Tom Uribes has been in the news ever since grade school when he volunteered to help with a start-up newspaper at his elementary school.
His credit line in the last three decades as public affairs manager for Fresno State hasn’t appeared in radio, television or newspaper reports, but he has played a critical role in making sure to feed the media’s appetite for spokespeople, contacts and news.
“He is beloved, not only by the campus community and media, but by the community,” said Paula Castadio, Fresno State’s vice president for University Advancement, which includes overseeing communications, at a retirement reception for Uribes.
“He is a very positive person, and has a positive attitude,” said Castadio. “He’s also a tough negotiator.”
Uribes, who will retire on Thursday (Dec. 7), actually retired in August but was brought back for an extra three months to help the university. This time, he is planning a retirement that includes spending time with his 96-year-old father Zach Uribes, a resident at the Veterans’ Home of California in West Fresno.
The middle of five children, Uribes has son sons, Matt and Michael; and five grandchildren ages 8 to 20. His wife is Andrea.
1. Where did you develop your interest for journalism?
“Actually in sixth grade. I was picked to be editor of elementary school paper when they were starting it. It was a joint between two schools, and the staff picked me to be the editor. I was thrilled, first of all to join the project. I loved to do journalism. One of my sisters recalled that I used to make newspapers. I used to take a paper and draw the columns, and put an X where the picture goes and write the story in. I’d have a family newspaper.”
2. Did your father actually build you a photo darkroom at home?
“I had become the high school photographer and later became paper editor and yearbook editor. I held all three positions. I had learned to do darkroom work because I was the school photographer, processing and all that. I was always doing work at the school. My dad had remodeled the house a few years before that, so we had an extra room in the garage. It was his tool room. He took that and covered the windows, and put in a sink. I had an enlarger and trays and I had my own mini-darkroom. It truly wasn’t light-tight. So I could only work in it early in the morning before it got light or late at night. Or during the summer, the air conditioning didn’t work there so it was early in the morning or late night because it was too hot.”
3. What were your career goals going into college?
“My initial college career goals were political science and journalism. It was more political science. My thought was that I would go into public service at some point. But I also enjoyed the journalism from high school that I was doing. I guess it was that base driven that people have to help people. Public service and being a politician I could help people. But I also knew as a journalist I could do that too by writing stories. I started at Fresno City College as a political science major and journalism minor, and by the time I got to Fresno State I switched it.”
4. What were the beginnings of the Sentimientos magazine?
“I had joined the Comité Cívico through my sister Marty. She was a member of it and she brought me on. It was just after high school. I did little program books for them. It was a forerunner to Sentimientos and later Destinos at Fresno State. (My sister) Marty would sell the ads and I would put it together. The Sanger Herald did the typesetting. They had never seen anything like that, only mimeographed sheets. Why not use the same idea on Comité Cívico? Radio Bilingüe hired me later on to do their program book for the mariachi festival for many years.
“While in college, I started Sentimientos as a college project and then turned it into a community project. We actually opened an office on Van Ness in the Tower District. We operated out of there for a couple of years. It was well received. The only real problem I had was I wasn’t a businessman. I wasn’t really managing it well. I had expenses. I finally had to give that up.”
5. What was your first journalism job?
“An opening came up at The Delano Record, so I applied for it. That re-kickstarted my career. After I left Sentimientos I didn’t know what I was going to do. After two years, I went to a non-news job as media director for Madera CineVideo, the first company in the U.S. to produce Spanish-language film on video in 1986.”
6. What was it like going into public relations?
“My title going into Fresno State was public affairs specialist and it remained the same. It was just different things. I was hired for outreach by Frances Peña. The purpose of that position wasn’t even PIO (public information officer), it was continuing what I did in Madera and what I did for the Comité Cívico. I was designing publications. Putting brochures together. The first eight years was in the outreach office. I would do a press release for the office and send it to Jim Miller.
“When I did become PIO, it shot me back into news. That made me a news journalist again. I was writing stories that were bonafide stories. They weren’t marketing puff pieces even though sometimes they were. What drove me throughout my career as a PIO, is what does a news journalist want from us. They don’t want a BS press release that has all fluffy language. I want them to get my press release and, like Jim Miller, say, ‘I can use this just like it is.’ To me, that was an award.”
7. You were at Fresno State when then-student body president Pedro Ramírez was outed as being undocumented. How crazy was that time?
“Even though we had a lot of other events that were pretty heavy duty, like law suits and people dieing, this was probably the only one that brought down the world of media on us. When al-Jazeera, before they opened in the U.S., was checking in it hit a lot of buttons. Japanese newspapers were calling, as well as those from México. Canada, Great Britain. Germany. All over the U.S.
“The other thing about the Pedro Ramírez case was that usually a situation is like a day or two or three, but Pedro’s was constant from the day it broke for the next three to four months. (Pedro’s) car accident, the fact that other students were trying to get him out and constantly harassing him, and the fact he was student body president kept it in the news.”
8. What has been the biggest change at Fresno State in 30 years?
“Now that I have been inside a university setting for 30 years, and being a part of its decision-making and thinking, the thing that makes that question hard to answer at first is that a university is about change. I couldn’t tell you that there was one big change because I could tell you about all the buildings. The growth of the campus is the biggest physical change.
“Maybe the change I describe most is the people change. When I was a student, when you look at the 1960s and 1970s and how little access there was at Fresno State to the point where students had to get radical. They disrupted the registration table, and broke the library window to symbolize brown people trying to get through the door. The administrators were trying to shut down La Raza Studies.
“But, the students and the community persisted. They kept working for making the university live up to its own motto of serving the community, of education all having access to higher education. They created a major change at Fresno State. You walk on campus today, first of all, you look a the enrollment numbers that are more than 50 percent Latino. Back then it was 8 percent, 10 percent; yet the population was 33 percent. I was thinking back then, ‘Man, we at least have to reach parity. Let’s get it to 33 percent.’ And it seemed like we would never do. Now, we’re talking 50, 55 percent. Isn’t that a sign that we’ve changed? That’s a major change.
“Then look at the programs. La Raza Studies survived and became Chicano Students, and other ethnic studies flourished. African American, Native American, Armenian studies. Not racial superiority but true educational openness; learning about all aspects of our world. The note that wraps that up is that I always look at 1972 or 1973, some Chicano activist took a brown rock and threw it through that library window that opened the doors to Chicanos. The first Chicano president is sitting there three stories up (in the library). It took five decades, but after seven presidents, there is both a Latino there and a native of the San Joaquín Valley.”
9. Has social media made your work harder?
“More work. All our work is challenging. Definitely increased out workload per sue. Social media is dedicated to one person. It hasn’t impacted my primarily work, but I’m expected as a journalist to utilize new forms of communication. I use a lot of personal social media.”
10. What are your plans in retirement?
“The list is a big list, and how I ask my wife for most of it. I’d like to spend a lot more time here (Veterans’ Home of America where his father lives). My father says, ‘I don’t know why I’m still here.’ Maybe he and I have one last assignment to do.”
See story about Tom Uribes’ retirement reception: www.vidaenelvalle.com