Approximately 300 local dignitaries and longtime friends gathered at Santa Clarita Studios to honor Bruce Fortine with the College of the Canyons Foundation’s Silver Spur Award on Saturday night.
The event was formal in nature and was held smack-dab in the middle of a movie set, with mock shop signs and decorations paying homage to the Silver Spur Award and Fortine himself.
Fortine, known as “Mr. COC,” was on the original COC board of trustees, having beat more than 70 candidates in the 1967 election in which voters created the Santa Clarita Valley’s community college district.
Fortine not only was commemorated with the Silver Spur Award, the event’s main award, but was also acknowledged with a California Legislative Assembly resolution and a resolution from the college district’s board of trustees.
Having served in higher education for more than five decades, Fortine said that although his career was a long one, it was all well worth it.
“Well, it has been a long career, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” said Fortine. “And to have everybody come together tonight is spectacular. In my mind… I’m so happy that so many people came because the proceeds from tonight go to students. And that’s… what I’m all about.”
Fortine served at COC until 1978, but returned just over a decade later in 1991 to once again sit on the board of trustees, a position he held until 2016. Fortine was instrumental in the founding and expansion of COC, raising the student population from just a few hundred into the tens of thousands during his tenure.
“I mean, he’s a natural partner and a natural entrepreneur and I just lucked out,” said COC Chancellor Dianne G. Van Hook. “I’m just thrilled we can finally meet in-person to be able to honor Mr. Bruce Fortine.”
Fortine was originally meant to be honored in 2020, but the ceremony was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Howard “Buck” McKeon, former U.S. congressman and the first mayor of Santa Clarita, said people like Fortine laid the foundation for the future of the city and reminisced on how far it had come since he first moved here.
“When we moved out there, there was one stoplight in this valley,” said McKeon. “It was over at the corner of Soledad and Sierra highway… I took a drive around yesterday. Went over Whites Canyon all the way down…and then across Vasquez. It just boggles your mind.”
Fortine said he hoped being honored for this event will inspire future generations to acknowledge the importance of local higher education and to possibly participate in its administration.
“You know, there are many people here tonight that I knew as students years ago and… I’ve mentored students for the last 50 years. And so that’s very heartwarming,” said Fortine.
Both McKeon and Van Hook also acknowledged the importance of mentoring the next generation and the fact that it takes a career as long Fortine’s to be awarded for something like the Silver Spur.
“I told [Van Hook], ‘You’re going to have to start…giving this award to some younger people. We’re all dying. Most people my age are dead,” said McKeon. “But [Van Hook] said, ‘Well, it takes time to earn it.’”