The Sacramento Region was saddened on November 7, 1999 upon hearing of the passing of the esteemed Mayor of Sacramento, Joe Serna, Jr. Mayor Serna was an inspiration to the citizens of Sacramento. He was also a special inspiration to the students of Sacramento State. For not only was he an alumnus whose life signaled for our students accomplishments that were within their reach, but he was one of the campus's most popular faculty members. Joe Serna, Jr.: alumnus, teacher, public servant.
Born in Lodi, California, Professor Serna was the oldest of four children in a family of farm workers. After high school, he began a job as a sheet metal worker. At his mother's urging, however, he entered college, graduating from Sacramento State College in 1966 with a combined Social Science and Government major. He departed soon after for service in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. In 1969, he returned to Sacramento, entered the doctoral program at UC Davis, and joined the faculty of Sacramento's State's Department of Government. His courses on California government and politics were not only popular but exceptional examples of linking curriculum to the social environment of the students whom he taught. In 1991, Professor Serna received the Sac State Distinguished Faculty Award.
Outside academia, Professor Serna was also distinguishing himself in the public service sector. He served as a graduate intern to the State Senate Education Committee, to Senator Dymally of Los Angeles, and to Speaker of the State Assembly, Robert Monogan. In 1981, he was elected to the Sacramento City Council and served on that body until 1992. He was elected Mayor of the City of Sacramento in 1992 and reelected in 1996. During his many years of public service, Professor Serna served on numerous public commissions and boards. He was, for example, a member of the Sacramento Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Regional Transit Board of Directors, a Co-Trustee of the Crocker Art Museum Association, and Chairman of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency. Throughout his career, he remained an active member of the United Farm Workers of America, serving as Director of its Support Committee in Sacramento County. In 1995, Professor Serna was selected by the National Council for Urban Economic Development to receive its third annual Economic Development Leadership Award.
Importantly, Joe Serna, Jr. was fully both a teacher and a public servant. He did not give short shrift to either. Indeed, for his students, he merged his roles such that the very lessons that they gained from their readings were made clearer through his explanations of their applications at the local level. His classes were packed. So were his office hours. And he made it clear that he was grateful for both elements of his life. Shortly before his death, Professor Serna reflected,
"I was supposed to live and die as a farm worker, not as a mayor and a college professor. I have everything to be thankful for."