Hugh O. La Bounty’s imprint can be seen in nearly every corner of campus.
It’s in the reddish-brown concrete of the library’s original building. It resides in every apartment in University Village. And it lives in the offices of Building 94 and the first classrooms built in what is now The Collins College of Hospitality Management. His legacy also looms large in his connection to the faculty and staff he supported and the alumni he mentored as students.
La Bounty, whose most important role before becoming the university’s third president was spearheading the development of the Kellogg campus, made Cal Poly Pomona his home for 38 years. The Navy veteran of World War II died Nov. 7 of natural causes. He was 91.
“Few individuals have had a greater impact on Cal Poly Pomona than President La Bounty,” said current Cal Poly Pomona President Soraya M. Coley. “It’s been nearly three decades since his tenure as president, and yet his legacy is almost everywhere from our academic programs to our physical campus.”
When La Bounty, who was born in Chicago and grew up in Long Beach, began his career at the university, Dwight D. Eisenhower was in his first year as president, the New York Yankees had won their fifth consecutive World Series, and the first color television sets went on sale in the U.S. for $1,000 – the equivalent to $10,000 in today’s dollars.
Campus life was much different then too. What is now Cal Poly Pomona was an all-male southern campus of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1953 known as the Voorhis School for Boys, located on 150 acres in San Dimas. It was the former site of a home for underprivileged boys.
La Bounty, who had a bachelor’s and master’s degree in history from the University of Redlands and a doctorate in education from UCLA, was hired to teach English and speech at the Voorhis campus, which had around 270 students at the time. Julian McPhee, the university’s first president, tapped La Bounty in 1956 to help develop the new Kellogg campus.
“The move had to be made if we were going to accommodate more students,” La Bounty said in a taped interview with a student in 1966.
He, along with a few faculty members, did the “backbreaking labor,” as La Bounty described it, of moving the desks and other equipment over to the one classroom building Kellogg had at the time – the science building. All the functions of the campus were done out of that one building to start, but faculty, staff and students adjusted well, according to La Bounty.
“The first year was very hectic,” La Bounty said in the 1966 interview. “It made little impact I think because everybody recognized it was going to be a hectic year, so they expected it.”
From 1953 to 1956, the state invested $45 million for campus facilities, which in addition to the science building, led to the construction of the library, a cafeteria, a business building, an administration building, a gym, a music, speech and drama building, and an engineering building. Women were admitted in 1961, and Cal Poly Pomona gained its independence from SLO in 1966.
As the campus grew, so did La Bounty’s role in its development. After being tapped to serve as the building coordinator the first few years at Kellogg, La Bounty held posts as the chair of the social science department (1958-1962); executive dean (1962-1966); dean of the college (1966-67); vice president for Academic Affairs (1967-1975) and executive vice president (1977). La Bounty was named acting president in 1977 and made permanent in 1978.
The state faced tough times fiscally while he was at the helm, but the university continued to grow. La Bounty oversaw the construction of Building 94, which was then the University Office Building, a new bookstore, the Collins Center for Hospitality Management, University Village and the W. Keith and Janet Kellogg University Art Gallery. The historic horse stables were transformed into university offices.
During his tenure as president, enrollment increased from around 15,000 to more than 20,000 and the fields of study expanded. An emphasis on the importance of forging global ties led to the establishment of the International Center and the expansion of study abroad programs that included new exchanges with universities in China.
La Bounty had a passion for global education, once serving as a consultant to USAID and the Tanzanian National Ministry of Education. He also was a consultant to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Ministry of Education and Religion in Athens, Greece, and as project field coordinator, directed the establishment of five technical colleges in Greece.
Also launched during his tenure as president were trustee-in-residence and legislator-in-residence programs. He created the Pace Setters, an organization to keep retired faculty and staff connected to the campus.
Ron Simons (‘64, agronomy), the former alumni director, worked directly under La Bounty and called him a president who “had great vision.”
Simons recalled the period when hospitality professors and instructors were pushing to separate from the School of Business, and La Bounty rallied the faculty to step up to the challenge of raising funds for the change at a mandatory Friday late afternoon meeting.
“If it hadn’t been for Hugh, I don’t think we would’ve had the hospitality center,” Simons said. “He kind of brought it all together and worked very hard at it. He dealt well with the donors, and they all thought he did the greatest job.”
La Bounty connected with people, Simons said.
“Hugh was very well liked,” he said. “He was very politically astute and knew how to work with legislators to accomplish things. He was 100 percent for the faculty, and wanted to make sure they had as good a situation as they could get, but they had to work hard for it.”
History Professor Emeritus John Moore was the advisor of the National Model UN Team on campus, and said that La Bounty was very supportive of the program. When Moore started a series of symposiums titled The Virginia and Douglas Adair Symposia, organizers tried to get grant funding to sustain it. La Bounty attended events and hosted a dinner party for noted political author and television personality William F. Buckley Jr. at the Manor House, Moore recalled. A large grant came through his office for the series from the Exxon Education Foundation.
“He reigned over a university that became a large, comprehensive, really quite good university right there in the mix of state universities, even nationwide,” Moore said.
La Bounty also enthusiastically supported student activities.
Jill Escoto (’83, communications), the immediate past president of the Cal Poly Pomona Alumni Association Board of Directors, served on the committee for Poly Vue, a student-run open house that showcased student successes to the local community. She recalled how La Bounty would stop by the committee meetings on occasion to see what the students had planned for the event.
“He was interested in the students, yet unassuming,” she said. “I remember his smile when he would attend the various events we had planned and would bask in the fact that these were his students who embraced ‘learn by doing.’ You could tell he truly loved the university and what it stood for. I was honored to have known him.”
Covina Mayor Walter Allen (’75, urban planning) interacted with La Bounty often when La Bounty was the vice president of Academic Affairs and Allen was the ASI president from 1973-1974. Allen remembered La Bounty as an administrator who was very student-focused, giving and welcoming, with a broad smile and a big laugh.
“Hugh was somewhat of a father figure for me because he was just a great mentor,” Allen said. “If you needed to see him for a particular problem, he would personally open his doors any time for you to see him. He really cared about the students and he was kind.”
La Bounty is survived by his wife of 31 years, Judith. He was married to his first wife, Gwen, who died in 1985, for 35 years. La Bounty also is survived by his five children – Brian (Monica); Mark (Roberta); Kim (Dan Harris); Paul (Judith); and Eric, as well as 10 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
A celebration of his life is being planned in January.