Modesto's Great Valley Center names new CEO

kcarlson@modbee.comNovember 29, 2012 

— Benjamin Duran, a former superintendent of the Merced Community College District, will take over as president and chief executive officer of the Modesto-based Great Valley Center.

Leaders of the nonprofit said Thursday that Duran officially will start Jan. 1. He has begun talking with staff about the center's new mission and helped the group settle into its new offices at 1120 13th St.

He will lead the center as it focuses on training community leaders in San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties. "The chance to lead the Great Valley Center came at the perfect time in my life," said Duran, who was president of the Merced Community College District from 1998 until retiring last December.

Duran was an educator in Merced County for 40 years, starting as a high school teacher in Le Grand. He became vice principal of Le Grand High School and was superintendent of schools in that community from 1983 to 1991.

Duran joined the Merced College staff as vice president of administrative services in 1991. During his career, he served as assistant director of Merced County's migrant education program.

He was chairman of the Community College League of California's 2010 Commission on the Future and served as president of the California Community Colleges Chief Executive Officers board of directors.

Duran was on the Great Valley Center board of directors before resigning to apply for the CEO position.

Interim director Kathy Halsey said Duran is a strong choice. "He has such a great grasp of the valley and the needs of the valley. That is very important for the person who leads this organization," she said.

The center, founded in 1997 by former Modesto Mayor Carol Whiteside, became a research institute and a chief promoter for the 18-county Central Valley region from Redding to Bakersfield. Known for agriculture, high unemployment and poverty, the region saw big population surges during the home construction booms before the lingering recession.

Whiteside retired in 2008 and was succeeded by executive director David Hosley and then Dejeune Shelton.

As a board member, Duran helped to develop a new direction for the center and agreed with the decision to concentrate on the three counties of the Northern San Joaquin Valley. As a lifelong valley resident, Duran said, he understands the area and its challenges.

He noted that his parents moved from Texas to Merced County as farmworkers in 1949. Their community work had a profound influence on his life.

"My mother was one of the first people to get involved with establishing a Head Start program," Duran said. "She and friends would travel to Washington, D.C., to give testimony. It became second nature to get involved with the community."

Duran attended area colleges, earning a bachelor's degree from California State University, Stanislaus, and a master's from Chapman University. He holds a doctorate in education from the University of Southern California.

Leading new mission

In August, the Great Valley Center went public with a new mission of building the leadership fabric of San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties. Under the aegis of the center, the local chapter of the American Leadership Forum is giving specialized training to leaders from government, business and nonprofit groups.

The center could revive or revamp a youth leadership program that it once operated and wants to encourage collaboration among elected officials in the three counties, Duran said. Another core service is computer literacy, and the center continues work on a program concerning greenhouse gas emissions.

The center recently sold its building at 201 Needham Ave. to a law firm, getting between $1 million and $1.5 million from the sale, which will be used for programs and operations, center officials said. In the past two weeks, the center and its eight employees moved into rented offices on 13th Street in downtown Modesto.

Duran said he plans to visit with civic, business and political leaders, especially those in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, because he is well acquainted with the movers and shakers in Merced County.

"I want to tell them who we are and give them a sense of how the center can help their communities," he said.

Beside his career in education, Duran has served on the Greater Merced High-Speed Rail Committee, the Merced County Regional Arts Council, the Mercy Medical Center board of directors, the UC Merced Foundation board of directors and the CSU Stanislaus community advisory board.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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