Posted: Aug. 26, 2015 | Written by Crystal Olmedo
Ron Yoshino, Professor Emeritus of Riverside City College, left a lasting impression on all he mentored, taught and befriended.
There was an outpouring of social media posts on websites such as Facebook, from former fellow instructors and students when Yoshino passed away June 16 after battling cancer. He taught American, Californian and military History at RCC since 1986.
He also served as the Adviser for Alpha Gamma Sigma, a California Community College honor society that focuses on helping students develop leadership skills and get involved in community outreach.
His values continue to inspire former students.
Michael Gess who took one of Yoshino’s military History classes stated he wants to become a history professor and follow Yoshino’s path.
“I took his History class and got my first non-A grade, but he encouraged me to retake the class and join the honor society which he was the adviser for,” Gess said. “I was absolutely floored by Yoshino. He was an amazing person. He never discounted my ideas, but always took the time to listen.”
None of this would have been possible if Yoshino had not taken the advice of his mentor.
“It was actually one of his professors he had when he was getting his master’s degree that told him it was up to him to carry on mentoring students just as he was taught,” said his wife Diana Yoshino.
This not only rings true with Gess, but also with several other students he interacted with through various classes and programs during his tenure at RCC.
It was not uncommon for Yoshino to push his students to try harder to do their best.
“He loved for students to prove their skills. Even when others told me I was wrong he supported me and my decisions. He was the best teacher I’ve ever had, “ former RCC student Clayton McEvoy said. “He taught me if you’re wrong with the right people then you’re never wrong again.”
Associate English instructor Kathleen Sell taught honors humanities courses alongside Yoshino in seminar style setting.
“It sounds like a cliché, but he really did believe that we often learn as much or more from our mistakes,” Sell said. “He never assumed that because someone hadn’t done well that meant they couldn’t do well … he insisted that they give their best effort. He held himself and his students, and colleagues to high standards.”
According to Sell, well before an official honors program was in place, previous RCC president Charles Kane approached Yoshino about putting together an honors class. Yoshino agreed on the condition that honors courses be team taught to provide students with ideas from different academic perspectives.
“Students could see what it looks like to disagree, respectfully, in an academic debate and how sometimes there wasn’t a right or wrong, but complementary ways of looking at things,” Sell said. “But students were not passive … Ron was a master a probing and listening – when a student offered an idea, he was very good at not just immediately answering or letting the next student jump in, but saying, ‘hold on’ and questioning so that the student developed, explored thier idea more fully, or saw a flaw in reasoning.
Former RCC student Jimmy Gomez, who now serves as a California state assemblyman says that Yoshino played a large part in helping him to reach his goals.
“He encouraged me to seize opportunities,” Gomez said. “He showed me how to plan and set goals and achieve them. He was not only an instructor of mine, but also the adviser or the honor society (Alpha Gamma Sigma), which I was president of from 1995-1996.”
As adviser to AGS Yoshino taught about effective leadership and and giving back to the community.
“We did anything from picking daffodils to give to cancer patients to community clean up,” Gomez said. “He was someone who loved life and always looked for ways to help his students become better individuals. He taught me a lot. It’s difficult knowing that he won’t be there to ask for advice.”
Former RCC student Giovanni Aviña and also previous president of AGS was encouraged to become a leader by Yoshino and passed on the torch. “The knowledge that I acquired and the advice that I got from him I was able to carry on to the next generation of students. Ray Orozco who ended up being ASRCC president, was a student that I was able to mentor because I had Yoshino’s mentorship,” said, Aviña. “A quote that he used to say stuck with me, ‘Roll with the punches.’ That’s all he said and it was up to me to figure out what that meant.”
“I do remember at a very young age, perhaps first grade or second grade, reading a lot of biographies,” Yoshino said in an interview with Viewpoints, “Any good biographer, even at the level of text you read in first or second grade, creates a historical context. I mean, how can you understand a person in the past unless you understand where and how they lived?”
“And so I think it was rather indirectly how I became interested in people and the different lives that they lived,” said Yoshino. “Conversely, that also led me to an understanding of the historical matrix from which they came. That led me into history.”
Yoshino did not only made an effort to connect with his students, but also his peers.
“He made me want to be a better leader. He always made people feel like they could be better versions of themselves, and the he gave them the tools and the pathway to get there,” said Honors Program Coordinator Thatcher Carter, who co-chaired AGS with Yoshino. “Yoshino’s dedication to AGS was unparalleled … I don’t know anyone else that has that sort of effect on students. It was partly his personality that gave him that inroad, but it was also the time he dedicated to his students.”
According to Sell, due to his illness, Yoshino had to step down about mid-way through fall 2014 semester.
Yoshino showed his support for his students even outside of the classroom.
“He would put in a full day every single day at RCC, spending his spare in the honors center, mentoring students between classes; and then on weekends he would travel with the students, do community service projects, have parties at his own house. He was truly a special man,” Carter said.
As an active member of RCC and his community Yoshino touched the lives of even those he met in passing such as RCC student Megan Contreras.
“I was never lucky enough to take one of his courses. I hope that all those who have are able to see just how lucky they are to have had such a knowledgeable passionate professor who remembers every student by name even though they have never taken a course with him,” Contreras said. “He was the type of professor that took time out of his busy day to … have random conversations with his students. Regardless of his age, he was able to relate to students. He knew what he was talking about and if he didn’t he was honest about it.”
Yoshino had a bright outlook for the future generations of America. Although he pushed his students to achieve their success he also spoke highly of striving for equality.
“I have nothing but high expectations for this new generation. These will be the people who will take pioneering effort of my generation, the post Second World War baby boomer, in working in the area of equality which we have seen the expansion of genuine equality of people, of color, for women, for the gay community …,” said Yoshino. “This is ultimately the promise of America, that each generation will in one way or another be better than the last and it doesn’t have to be measured by the dollar sign.”
Yoshino is survived by his daughters Brooke Yoshino, Erin Yoshino and his sons Jason Zeilenga, and Matthew Zeilenga.
He was the eldest of his brothers Timothy Yoshino, Jack Yoshino and Candace Buries.
A visitation was held for Yoshino at Arlington Mortuary June 26, where numerous friends, family, former students, colleagues and their family members gathered to share their memories and stories about Yoshino’s warm, respectful and humorous disposition. Donations may be made to the Ron Yoshino Scholarship, a part of the RCCD foundation.