggles.

He died in 1987 at the age of 81.

Cleaning up the grasslands

The open space between campus and Lake Yosemite seems to catch all the garbage the wind can blow.

That’s why on July 28 a group of volunteers spent the morning picking up trash there.

“We met at 8 in the morning, armed with litter sticks, gloves and plastic bags, and we split up into teams and set out to three different areas,” said Maria Vega, a housing and dining employee. “Among the places we collected trash from were areas adjacent to the campus and the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve.”

These areas are all marked with signs as sensitive resource management areas. It’s important to keep them clean because the garbage endangers wildlife and the ecosystem, and could spread to the campus’s new nature reserve, too.

The volunteers – including one faculty member, one staff member, two local high school students, a community member, four incoming freshmen and undergrads – spread out to collect as much as they could.

They filled 40 bags.

“Along our paths we came across squirrel burrows and vernal pools that were contaminated with bits of trash, big and small,” Vega said.

Plastic bags and napkins clung to spines of endemic coyote thistle growing in the dry vernal pools and leftover picnic supplies lined the burrows. Also among the trash collected: bottles, candy wrappers, cups, sun-dried plastic bits and bags, beach balls, golf balls, party invitations and receipts.

“We must try to be mindful of the waste each of us is responsible for,” Vega said.