Long Beach honored four residents for their longtime achievements, philanthropy and impact on the city on Tuesday, March 23.
“A key to the city is the highest honor that the city can bestow on any individual who is part of our community,” Mayor Robert Garcia said, citing a former governor, an olympian and a congressman who previously received a Key to the City.
Yesterday, Garcia bestowed the honor on four Long Beach residents: the “modern-day father of the Long Beach Health Department,” a couple who spent their life dedicated to uplifting and crafting Black excellence and the woman who saved St. Anthony High School.
Ronald Arias: The father of the Long Beach Health Department
“The modern-day father of the Long Beach Health Department.”
The title, given to Ronald Arias by the mayor, describes only a portion of his impact on the city.
“Ron has dedicated his life to public health equity, to education, access, and to community service,” said Jessica Quintana, executive director of Centro CHA.
“I think Ron, like many of us, he sees himself as a servant leader, that he’s no better than those he serves. He is part of them,” said CEO of The Children’s Clinic Family Health Center Elisa Nicholas. “And he works with them to make the community better.”
In 1990, Arias managed Long Beach’s Bureau of Public Health, before becoming the director of the Long Beach Health Department in 2012.
Arias graduated from Cal State University Long Beach with a degree in kinesiology and then went on to get his MPA in health services administration from the University of Southern California. During his time at CSULB, he was involved in the Chicano Student Movement in Long Beach.
“We talked a lot about social, economic and political equity,” Arias said.
He went on to work at Centro De La Raza, previously at the corner of Anaheim and Junipero. He said it was then that the organization began to discover the disparities in healthcare for the Chicano community.
They worked to coordinate health fairs for Latino families without healthcare and provided legal aid to residents in need.
Later on in his career, Arias helped the Health Department secure funds for the Miller Family Health Center, which now provides community health education and programming.
“Ron Arias is that kind of person that he’s always been active in the community. So though he had a trajectory as a professional, where he was an activist- when he was young and in college and all. He’s also been an activist for the greater good of the community,” said Darick Simpson, president of the Earl B. and Loraine H. Miller Foundation. “Especially people of color and people who don’t have support in our community.”
Roberta and Matthew Jenkins: Uplifting and crafting Black excellence
Dr. Matthew Jenkins and Roberta Jenkins were dually awarded a Key to the City for their unwavering support to education and philanthropy in Long Beach. Roberta accepted the award for Matthew posthumously.
The two were instrumental in bringing educational opportunities to students of color. He was instrumental in the creation of the Jordan High School Math Collaborative, which provides S.T.E.M. training and a pathway to college for Black students. The collaborative was later expanded to Cabrillo and Wilson High School.
“Roberta and Matthew Jenkins are people that see how to get to excellence,” said Jonathan Talberg, director of choral activities at CSULB. “They believe that everyone has brilliance that can be unlocked through education.”
Both Matthew and Roberta grew up on family farms in the South. After marrying in 1958, they built their own fortune and, Talberg said, “proceeded to give most of it away.”
“People say that they donated over $15 million, but I am certain it’s far more than that,” said Doris Robertson, executive director of the Math Collaborative at Jordan High School.
Matthew was a member of the Air Force, a real estate investor, an interim president at Tuskegee University and was involved in philanthropy across the city.
“We work really hard to pay it back and pay it forward by engaging and contributing to our community wherever we were needed,” Roberta said. “It has been especially rewarding to us, an extreme privilege, to witness and be directly involved with advancing educational and cultural opportunities for children and youth from disadvantaged backgrounds here in Long Beach.”
“This tribute is especially meaningful because it affirms that, by investing in our young people over time with energy and resources, the impact on their lives will always be positive,” she said.
Gina Rushing Maguire: The woman who saved St. Anthony High School
When Gina Rushing Maguire received her Key to the City, she was overcome with emotion. Wiping away tears, her comments were flanked on either side, not with recollections of her success, but with gratitude for all that supported her.
“Gina Maguire is one of the most compassionate and energetic people I’ve ever had the privilege to know,” said Steve James, former president of the Long Beach Police Officers Association. “But she can also be a fighter. She’s a very strong person. She’s very brave and courageous.”
Maguire’s family moved from Kansas to Long Beach in 1960. After graduating magna cum laude from CSULB, she began “what she would call her advanced degree in volunteerism,” Garcia said.
During her youth, Maguire attended St. Anthony High School, where she would later become the school’s first president.
In the early 2000s, the Catholic high school was “hemorrhaging students [and] could not put together the finances to move forward,” Garcia said.
As president, Maguire would lead the school into success and financial solvency, doubling enrollment and raising over $50 million for the school over the years.
“She may not say so, but there is not a single person—in probably the history of St. Anthony High School—that has been more consequential in its success than Gina,” Garcia said. “If it had not been for Gina, when the high school was on the verge of closure, that institution would not be where it is today.”
She became involved in the Junior League of Long Beach, a women-led nonprofit promoting volunteerism, confidence and youth leadership.
She launched “Women for Women” a national project to promote alcohol awareness. Maguire invited former first lady Betty Ford to a press conference on the project. Ford later became the spokesperson of the program. Executive Director of the Ukleja Leadership Center at CSULB Jane Roeder described the event as an example of Maguire’s “visionary leadership.”
She passed along these leadership skills by co-founding the aptly-named nonprofit Leadership Long Beach. The mayor is one of nearly 2,000 graduates from the program, to which Maguire quipped, “I will say I know how to pick good people.”