Santa Clarita’s Unsung Hero – Bruce Fortine
By Stephen K. Peeples
Santa Clarita Valley businessman, educator and community leader Bruce Fortine is low-key, soft-spoken, not often a man of many words, especially when talking about himself.
Fortine’s actions in our community, on the other hand, have spoken volumes for more than three decades, in his work on behalf of local education, law enforcement, business development, at-risk teens, the environment and more.
That's why we're very pleased to feature the Castaic Elementary, Hart High graduate and College of the Canyons co-founder as our latest Santa Clarita Unsung Hero.
Serving behind the scenes quietly without attracting attention is a long-time specialty for Fortine. After high school, he learned the fine art of working undercover during a three-year tour of duty in the U.S. Army. He trained at the Army Intelligence School in Baltimore and then was assigned to the Intelligence Corp’s San Francisco field office as a Special Agent.
It was during the Cold War, 1961-1964 (cue Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man”), the golden era of spies and international intrigue.
“I was a counter-intelligence agent, so my training was very specialized,” he said during an on-the-air visit with AM 1220 air personality Jason Endicott on Friday afternoon, Jan. 11. "Every thing was really touchy at that time.
Before his stint in the Army, Fortine had armed himself for civilian life with a Business Administration degree from Pepperdine. A year after graduating in 1959, he enlisted.
From 1967-1973, he was a founding member of the Santa Clarita Community College Board of Trustees, and as one of five publicly elected officials, he has been instrumental in charting COC’s course.
“The (founders) were visionaries who built a college that is today one of the jewels of our valley,” said Carl Goldman, AM 1220 KHTS co-owner.
Fortine served as COC’s director of Community Services and public information (a not-so-behind-the-scenes assignment) from 1972-1978.
Meanwhile, he was studying for his Master’s in Higher Education Administration, and earned the degree from CalState Northridge in 1978.
Fortine continued working with COC in a variety of capacities. Re-elected to the Board of Trustees in 1991and named president four times since then, he is now in his 27th year as a Trustee.
Fortine is additionally the board liaison for the nonprofit COC Foundation, a fundraising wing for student services, scholarships, faculty programs and other related expenditures that are not covered by state funding.
Fortine’s love of learning and passion for helping others learn are practically in his DNA. “My mother and father were very instrumental in shaping my life in a way that they always wanted to give back,” he said. “My father was a member of the Newhall Fathers Chamber of Commerce as a business, my mother was president of the Hart High PTA, so that's where I got my start.”
The Hart PTA’s activities also provided Fortine early exposure to clashing egos, colliding agendas, administrative bureaucracy, and the psychology of working with volunteers. He soon learned the value of being a consensus-builder, a characteristic at the core of his public as well as personal life.
His entre to community service was in 1964, when he joined the Newhall-Saugus Jr. Chamber of Commerce, or the Jaycees.
In his years at COC, Fortine played a major role in developing and supporting bond campaigns that have generated funds for the college to introduce new, cutting-edge educational and training programs, along with the necessary state-of-the-art facilities and technology.
“A significant part of my job as a trustee has been to ensure fiscal oversight and stability, which I’ve done,” Fortine said. “The biggest challenge we face right now is maintaining that stability and thriving. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.”
The list of his accomplishments at COC is lengthy, and highlighted by efforts on behalf of Academy of the Canyons, where advanced high school students can take their first college courses; the opening of a new COC campus in Canyon Country; the Performing Arts Center’s K-12 Arts Education Outreach Program, which involves local schools in the arts; and development of training programs for the Los Angeles County Fire and Sheriff’s Departments, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital, private industry and myriad nonprofit organizations.
“AOC is a real gem,” Fortine said. “COC originally put it together, went to the Hart district, got their support. And it's really an outstanding educational facility.”
He lauded COC’s University Center, named after longtime COC Chancellor Dianne Van Hook, where local students can pursue fully accredited Bachelors and Masters classes and programs.
“There are only three in the United States,” Fortine said. “And we have over 1,000 students a year that run through our halls there.”
He maintains an affinity for the military and law enforcement, a throwback to his own years in the Army. For 26 years, from 1972-1998, he was president/board member of the nonprofit Los Angeles County Law Enforcement-Public Safety Facilities Corporation, which raised millions to improve infrastructure and operations for the Sheriff’s and Fire Departments.
“My wife and I have been members of the Anti-Gang Task Force for about 15 years (since 1997), and that's between the city of Santa Clarita and the Sheriff's Department,” he said.
Fortine's wife, Gloria Mercado-Fortine, is on the Hart District board and shares Fortine's passion for education, young people and giving back. They’ve been married since 1998, and each year, the couple show their support of local nonprofits by attending more than 100 fundraising events.
He’s been an advisor to the board of the Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Children’s Cancer since 2003, and on the KHTS advisory board since 2004.
Some readers and listeners may remember Bruce Fortine’s guest stints for Mayor Bob Kellar when Kellar had a regular KHTS show.
“Nonprofit organizations play golf on Monday and his show was on Mondays, so there were times when he would call, last-minute, and say, ‘Can you?’ And of course I'd say, ‘Yes,’” Fortine said.
It’s not like Fortine had no broadcasting experience; on the contrary. He produced and hosted a news segment for National Public Radio affiliate KCSN-FM for three years, 1988-1991.
"I had a five-minute segment that aired in the morning and in the afternoon, and that was great because I could go off and interview anybody, anyplace, and then just do my recording back at the station,” he said.
On the business side, Fortine has been active in local business development as CEO/president of Westgate Financial & Management Group since 1962.
Currently, he’s on the SCV Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee, and one of the local business and civic leaders who make the annual bus trip to Sacramento, lobbying to keep our community top of mind among our representatives at the state level.
Fortine is a member of several other key Santa Clarita Valley business groups, including the Valley Industrial Association (VIA), the SCV Economic Development Corporation Marketing Committee, the SCV Latino Chamber of Commerce, the SCV Nonprofit Leaders Network and the Small Business Development Corporation.
In 2011, Fortine also became chairman of the board for Loop Aerospace, a multinational company that manufactures parts for all kinds of aircraft, and president/CEO of Environmental Fluids Management Inc., which developed a proprietary non-toxic chemical that’s used to safely clean huge oil storage tanks at refineries.
“For about 20 years, I was in the oil business,” Fortine said. “Most people don’t know that.”
Last year, he added director of business development for Global Education Solutions to his resume.
“That’s owned and operated by my wife,” he said. “She’s an educational consultant. We have the family operation covered — I work for her.”
And it does all come back to education for Bruce Fortine. Of everything he’s done and continues to do, that’s the sweet spot for him.
“College of the Canyons is the best work of my life,” he said. “It's something that is very meaningful to me, and I've been a part of (it) for over 32 years.”
As to the Unsung Hero honor, Fortine said, "I really appreciate this honor, and all of you for thinking of me as a behind-the-scenes guy."
Watch Bruce Fortine’s complete interview with AM-1220 KHTS afternoon drive air personality Jason Endicott on Friday, Jan. 11, 2013, and learn more about this Unsung Hero’s good deeds. You can also download the audio podcast.
Read more of KHTS's Santa Clarita Unsung Heroes features brought to you by Mercedes-Benz of Valencia.
Mercedes-Benz of Valencia is proud to be part of the Santa Clarita Valley, not only giving you the superior customer service you deserve, but also giving back to our community by supporting our schools, sports teams, Sheriff's Station and nonprofit organizations. Now, Mercedes-Benz of Valencia and KHTS have teamed up to present "Santa Clarita's Unsung Heroes," spotlighting local residents who make a difference in our valley. With new contributions also comes a new Mercedes management team. Visit Mercedes-Benz of Valencia today.