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David Ballesteros David Ballesteros

In Memoriam: David Ballesteros

The educator was dean of SDSU Imperial Valley for more than 14 years.
By Jeff Ristine

David Ballesteros, dean of San Diego State University Imperial Valley during a pivotal time of growth and campus improvements, died on Aug. 5.

An occasional migrant worker as a child, Ballesteros pursued a career in education, taught Spanish and education classes at several locations, and served in the top administrative post at SDSU Imperial Valley from 1983 to 1998.

During his tenure as dean, enrollment grew from about 250 juniors, seniors and graduate students to more than 700, and some temporary buildings were replaced with permanent structures, including an administration and student-services building. Ballesteros also worked to expand academic programs and to diversify the student body.

A $6.1 million grant secured by Ballesteros was used in part to build a library at the Calexico campus, with an iconic tower that was later named in his honor.

“The tower symbolizes the aspiration of the students and community to reach for high standards,” Ballesteros said in an article in the Fall 2007 issue of SDSU’s magazine. The naming also recognized a $25,000 gift from Ballesteros and his wife, Dolores, to endow scholarships for international student travel.

After leaving his position as dean, Ballesteros became special assistant to then-SDSU President Stephen Weber, exploring prospects for an SDSU campus in the City of Chula Vista.

Ballesteros, who lived in Chula Vista, died of multiple health complications at a hospital in San Diego. He was 88.

Ballesteros was born in Los Angeles and was one of eight children of the Rev. Leonardo and Rosa Garcia Ballesteros; his father established Baptist churches in Tijuana and Ensenada. He credited both parents for instilling the importance of learning English and excelling in education.

In his childhood, the family traveled between Tijuana and the Central Valley to pick seasonal crops. He didn’t discuss the experiences much, granddaughter Lydia Heberling said, but when a television news story about an incident in Gilroy once aired, he told her, “We used to pick in Gilroy.”

Ballesteros, who attended public schools in San Ysidro and Chula Vista and San Ysidro while growing up, was an advocate for a greater SDSU presence in San Diego County’s South Bay and for building cross-border partnerships, including expanded joint programs with Mexican universities and governmental entities.

In San Diego, Ballesteros taught Spanish at Hoover and Helix High Schools, San Diego City College, and Cuyamaca College. After introducing himself, he typically spoke only Spanish for the remainder of the semester.

“He has been a longtime advocate of bilingual education,” said Heberling, a professor of Ethnic Studies at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. “His methodological approach was to insist on the value of bringing different backgrounds and experiences” as contributions, not impediments, to education.

Ballesteros held degrees from four universities. He received a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Redlands and a master’s degree from Middlebury College in Vermont and its study abroad program at the University of Madrid in 1958. He earned his doctorate in Latin American studies with an emphasis in literature from the University of Southern California in 1968, and an MBA from the University of Redlands in 1995.

Prior to his work at SDSU Ballesteros had a long career as a professor and administrator of higher education that included positions at the University of Oklahoma and University of Texas and as a visiting professor abroad.

He also was dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Sacramento State University and vice-chancellor of the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs prior to becoming dean at SDSU Imperial Valley.  

He became a Rotarian in 1984, joining the Calexico Rotary Club. Later, he and his wife moved to San Ysidro, and he joined the La Mesa Sunrise Rotary.   

Ballesteros is survived by his wife, Dolores; daughters Rita (Chris Ockenhouse) of Chevy Chase, Maryland; Maria Heberling of San Diego; Victoria (Grant Moore) of Sacramento; a stepson, Todd Wells of Chino Hills; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A viewing is scheduled for 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, August 22, with Celebration of Life at 11:30 a.m. at Funeraria Del Angel, 753 Broadway, Chula Vista.

The family suggests donations to the American Diabetes Association.