President Richard Yao presents Leah Lacayo with the 2022 Robert J. Lagomarsino award. President Richard Yao presents Leah Lacayo with the 2022 Robert J. Lagomarsino award.

By Karin Grennan

The 2022 Robert J. Lagomarsino Award recipient, Leah Lacayo, has volunteered countless hours and donated thousands of dollars to help students graduate from CSUCI and achieve professional success because she is passionate about the University’s mission.

“CI is so important to this agricultural region. We have so many underserved populations — farmworker families and a very large Mixteco population that speaks its own language,” the Newbury Park resident said. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to attend a four-year public university.”

Lacayo never attended college and wasn’t encouraged to do so. Instead of pursuing a career, she threw herself into volunteering. 

She met her late husband, Hank, when they were working on a campaign, and she supported his efforts as a national labor leader and advocate for California seniors until he died in 2017. She has volunteered for many community organizations, frequently in leadership roles. 

“I have been a volunteer for most of my life. It is what I do,” Lacayo said. “I believe that intergenerational experience and community involvement are key to a satisfying and happy life.”

The Lacayos lobbied for the establishment of CSUCI. In 2005, when there were few graduates, Lacayo joined the Alumni & Friends Association Board, and she is now on her second eight-year term. She served as president in 2009 and co-president in 2018. She used her connections to expand membership, spearheaded the first fundraiser, and helped organize Dodger Days.

She also helped launch the Henry L. “Hank” Lacayo Institute for Workforce & Community Studies in 2010 and got involved in its internship program.

Lacayo has donated to the University every year since 1999 and belongs to the President’s Circle, which recognizes donors who annually give $1,000 or more. 

“Leah has been incredibly generous not only with her time, but also her resources,” said 2019 Lagomarsino Award winner Neil Kreisel as he introduced her as the 2022 recipient in October. One of the University’s highest tributes, the award honors those who have contributed to and supported CSUCI. 

“I cannot think of anyone more deserving than Leah,” President Richard Yao said. “We are honored to have her as a generous supporter and member of our CI family.”

“The return on my involvement with CI is so much greater than what I give,” Lacayo said. “It makes my heart happy to walk into a doctor’s office or a hospital and have a nurse be a CI graduate.”

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© Winter 2023 / Volume 27 / Number 2 / Biannual

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