Gaye Galvan, longtime SLO County education leader and former Marine, dies at 81

Gaye Galvan, a longtime education advocate who served on the county Board of Eduation and Cuesta College’s Board of Trustees, died Jan. 17. She was 81.
Gaye Galvan, a longtime education advocate who served on the county Board of Eduation and Cuesta College’s Board of Trustees, died Jan. 17. She was 81. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A longtime leader and champion for local education who was instrumental in starting the Grizzly Youth Academy and Friday Night Live program has died.

Gaye Galvan of Atascadero died Jan. 17. She served 36 years on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Education, up until her death; she retired from Cuesta College’s Board of Trustees in 2014, after serving for 17 years. She was 81.

“She was honest, straightforward and a person of high character,” said Julian Crocker, the county’s former superintendent of schools. “No matter what else was happening, whatever the issue was, she always kept in mind the educational value of a particular issue. Her decision-making was based on what was best for students.”

Crocker recalled Galvan’s commitment to lobbying for local education by traveling to Sacramento and working closely with state legislators on behalf of the county’s schools.

Though Galvan was active in the Republican party, she worked well with Democratic and Republican leaders and didn’t have a partisan agenda, Crocker said.

Galvan worked with various agencies to form the Grizzly Youth Academy, a highly structured program for at-risk youths that incorporates military structure in a partnership between the National Guard and the Grizzly Challenge Charter School. The program serves to “intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16- to 18-year-old high school dropouts” or those at risk of dropping out, according to its website.

The program, which Galvan worked to create with former county superintendent Ken Palmer, started in 1998, then one of two National Guard Youth Challenge programs in California.

At the time, Crocker was superintendent of the Paso Robles school district and agreed that the North County district would sponsor the new school to help meet state requirements.

The Grizzly program was initially denied by the state Board of Education, but Galvan worked to lobby state officials. The program was approved on appeal, her husband, George Galvan, recalled.

“When she put her mind to accomplishing something, there wasn’t much that could stop her,” he said.

During Gaye Galvan’s tenure at Cuesta, she helped oversee the growth of the North County campus, drastic budget cuts during the recession and the college’s successful efforts to retain its accreditation.

Galvan told The Tribune that one of her major goals when joining the board was to improve communication between Cuesta and the K-12 educational system. Galvan said she left the board in 2014 feeling confident that goal had been achieved.

“There will definitely be challenges on the road ahead for the college, but I think we have good leadership now and things are much better than they have been in the past,” Galvan said in a February 2014 interview. “Until the state starts funding community colleges like they should, there will continue to be problems.”

Galvan was a recipient of the 29th Assembly District Woman of the Year Award, the Grace Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award and the National Guard Lifetime Achievement Award.

Gaye and George Galvan both served in the U.S. Marine Corps and met when she was a Marine recruiter for Southern California, Arizona and Nevada. They married on July 31, 1964.

They first lived in San Luis Obispo, when George Galvan was assigned to operate a Marine recruiting office in the city after returning from his first of two tours of duty in Vietnam.

They eventually moved to Atascadero, where they raised their two children, Gail and Greg. Gaye Galvan, a native of Texas, enjoyed raising animals in her youth and wanted her children to have that experience.

“She grew up on a farm and enjoyed dealing with the births of animals and those kinds of things,” her husband said. “Our children raised lambs and showed them at the fair. She thought Atascadero would offer a better place to do that, and so we moved to North County partly for that reason.”