By Edgar Lopez
“Students walked in darkness,” said Dennis Sanchez, an instructor at East Los Angeles College, as he compared ELAC before Ernest H. Moreno, the former president, was hired.
“I remember that there were tall weeds just about everywhere on campus, poor lighting, poor work conditions for teachers,” said Sanchez, who has been at ELAC as long as Moreno has. It was nearly 18 years ago since Moreno took the role of president.
Moreno said there was a lot of infighting between faculty, which made it difficult to move forward. At some meetings, only one faculty member would show up. Moreno had to do his best with a school that had a shoddy reputation.
In addition, because of a large enrollment decline due to a budget deficit, along with a shifting population, the diversity within ELAC was unbalanced and created a predominantly Hispanic student body.
“I know that few people wanted to attend ELAC because there was an overall lack of pride. The words ‘Taco Tech’ rang much more loudly back then,” said Sanchez.
“The morale was as low as it can get,” said Moreno, who was vice president at the time. Despite the fact that he knew of ELAC’s reputation and problems, he remained.
One thing he loved, he said, is making people laugh. He once spoke of his childhood at a scholarship dinner. Moreno said he had a hard time when growing up, mostly because his mother was German and his father was Mexican.
“I was a baby speaking baby German in a barrio. Nobody could understand me,” Moreno said.
This approach helped faculty become less negative, thus, helping improve ELAC as faculty started discussing issues about the school. Due to better cooperation among staff, ELAC went from being an institution of last resort to a first-rate school. Moreno enjoys competition with other schools. He made it his goal to advance (ELAC) “so far, that they can’t even see our dust.”
“It’s a flagship in the district,” Dean of the South Gate Educational Center, Al Rios, said of ELAC.
However, Moreno did not only want to build ELAC to greatness, but he wanted to make his students feel comfortable. He took interest in his students and faculty. He greeted each one with a smile and courteously asked about their lives. Moreno’s legacy will be remembered through his work as he helped start and finish many construction projects on campus, from the Child Development Center to the new F7 building. He has also helped spread ELAC’s fame to an international level.
At a tour of campus, Moreno joked that, one time, ELAC had some cushions that they had to sell. They mistakenly ordered too many so they tried to give them away. When a group of students from China came to visit, he offered them cushions to sit on. Unknown to Moreno, the cushions had been freshly painted. When the group was leaving, one of the visitors bent over and Moreno noticed that they all had ELAC painted on their rears.