Campus: CSU Northridge -- July 27, 2005

Ralph Prator, Founding President of What is Now Cal State Northridge, Has Died

Longtime college administrator Ralph Prator--the founding president of the institution that became California State University, Northridge, now one of California's largest public universities--died Monday, July 25, in his Ventura County retirement hometown of Camarillo. Prator was 97.

A lifelong athlete and avid golfer who briefly played baseball as a young man with pitching great "Dizzy" Dean, Prator amassed a 30-year career as a college and university administrator. That was capped by Prator's 10 years as president of San Fernando Valley State College from its founding in July 1958 until his retirement in September 1968. In 1972, the college became a university and was renamed California State University, Northridge.

During that first decade of explosive growth in the San Fernando Valley, Prator oversaw the construction of the campus' original core of permanent buildings (most of which remain today); quadrupled the college's 3,500 original students to more than 16,000 by his retirement; and spearheaded major land acquisitions that assembled most of today's 356-acre university campus.

Prior to that, Prator had served eight years as president of Bakersfield College in Kern County from 1950 to 1958, similarly helping that college develop a new campus. Recalling his retirement from San Fernando Valley State in later years, Prator once said, "I felt as an administrator I was best able to start and push something to its maximum possibilities. But to settle down and run it was not my cup of tea."

After retiring, Prator became a professor emeritus in what became Cal State Northridge's Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. For the past two decades, Prator lived in a Camarillo retirement community, playing golf and working out three times a week at Point Mugu Naval Air Station as a captain in the Naval Reserve.

He also periodically kept in touch with Cal State Northridge's current president, Jolene Koester. "Cal State Northridge would not be the strong institution it is today without Ralph Prator's leadership and vision. As the founding president, he gave us a solid foundation upon which to build the university's excellence," Koester said.

"President Prator maintained a keen interest in the university, and I received notes from him periodically that were always encouraging and generous. We are proud of his legacy at Cal State Northridge and will always honor his memory," she added.

Born of a ranching family in La Veta, Colorado on Nov. 16, 1907, Prator attended the University of Colorado, earning a bachelor's degree in history in 1929 and a master's in the same field in 1931. After serving in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1945, Prator earned his doctorate in educational administration from the University of California at Berkeley in 1947.

Prator's career included early stints as a high school principal for three years; an administrator at Mesa College in Colorado from 1936 to 1939; and in a variety of administrative positions at the University of Colorado from 1940 to 1942, and then again after World War II from 1945 until his move to California in 1950.

His tenure at San Fernando Valley State, which became the only four-year public college and later university in its region, included recruiting most of the faculty hired in the early years and setting the academic direction for the institution. Today, Cal State Northridge is one of California's largest public universities with nearly 33,000 students.

Contact: John Chandler, (818) 677-5674, john.chandler@csun.edu


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