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George Kutras: A Shasta College Legacy

George Kutras: A Shasta College Legacy

Richard Woulfe
Shasta College Lance

The Shasta College community lost a great friend over the holiday break, possibly the college’s
greatest friend ever, with the passing of former President George Kutras, who died at age 89 at
the Oak Rest retirement home on Jan. 20th.

 

A 52-year employee of the college, Kutras joined the history department in 1951 and also
coached the basketball team from 1951-52 to 1970-71. In addition, Kutras also worked at
various times as an assistant football coach, Dean of the Social Science Division, Dean of Men,
Dean of Student Activities, and Dean of Instruction culminating with his elevation to the
Presidency of the College in 1990.

Kutras’ impact on the college, according to many of those who worked with him, went well
beyond the jobs he held; they described him as a visionary who played a crucial role in the
development of the college, which grew from an enrollment of 257 in 1950 to an eventual peak
of some 14,000 matriculated students.

His friend and longtime boss, retired Superintendent-President Kenneth Cerreta, said Kutras’
work ethic was unparalleled. He described him as a whirlwind that you could put to work on any
project and get immediate positive results.

“He worked night and day to better the college,”. said Cerreta.

The son of a prominent local Greek American family, Kutras grew up on a 580-acre dairy farm
off Pine St. in Redding. Later, he would be a star basketball player at Shasta High School,
playing for Shasta’s esteemed basketball coach Harland Carter.

He then moved on to Chico State College, playing for another North State basketball coaching
icon, Art Acker, the WildCat’s famed “Silver Fox”. Kutras, a tough, canny hard-nosed guard
known for his defensive skills, was a starter on three Far Western Conference championships
teams, in addition to boxing for the college.

Kutras’s close relationships with his coaches, Carter and Acker in particular, was to have a
huge impact on his life. The two coaches were highly regarded, nationally recognized coaches,
but also, they were famous for their mentorship skills, something they passed on to the youthful
Kutras.

The cigar-chomping Acker, who helped find Chico State grads teaching and coaching jobs for
decades, thought so highly of Kutras’ leadership skills that he brought him back after he
graduated to coach the WildCat freshman basketball team.

After earning his teaching credential and MA in Social Science at Chico, Kutras then went to
work at Anderson High School, and later at Shasta High School, before signing on as a History
instructor and head basketball coach in 1951. The college, at this point, was a small
underfunded operation run by a local school district.

Kutras was an immediate success as a coach at Shasta, which got the startup college a lot of
needed publicity in local papers. Kutras’ son, SC History-Political Science instructor Chris
Kutras described his father’s coaching style as physical. He said he was famous for recruiting a
couple of football players each year to play on the basketball team to act as enforcers.

” When the starters tired, he would put the football players in the game. My Dad believed if
there was no blood, there was no foul” said Chris Kutras.

In 19 years coaching Kutras’ basketball teams would win 232 games and lose 189. Kutras won
two conference titles and was named Golden Valley Conference coach of the year in 1962. He
also was active in the management of the Golden Valley Conference, serving on the league’s
commission for many years, including his years as college president. Kutras’ coaching acumen
would lead to his induction into the SC Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

While Kutras was a known for his toughness and aggressive coaching style, off the court he
was known for his kindness and his skills at mentoring young people. Countless former Kutras
coached players went on to work as coaches and teachers. He even schemed to bring back two
of his best enforcers to teach at SC, Clar Appledoorn, and Geno Parent. Parent would be a
popular football coach for many years, while Appledoorn would coach, teach PE, and serve as
Athletic Director for many years.

According to Ceretta the key trait of his longtime friend and coworker was his likeability. He
said Kutras made friends for SC everywhere he went, functioning as a kind of ambassador to
the community. This trait he had, said Cerreta, along with his deep roots in the community, was
a major asset to the college for decades.

“ George was a people person., and he knew so many people locally. He had gone to school
with all these guys. When we were trying to get support in the community for something George
would know just who to call. They liked him, they trusted him, and they believed in him” said
Cerreta.

One person who can attest to Kutras’ capacity for kindness is current SC head basketball
coach Kele Fitzhugh. He said when he first got hired he was a bit nervous about his new job. He
said out of the blue Kutras called him and took him out to lunch. Fitzhugh said this helped him
get over his early jitters as the new head coach.

“He made me feel so welcome, I’ll never forget it,” said Fitzhugh.

Kutras’ most significant contribution to the college, according to Chris Kutras, may have been
the important role he played in the 1964 bond measure. In the early days, the college was
housed in subpar facilities and run on a shoestring. The college, Chris Kutras says, could not
grow unless taxpayers were willing to pay a bit more in taxes and construct new facilities, but
Shasta County by itself lacked the population and tax base to support a larger college.

“ It just wasn’t going to fly unless they could expand the number of taxpayers paying for the
college,” said Chris Kutras.

The solution was to bring two other counties in and form a whole new district. According to
Chris Kutras, his father huddled with other early college leaders, like Superintendent-President
Gill Collyer and college board members like Dr. Ward Beebe, and Tom Ludden, to craft what
became the Shasta, Tehama, and Trinity Community College District, a service area that
spanned 10,000 miles.

With the passage of the bond measure, the college then purchased the current 337 acre
campus and constructed many of the buildings seen today. The period of 1964 to 77 was a
period of huge growth for the college, enrollment skyrocketed, many faculty and staff were
added, and many new educational programs were launched.

But this growth all came screeching to a halt with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, an
initiative that drastically scaled back property taxes for homeowners in California, which resulted
in the gutting of community college budgets up and down the state.

Kutras, by this time, had given up is coaching and teaching jobs and gone into administration
full time, which was an enviable job in boom times, but less so with funding cut to the bone.

According to Ceretta, the immediate post-Proposition 13 period were dark days for Shasta
College, faculty were laid off, department budgets were slashed, and planned programs were
put on the shelf. The cuts angered many on campus and in the community.

“We took a lot of flak, let me tell you. These were trying times for the college”.

While the cuts were painful, says Cerreta, the impact was mitigated by the charismatic Kutras,
who had a knack for smoothing over things. He got stakeholders to accept that the college
would go on, despite the budget cutting. Simultaneously to this, he and Cerreta were working
the telephones to legislators they knew in Sacramento to get some of the funding restored,
which eventually happened.

“George was my strongest supporter in these times. I’m not sure I could have made it through
that period without him ” said Cerreta.

In 1989 Cerreta, at his request, got the community college board to slice his combined
Superintendent-President job in half, giving Kutras the job of President, something few
community college Superintendent-Presidents in the history of California had ever done.

“George wanted that, he wanted to be President and he had done such great work for the
college,” said Cerreta.

After his formal retirement as President in 1993, board members promptly recombined
Ceretta’ Superintendent-President job. Kutras would work 10 more years at SC as a part-time
history instructor finally retiring in 2003.

According to Cerreta, Kutras’ long and successful career as a coach and administrator may
have overshadowed the depth and range of his academic skills, and the impact he had on those
who studied history under him. He described him as a “fantastic teacher” with an incredible
knowledge of history. He said while he spent his career running colleges, crunching numbers,
and balancing budgets, today he spends his retirement studying history.

“ I learned so much history from George. I spend a lot of time reading history these days.
George sparked that in me” said Cerreta, age 82.

In addition to son Chris, Kutras is also survived by daughter Demetra Kutras, two
stepdaughters, two grandchildren., and a step-grandchild. A public celebration of his life is
planned for the Spring.

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