Community members reflect on the legacy of Mary Ontiveros

Mary Ontiveros

Founding Vice President for Diversity Mary Ontiveros passed away Feb. 19, a little more than a year after her retirement from a CSU career and education that spanned more than 50 years. Below are some of the many tributes that have poured in to honor her legacy.

“Our hearts are with those who are grieving. As a community, we are both bereft and deeply fortunate to have known Mary and benefited from her passion, her compassion, her wisdom, and her unparalleled commitment to CSU. … As she herself said an interview in 2020, ‘There are some pretty significant things that happened historically, and I’m just glad that I was at CSU, because the one common denominator that I think helped me get through everything are the people. It’s really the people that make a difference.’ Mary Ontiveros herself was unquestionably one of the people who made a difference; to offer just one powerful example, she was instrumental in leading the development and university wide adoption of our Principles of Community. And Mary had this kind of transformative impact not just at CSU but for literally thousands of students who are now alumni making a difference in their own ways.”

–Joyce McConnell, CSU president

“It is impossible to overstate Mary’s impact on our campus over almost half a century. As our first vice president for diversity, as the longtime head of Admissions, and even in her early years as a leader in student government, she always sought to leave this campus better than she found it. And she did so with her trademark humor, patience, and passion for uplifting everyone around her. So many programs that are part of the fabric of our university – programs that have opened doors for thousands of students – started with Mary sitting down at a table with her colleagues and imagining what might help. More than anything, I valued her as a trusted friend, and like all of her friends, I will miss her greatly. My heart is with her entire family, and with her CSU family as well.”

–Tony Frank, chancellor of the CSU System

“How do you say goodbye to someone who has been such a part of my journey at Colorado State? My heart is broken as I say farewell to my friend, colleague, and an amazing mentor. What is really more amazing is that Mary was an incredible friend, colleague, and mentor to so many others over her many years at Colorado State! She truly loved CSU and was dedicated to making our university a place where everyone was welcomed and included. She has left a legacy and a challenge for us all to continue to work together to achieve the goal that she spent her professional and personal life committed to.”

–Blanche Hughes, vice president for student affairs

“Back in 1998, Mary O. took a risk in welcoming a brash newcomer to her well-established leadership team in Admissions. She took the time to help me earn the culture of the office and the campus, and gave me opportunities to serve in DEIJ roles that challenged and changed me. Over the last 24 years, she has been a leader, mentor, confidant, and friend to me… her impact on my life is immeasurable. Mary’s unwavering commitment to doing what is right, not what is easy nor comfortable, along with her deep understanding of what members of our campus and community were dealing with, more often than not made the difference in the success of initiatives and programs that she led. She never rested on her laurels and was always ready to jump in and help us move mountains.”

–Leslie Taylor, former vice president for enrollment and access

“I had the honor and privilege of working with Mary Ontiveros on the President’s Multicultural Student Advisory Council in which we collaborated on many great projects. Mary Ontiveros not only served as a role model for me but as a motivation to keep fighting for the causes that I truly believe in. As a woman of color, I am grateful for the legacy and culture of inclusivity that she has created in the CSU community. I am beyond appreciative of her efforts and fight for justice and inclusivity, which have allowed me to step into leadership roles here at CSU. I wish to continue the legacy that she left behind by doing the work to provide access and inclusivity to all minoritized students. She has made such an immense impact, and I cannot thank her enough!”

–Merry Gebretsadik, vice president of the Associated Students of Colorado State University

“My heart is with Mary’s family and all of those at CSU who were close to her. I learned so much from Mary about leading with humanity and humor – we worked together for more than 30 years on many hard and complicated issues, and she always brought such fresh perspective and knowledge. She really was a transformational leader who quietly, methodically got stuff done, without asking for credit or accolades, and she managed to do it while bringing everyone along and listening to all voices. The list of what she accomplished for CSU is simply remarkable; consider just a few of the initiatives she led: the Principles of Community, all-gender restrooms, the Campus Climate Survey, pre-collegiate summer programs in Admissions … these are all significant steps forward for CSU that wouldn’t have happened without her persistence, vision, and ability to work collaboratively and respectfully with people across all parts of the university. And she was also a good friend who would razz me about drinking old, cold coffee in afternoon meetings, which just grossed her out. I will miss her.”

–Cara Neth, director of executive communications for the CSU System

Mary Ontiveros speaking at commencement

“Mary was firsts. She was a first-generation college student, the first Latina director of admissions, and the first vice president for diversity. Much of what defines Colorado State University regarding diversity and access, we can trace back to Mary O. and her leadership and influence in her nearly 50-year career: first generation scholarships, the First Generation University Initiative, the Alliance Partnership, the Native American Legacy Award, the Principles of Community, and much more. For those of us who came after her we will be forever grateful – we literally could not do what we do if she had not done what she did. Mary was Mary from the Blocks (in Pueblo, Colorado), and she never forgot who she was and where she came from.  Her values did not waver; she always remembered why equity and access work was important, for whom she did the work, and she never ever let up. I love that lady.”

–Shannon Archibeque-Engle, associate vice president for inclusive excellence

“Mary has been a huge champion of mine since I came to work at CSU. She was a mentor, friend, co-conspirator, and chingona. I have learned so much from her over the years. She has modeled so much of who I would like to be in a leader. Mary believed that the ability to do one’s job depended upon the quality and quantity of information they had – people would join her committees just be able to hear about what was happening on campus. In an institution as large as CSU it is the sharing of information which connects individuals to the larger mission of the institution. You are telling people; I want you to feel included, so I am sharing the resource of information with you. I am grateful for this lesson. Also, Mary had such a wealth of historical knowledge of CSU from her time here. She would have the funnies, wildest, stories about what happened over the years. You wouldn’t believe the stuff she would say. I will miss her always.”

–Ria Vigil, assistant vice president for inclusive excellence

“Mary Ontiveros provided the shoulders upon which many others stood.  She was a dedicated leader in the areas of diversity and inclusion, as well as a change agent, for Colorado State University (CSU). Mary accomplished more for the diverse student population at CSU than anyone else of whom I am aware. Her accomplishments were the result of hard work, dedication and perseverance. From admissions counselor to vice president, Mary set an example of what is possible, for people of color, when one does the work. Mary was also a loving friend, loyal colleague, and knowledgeable leader; known for her kind soul and special smile. We shared so much during my tenure at CSU. We were “firsts” together, Mary in admissions and me in financial. Together we were a force to be reckoned with! Mary was my dear friend and she will be missed!”

–Vivian Kerr, founding director of the Academic Advancement Program

“Mary was my colleague and mentor, but most of all Mary was my friend. When I worked with Mary in the Office of Admissions for nearly 15 years, we were a family. We celebrated together – birthdays, multicultural holiday parties, tailgates. We shared each other‘s joys and sorrows. When I left the Office of Admissions, it was not because I was unhappy there. Quite the contrary. But I took a literal leap of faith to become the first Hillel director at CSU. In that role, I continued to work with Mary on issues of inclusion, diversity and confronting anti-Semitism. Mary was always someone who ‘walked the talk.’ She made a tremendous impact on CSU, Fort Collins and, more personally, on my life. She was, and continues to be, an inspiration to all who had the good fortune of knowing her. She will be missed beyond measure. My heart goes out to Mary’s family and family of friends.”

–Hedy Berman