UCSC Alumnus Jim Lapsley helps build a future for Crown College

Jim Lapsley accepts the Fiat Lux Award on behalf of Lisa Rose and Susan Nerton. Chancellor Cynthia K. Larvive stands beside him.

The Alumni Association at UC Santa Cruz is proud to present this year’s honorees of the UCSC Alumni Awards. These awards recognize and honor alumni who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievements, made distinct contributions to society, provided impactful contributions to UCSC, and who have embodied the values and spirit of the university. 

For his contributions, dedication, and efforts to support Crown College, Jim Lapsley  (Crown ’71, history) received the Fiat Lux Award on Oct. 27, 2023

Alongside his fellow Crown College alumni volunteers, Susan Nerton and Lisa Rose, Jim Lapsley received the 2023 Fiat Lux Award for the remarkable feat of raising $1 million for the Crown College endowment—and helped many alumni feel more connected to the university.

74-year-old Lapsley, who spent much time and energy raising money and awareness, is honored and humbled to receive this award. His efforts were driven by many factors, including wanting to help current students. “As JFK once said, ‘To those whom much is given, much is expected.’ We were given an extraordinary educational experience,” says Lapsley. Another motivation: he believes in the College system at UCSC. 

“I (we) had the opportunity to hear Provost Camps’ vision of strengthening the Crown community and realized he (and future Provosts) needed long-term funding to turn this vision into reality,” Lapsley said. “The money will help provosts design and pay for courses and other activities that provide applied experience for students and enhance Crown’s community identity.”   

Lapsley helped plan activities—including folk dancing—for the 2022 Crown College 50th reunion for the 1968-1972 classes. When he was a student, folk dancing was a popular activity on Fridays at the Fieldhouse. The reunion successfully fulfilled two purposes: to gather old friends and classmates and to rekindle and strengthen emotional ties with Crown College, which ultimately became the basis for post-reunion fundraising.  

After the reunion, Lapsley personally called dozens of alumni about the endowment fundraising campaign. Although it was challenging to ask for money, he was successful and enjoyed catching up with people. “During the Reunion, I acted as a host and didn’t get as much one-on-one time with my fellow alumni as I would have liked.” He had long phone conversations and exchanged stories. “That opportunity for renewed connection was very meaningful.”

Crown College Provost Manel Camps says he is grateful for Jim Lapsley’s support over the years and emphasizes the time and dedication that went into executing the Crown College 50th Reunion in 2022 and the Endowment Fundraising Campaign alongside Su Nerton and Lisa Rose. 

 “Jim is an amazing leader,” says Provost Camps. “His vision for a college that plays a central role in our students’ education resonated loud and clear with his peers. He earned a profound respect through his work organizing our reunion and fundraising to double Crown’s endowment. Crown is in a different place now. It has substantially more resources to fulfill its mission, and also has a large network of alumni who have reconnected to Crown and shown they can be a real presence in our current students’ experience.”

Roots of the Campaign

In the early 2000s, two informal Crown College reunions organized by Jim and his friends drew about 40 Crown alumni and resulted in the reconnection of Su, Lisa, and Jim. In 2017 Lapsley was interviewed for a video celebrating the 50th anniversary of Crown’s opening; he met Provost Camps. 

“When he told me there was a need to revamp the Crown Library, I naturally turned to the group that had attended our informal reunions.” During this process, Lapsley became close with Nerton and Rose; they led fundraising for the library and Fireside Lounge to create enhanced study spaces. The trio continues supporting students today as Crown Provost’s Advising Committee members.

“Su and Lisa and I each have particular strengths. Each thinks the other two are doing all the work,” says Lapsley, who hopes other colleges and groups can use their work as a model. “We think a 50-year celebration is a good idea…it brings people back to their beginnings and can result in financial support.”

Life as a Student

Lapsley has fond memories; these include attending Crown College Nights and going up the coast to sit out on rocky points waiting to get soaked by waves.

He met his wife Carol in his second year (her first) at Crown while working in the dish room. “Sometimes when work was slow, I’d go to the front and encourage people to separate utensils from plates. When Carol did, I said ‘thank you’ in Russian, and she replied ‘you’re welcome’ in Russian.  Turns out we had both studied Russian in high school.” They were married in a meadow above the Quarry in 1971.

Originally a Politics major, planning to be a lawyer, he switched to history as a junior. He appreciated his talented professors, Dr. Peter Kenez (Russian history) and the late Dr. Laurence Veysey (American intellectual history) who were very influential.  Kenez and Lapsley occasionally meet for coffee when Lapsley visits Santa Cruz.

 Graduate education and beyond  

Lapsley earned a Ph.D. in American history from UC Davis, with his dissertation Bottled Poetry published by UC Press. Lapsley says his dissertation focused on agricultural and economic history, specifically the emergence of a fine wine market in the U.S. and the dominant role of Napa Valley producers in the development of that market.

In 1978 he joined UC Davis University Extension as a continuing education specialist and created and led the Extension’s Agriculture and the Environment Department. He worked as Department Chair until retiring in 2009. He started a small winery in 1980, and in 1991 became an Adjunct Associate Professor with the Department of Viticulture and Enology. He taught a three-week-long wine business summer course for 15 years and rotated with other faculty teaching the introductory course. “After I retired, an Agricultural Economist colleague asked me to return to work part-time at the California Agricultural Issues Center, where I spent 12 years at 30% time researching wine and grape history and economics. I’m now completely retired and writing a history of R.B. Blowers, the first successful commercial producer of raisins in California, and his role in the creation of intensive, irrigated fruit culture from 1854-1894.” 

He and Carol live in Woodland with a Siamese cat and a Golden Doodle. Their son Jakob, a nurse and an American College of Surgeons administrator, lives in Chicago. Their daughter, Grace, a high school English teacher, lives in Sacramento with her husband Jason and children Sebastian and Miranda.  “Being part of our grandchildren’s lives is very special.”

Final Words

Asked if he has advice for students, Lapsley replies: “Learn how to learn and keep learning.  The world changes quickly and you need to adapt.” His message to alumni: “We were given an incredible educational opportunity. It is time to give back.”