By ALEX DE LEÓN
If there is one person responsible for creating the Pima Community College that we know today, it is S. James Manilla.
Manilla was president of PCC from 1979-1987. Chancellors were called president at that time.
Manilla was recently honored at a PCC Board of Governors meeting on Oct. 11 and was presented with a Chancellor Emeritus Award, the first given out by the college.
“Jim is an icon from my standpoint,” PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert said.
During his presidency, Manilla implemented significant changes, including the college’s grading policy and the creation of the East Campus.
A native of Skaneateles, New York, Manilla joined the U.S. Air Force right out of high school at 18. Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese less than a year before, and he was assigned to the European theater of World War II.
As a commissioned second lieutenant, he flew 35 missions over Nazi Germany as a bombardier navigator.
His bomber squadron was awarded a presidential citation for its part in the Battle of the Bulge.
After the war, Manilla started his college career at the University of Michigan. He earned his bachelor of science in 1949 and began working as a high school social sciences teacher and football coach in upstate New York.
He received his master’s degree at Syracuse University and his doctorate in higher education administration from Wayne State University.
Manilla’s first school presidency was at Harrisburg Community College in Pennsylvania, then 2 years later, he became president of Penn Valley Community College in Kansas City.
He applied for the presidency position at Pima Community College and got the job in 1979.
The college was just a decade old and had a string of presidents before him.
“I was the fifth president in eight years,” Manilla said.
College administrators had also underestimated enrollment numbers, which were beyond 20,000 students by fall 1976.
“He put a lot of things into permanent structure for our institution,” said Georgia Brousseau, during the board of governors’ meeting honoring Manilla.
Brousseau was one of the board members who hired Manilla and worked with him during his presidency. She remembers his character when working with sometimes “cantankerous” members.
“He treated everyone respectfully, even when they weren’t being respectful toward him,” Brousseau said.
One of Manilla’s most significant achievements at PCC was the building of the East Campus in 1981. Brousseau described it as an “incredibly turbulent period,” but she, Manilla and the rest of the governing board were able to come together and persuade the state legislature to approve the creation of the facility. It now houses, among other things, the veterinary technology and emergency medical technology programs.
The fine arts building at the West Campus was also constructed during his tenure.
And Manilla negotiated with the philanthropic Nanini family for the land on which the Northwest Campus is located, at no cost to the college.
The Naninis have contributed land for such places as the Omni National Golf Resort and the Northwest YMCA.
Manilla moved the school from an ‘A, B, C, withdrawal’ grading policy to an ‘A, B, C, D, F’ system that is still in use today.
Manilla believed a good liberal arts education was important for all PCC students.
“A machinist and an auto mechanic and all those occupational areas needed to know Shakespeare, and how to write a cogent paragraph and how to read really, really well,” Brousseau said.
Lambert recalled a lunch he had with Manilla, who was one of the first people he met when he arrived on campus.
“We had a nice conversation and he introduced me to some community members,” he said. “Now I belong to a community member breakfast group thanks to him.”
Lambert admires Manilla for the work he has done and the example he has set for administrators of the college.
“He has set a standard for many of us in terms of how you lead and run an organization,” he said.
Manilla is now retired and lives in Tucson, which he very much likes and has no plans to leave.
Manilla appreciates the recognition he has received for his work at PCC, but his greatest satisfaction has to do with the students of the college.
“There is no greater reward than to watch thousands and thousands of individuals pursue post-secondary education, regardless of their age or their color or individual well-being,” he said, “and that’s probably the greatest satisfaction that I got.”