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History of American River College

American River College is a state-funded community college, part of the Los Rios Community College District, which also includes Cosumnes River College, Folsom Lake College, and Sacramento City College.

However, ARC's history pre-dates the Los Rios District. It opened its doors as California's 61st public junior college in 1955, but goes back to February 28, 1942, when Grant Union Junior College was established in Del Paso Heights to train civilian personnel for national service during World War II. In 1945 the name was changed to Grant Technical College.

In June 1954, voters agreed to the establishment of a new junior college district, followed by the approval of a $3 million bond issue in November of that year. Grant Technical College ceased operation after 13 years and the American River Junior College District was born in the fall of 1955.

For the first three years, classes were offered at the former Grant Technical College campus. However, soon after its first semester of classes had begun, the college purchased a 153-acre site known as the Cameron Ranch on which to construct a permanent campus. By October of 1958, when official dedication ceremonies were held, eight new building complexes had been erected among the magnificent oaks native to the area.

Since that dedication date, the stately oak has been the official college symbol (including the campus seal), and many other facilities have been added to expand instructional and related services--both on and off campus.

Early on, the beaver was selected as the official college mascot, perhaps because there were beaver in adjacent Arcade Creek. The mascot's name was "Igor" (a play on words: "eager-beaver" = "Igor Beaver").

ARC in the 1960sIn 1965 the college became a part of the Los Rios Community College District and changed its name to American River College. (ARC and the other colleges are directed by a seven-member board of trustees elected by voters residing in the district.)

At ARC, campus facilities development as part of the Los Rios District began with Davies Hall, a three-story classroom and faculty office building completed in 1966. In 1968-1969 new facilities for chemistry, physics, engineering, women's physical education, and technical vocational studies, were added.

The campus grew rapidly in the 1970s, including a three-story library, a horticulture complex, a major addition to the technical education facility, a childcare center and counseling center. In 1975, the college's first off-campus center was opened in the Natomas area.

The 1980s saw the completion of the Rose Marks open-air pavilion and a new bookstore (remodeled in the 1990s). Recent improvements include major remodeling of laboratories and the student services building, new faculty and administrative office buildings, and facilities for disabled student programs & services, and instructional technology.

In the 1990s, ARC took over leadership of the Sacramento Regional Public Safety Training Center, which provides training to police, sheriff, and fire professionals, as well as classes for ARC students in fire technology and the basic police academy. (In 2001, the SRPSTC moved to new headquarters in McClellan Park, not far from the college.) In 1990, the college opened an off-campus center on Madison Ave., on the grounds of Bella Vista High School. In 1996, ARC opened the off-campus Sunrise Center on Ethan Way, across from the California State Fair grounds.

With the passage of districtwide and statewide bond measures, construction on new buildings began in 2004, and will continue well into the second decade of the 21st century. New construction in recent years include a new theatre and performing arts classrooms, gymnasium, the Learning Resource Center, Health & Education classrooms and offices, Natomas Education Center, and an expanded college library.

Today, at over 30,000 students, American River College is among the largest community colleges in the state, and is looked upon as a leader in innovative programs and services. It transfers more students to UC Davis and CSU Sacramento than any other community college.



American River College Presidents

  • Bill J. Priest, 1955-64
  • Kenneth Boettcher, 1965-1978
  • Doug Burris, Interim
  • Robert Jensen, 1978-1984
  • Owen Stewart, Interim
  • Queen F. Randall, 1984-1993
  • C. Max McDonald, Interim
  • Marie B. Smith, 1995-2004
  • Richard McCormac, Interim
  • David L. Viar, 2005-2013
  • Marie Smith, Interim, 2013
  • Bill Karns, Interim, 2013
  • Pam Walker, Interim, 2014
  • Thomas Greene, 2014

Photo of four ARC presidents

Four presidents pose in 2006 (L to R): Marie Smith, David Viar, Queen Randall, Robert Jensen. The other living president, Bill J. Priest, who lives in the Dallas area, was unable to attend.



The Early History of the College

Grant Technical College
[from The Koran-ette, the monthly publication of the Associated Students of the Grant Technical College; April 22, 1955, p. 2.]

Grant Junior College was established in February 1942 by authorization of the California State Board of Education under the superintendency of William Rutherford. War training classes began. In the summer of 1942, commercial and mathematics classes were added.

Grant was accredited to University of California and to college program of pre-officer training by the U.S. Navy. In 1942-43, Signal Corps, war training, and Off Reservation Training added up to an enrollment of 2236. In 1943, Grant Junior College established the first WAAC Signal Corps training school in the U.S.

Prior to March 1944, classes were held in Grant Union High School buildings. Grant Junior College's own facility was dedicated in March 1944.

In May 1945, Grant Junior College became Grant Technical College by order of the Grant Board of Trustees.

In the fall of 1946, Elwood J. Keema became superintendent of the Grant Union High School District, which operated and controlled the college for its entire 13 years of existence.
In the summer of 1955, Grant Technical College campus became the temporary campus of the new American River Junior College.


A celebration of 25 years-from a Spartan start to today
[From the Orangevale News, May 13, 1981]

For a college that started out in Del Paso Heights with 14 barrack-type classrooms, American River College has come a long way.

The American River Junior College District was voted into existence on June 25, 1954, to serve students from north area high schools. In September 1955, the district began operating American River Junior College, the 61st junior college in California.

Between 1955 and 1958, ARJC was operated out of the rental facilities that had housed Grant Technical College. Grant Tech ceased to exist and much of its staff and curriculum became a part of the new junior college.  

The property for a new campus was scouted out by Dr. Bill J. Priest, first ARJC president. Out of five possible locations, he chose the present ARC site, 153 acres bounded by Winding Way, Myrtle Avenue, Arcade Creek, and the current College Oak Drive.

Five people owned portions of the proposed site. Two of the land holders raised poultry, one operated a "mom and pop" garage, and one was the niece of Adolph Walke, who had originally owned the entire 153 acres and operated it as a dairy.

The major landholder, however, was Robert Larry Cameron, a Sacramento Pontiac dealer and land speculator. Though he didn't live on the property, Cameron oversaw the management of the cattle breeding business that was operated on the property. He and his wife visited the ranch on weekends to conduct business and ride their horses. [They stayed in a house which was occupied otherwise by a caretaker; the building is now known as the Ranch House.]

The name Cameron may be familiar to some. An area east of the campus, a part of the Cameron holdings that was not taken [via eminent domain] for ARJC use, was sold to developers in the late 1950s and is now known as Cameron Ranch Estates. Cameron Park, a foothills community off Highway 50, is also a California landmark that bears his name.

Eight buildings were constructed at the Cameron Ranch site. Construction began May 1957 and was completed in October 1958.

Planning allowed the campus, designed for 2000 students, to expand to accommodate 7000 students. However, enrollment exceeded expectations, and revisions were necessary to allow for the changing needs. In 1963, the stadium and a lecture hall [Raef Hall] were built. This was joined in 1964 by a three-story classroom-office complex [Davies Hall].

Also in 1964, efforts to reduce the cost of administering area colleges resulted in the formation of the Los Rios Junior College District. ARJC became a part of the consolidated district, along with Sacramento Junior College (Sacramento City College). It was then that the word "junior," which to some carries a connotation of inferiority, was dropped from the colleges' titles.