When Alba Orr started working at Grossmont College 46 years ago, the campus had no sidewalks and was a barren landscape with no grass and trees. The college had about two-thirds of the enrollment it does now and none of the landmark buildings that have transformed the campus in recent years.
Orr has seen lots of changes at Grossmont since she started working here on Sept. 1, 1966 as a 20-year-old clerk in the Counseling and Guidance Department. On Dec. 28, 2012, Orr will officially retire as Grossmont College’s longest continuous employee, a longevity record that is likely to stand for decades.
She could have retired 11 years ago at age 55. “I wasn’t ready back then, but now it’s time,” said Orr, 66, a supervisor in the Business Communications Office, the college’s name for the Mail Center and switchboard. “My family says they want to spend more with me, so here I go.”
The changes Orr has seen at Grossmont College over the years – both on the campus and within the college culture -- have been enormous. “When I started, we never used first names when addressing faculty and administrators. It was mister, miss or doctor,” she said. “Then, the hippies and flower children showed up and things became much more casual.”
She measures Grossmont College’s history according to decades and its presidents: Irv Metzgar in the 1970s, when the student enrollment was about 12,000; Ivan Jones in the 1980s, when student enrollment rose to 18,000; Richard Sanchez in the 1990s, when State Route 125 opened and improved access to the campus; Ted Martinez from 1999 to 2005, which included the college’s 40th anniversary in 2001; and Sunny Cooke, who arrived in July 2008 and directed the college’s recent 50th anniversary celebration held in April 2012.
“Alba has been a consistent part of Grossmont College’s history,” Cooke said. “Her institutional memory of the college is unmatched. We will definitely miss her.”
Orr can nostalgically recall various important campus events: in 1972, a new campus bookstore opened; she graduated with an associate degree in accounting in 1974; in the late 1980s, tight budgets caused employees to take turns bringing in toilet paper and tissue from home; and the introduction of new computer-aided registration in the late 1980s. The 1990s were filled with special social events for retiring staff members; since 2002, when voters approved the $207 million Proposition R bond measure, nine new buildings have opened on campus.
She is especially proud of a campus newsletter from May 1990 with a story about herself, an accounts/facilities clerk at the time, as the college’s first employee of the month. Her legacy also includes serving as a founding member and the first treasurer of the Grossmont College Foundation, a nonprofit organization formed in the mid-1990s to raise money for college programs and scholarships. The Foundation for Grossmont and Cuyamaca Colleges is now in charge of fundraising for the college.
Orr was born in Tijuana into a family of six children, including four boys. “My father didn’t want me to grow up as a tomboy, and he wanted me to have a better life,” she said. At age 13, Orr and her sister, Maria, were sent by their parents to San Diego to live with an American couple in the Rolando area, where Orr lives today.
She graduated from Crawford High School in 1966, and met her husband, Les, on a blind date at the Santee Drive-In. “Shortly after we got married, my adopted parents moved out of their house and we rented it, and later we purchased it, and have been there ever since,” Orr said.
Les Orr, 67, retired 12 years ago after a career as a Safety Specialist, US Navy. Their two daughters live in San Diego. Daughter Jodi, 33, a hospital corpsman in the U.S. Navy, lives next door to her parents with her 17-month-old son. Erica, 39, lives in Tierrasanta raising three children, ages 14, 12 and 7.
In addition to spending more time with family during retirement, Orr plans to continue a number of volunteer activities. As a member of the San Diego Mission Lions Club for more than 20 years, Orr has traveled on more than 40 weeklong medical mission trips to other countries to assist volunteer physicians. Also, every second Saturday of the month, she joins fellow Lions members on a trip to a shelter in Tijuana to help more than 1,400 homeless men, women and children. She also visits an orphanage in Tecate during the summer to deliver school supplies and during the Christmas holidays with gifts of shoes and toys.
“I have always enjoyed coming to work because I learned something new every day,” Orr said. “I will miss it here. It’s been my home for a long time. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people and make some good friends. But, I’ve trained other staff who will be able to do the work. That’s how Grossmont College has worked for many years, together as a family.”