UC Merced

UC Merced has been 20 years in making

Lee Boese was worried that Merced would become a warehouse town.

Bob Rucker wanted to give local kids a chance to go to a local university, with scholarships paid for.

And the University of California Regents looked favorably on the free land offered by the Virginia Smith Trust, a charitable trust that provided college scholarships to Merced-area high school students.

UC Merced has come a long way since 1988, when a new University of California campus in the San Joaquin Valley was a dream of the UC Regents.

More than 80 sites were studied when the idea of a Valley campus began to look like a reality. Those sites were narrowed down to three, including land in eastern Merced County, near Lake Yosemite.

And in 1995, that land was chosen to be the newest UC campus.

"I got involved when I was 29," said 44-year-old Boese, a Merced dentist. "I was worried about Merced becoming a Safeway packing plant, that the community would never have any jobs of good pay."

Boese watched students grow up and leave the area, because there were no jobs. "There needed to be a tenth UC, and it deserved to be in the Central Valley," Boese said.

Along with other local UC boosters, Boese worked hard to convince the UC Regents that Merced would be a good place to put a UC. The offer of free land helped, but then a tiny life form almost derailed the town's dream of being home to a university.

"I was in a room with Fish and Game and the UC folks when the word came down that they had found fairy shrimp," Boese said. "And to us, the dream of a UC wasn't going to happen, or it was going to cost a tremendous amount of money."

But a lot of hard work and perserverance, and the use of an existing golf course instead of more sensitive habitat, helped bring the UC to fruition.

Rucker, chief of staff for state Sen. Richard Monteith between 1996 and 2002, is a fifth-generation Merced County resident.

Rucker thought a UC in Merced would revive the community, especially the kids of the Valley. He worked hard politically, along with other local politicians, to push Merced as the site of the new campus.

By 1997, UC Merced had established a regional office at Merced College. In 1998 the university joined the Merced County Board of Supervisors, the Virginia and Cyril Smith Trusts, the city of Merced and the Merced Irrigation District to begin a planning process for the University Community.

In 1999, Carol Tomlinson-Keasey was appointed as founding chancellor of UC Merced.

In January 2002, the environmental impact report on the UC was approved.

The campus celebrated its official grand opening and the arrival of the first class of undergraduate students on Sept. 5, 2005.

Despite the fact that the UC was originally supposed to be built on a bigger site, and it could have cost substantially less to build, Rucker is tickled with having a UC in Merced.

"I think it's all been worth it," he said.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com