Sheryl (Fontero ‘70) Patton - Distinguished Alumna of the Year

by Chase Pielak ‘01

On a quiet Saturday morning in a quaint Dutch coffee shop in downtown Glendora, the Patton family sits down to breakfast, marking a halt to the daily grind. The meal has been a family tradition since Sheryl (Fontero '70) Patton's three children were in kindergarten, almost 20 years ago. Today, three generations meet in Glendora. Saturday mornings signify her commitment to family despite the hectic hours she spends as CEO of Pacific West Communication, Inc.

Her ability to juggle family and career, and her desire to serve God through leadership positions makes her a fitting choice for the 2001 Distinguished Alumna of the Year Award.

Patton joined Pacific West 19 years ago when the company employed just 10 people, operated out of a back office at a car dealership, and installed satellite antennas for local companies. Now 65 employees strong, Pacific West installs fiber optic cable for cable television and independent companies.

Patton's own responsibilities changed along with the face of her company. She moved from hands-on direct management to large-scale oversight and company direction. Patton's ability to adapt her skills to a variety of responsibilities served her well long before Pacific West. During her senior year at Azusa Pacific College, she was a resident advisor, the student body secretary, and a student teacher in Glendora. One week after graduation, she was a new wife and a first-time teacher in the inner city.

For a year-and-a-half she balanced marriage, a diverse sixth grade class, and students who could not read. She soon became pregnant and faced another challenge. "I used to go to the Jack-in-the-Box across the street to call my husband and ask him to let me quit," she said.

Her sixth-graders were one of the hardest struggles she ever dealt with, but she finished the year strong. Her students were changed because she held fast until June; Patton actually enjoyed deep satisfaction by overcoming her early teaching difficulties. She decided to work only part time the following year and eventually stayed home to care for her, by then, three children: Joanna, and twins, Robert and Richard, who were born less than two years after her daughter.

Remembering the time fondly, she said, "Motherhood was my job, and I loved it."

For the next 10 years, the Patton's traveled around the western United States with Rob's job. They lived in Houston, Orange County, Portland, and Fresno, before settling permanently in Glendora, where Patton began at Pacific West. She drew upon the interpersonal skills she learned as a teacher and a mother to help her become a successful business leader. Today, Patton also sits on the Citrus Valley Health Partners board, a nonprofit health care oversight organization, and Azusa Pacific University Board of Trustees, chairing the Committee on Trusteeship.

"It is our [the Board of Trustees'] responsibility to safeguard the university, both spiritually and financially, in order to impact students' lives," she said. "My faith became my own at APU. It became a part of who I was and why I did what I did. I want this generation of students to gain more than just a warm coat of faith. I want them to leave APU changed and ready to impact the world."

Patton's wide breadth of activism exemplifies the impact Azusa Pacific can have through its alumni.

"Sheryl exemplifies APU's four Cornerstones [Christ, Scholarship, Community, and Service] in every aspect of her life, and I appreciate that she has a heart for servant leadership," said Craig Wallace '81, director of alumni relations. "Although her accomplishments are many, she doesn't seek out public praise. I am proud to honor her as our 2001 Distinguished Alumna."