Richard Morales, Sr.

Dr. Richard Morales, Sr. was the founding History professor at South Mountain Community College. He was one of six* original faculty members.

Dr. Richard Morales, Sr. (center) with Tony Bracamonte (left) and Dolly Aguirre (right). n.d., early 1980s.
Image provided by South Mountain Community College

What makes a educator great? Is it their passion of their craft? Or is it being stern yet caring for individuals who need help figuring their pathway? Dr. Richard Morales, Sr. believes that it’s a combination of both, combined with willingness to flow with change.

Growing up in then segregated Colton, California, Morales saw first-hand the impact of Civil Rights and perseverance, as well as the value of a good education.

Dr. Richard Morales, Sr. with Dolly Aguirre
Dr. Morales remembers his childhood growing up in segregated Colton, CA.
Dr. Richard Morales, Sr. with Dolly Aguirre
Dr. Morales discusses his love for history from a young age.

As far back as he remembers, Morales knew he was called to be a teacher. He looked up to his own teachers, and he liked learning, and he had a preference for history over other subjects.

After earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in history, Morales was nominated for and received the prestigious Ford Foundation Scholarship to support his doctorate studies. He remained in California for the first few years of his PhD program, but moved to Phoenix in the middle of his program to take a position at Arizona State University. After teaching at ASU for one year, Morales heard about a new college opening in South Phoenix. After applying and interviewing, Morales got the job and became one of the founding faculty members at South Mountain Community College.

Dr. Morales, Sr. with Dolly Aguirre
Morales thinks back on his BA and MA programs, and his decision to get a PhD.

The new school faced an uphill battle. First, it was situated in a very rural isolated part of town that was separated by geographical and cultural barriers. Secondly, and more urgent, the college lacked a campus. Thirdly, there were political machinations afoot that caused conflict throughout the district, as other campuses competed for money and political support. Perhaps the best indication of Morales’ teaching philosophy and style, however, is the fact that he acknowledges this political climate, but dismisses its impact on his classroom. South Mountain Community College was established to bring education to the people of South Phoenix, and he was going to see that it happened.

Dr. Richard Morales, Sr. with Dolly Aguirre
Dr. Morales reminds us of SMCC’s initial mission.

When Morales thinks back on the the first week of classes at South Mountain Community College, he recalls a brilliant storm of logistics. The campus was still in its temporary home: the offices were in trailers; classes were held at the nearby church; the stench of a nearby chicken farm wafted; and industrial-sized fans provided temporary air conditioning. Dr. Morales was known for his exuberant and loud lecturing style, but even he found himself yelling to be heard.

Dr. Richard Morales, Sr. with Dolly Aguirre
Dr. Morales tells of his first days at SMCC

These struggles did not stop SMCC. The staff and faculty shared a goal of becoming a strong force for good in the community. In his time at SMCC, Morales found that the campus influenced the community. All around he saw signs of growth and development.

Morales believes that SMCC has changed in many ways. He hopes that all administrators, counselors, and professors focus on their one job, the job that was stated from the beginning: To bring education to the people of South Phoenix.

*The general agreement is that seven faculty members founded the college, though some argue that the original number was six.

NarratorRichard Morales, Sr.
Place of OriginColton, California
Place of Residence
RoleFounding History professor at South Mountain Community College
Years Active in South Phoenix
Recording Duration1:52:46
DateNovember 1, 2018
Location South Mountain Community Library
Interviewed ByStudent Researchers: Max Doll & Emanuel Parada
Story Written ByStudent Researchers: Max Doll & Emanuel Parada;
Faculty Co-Author: Summer Cherland
NotesPlease note that this was a joint interview with Dolly Aguirre