Remembering Dr. Fritz Wenck
January 13, 2023
Lake Tahoe Community College staff, faculty, board members and administrators join the Wenck family in mourning the passing of longtime Board of Trustees member Dr. Frederick “Fritz” Wenck, who served LTCC for 42 years. Dr. Wenck passed away on January 5, 2023 after a period of declining health in recent months.
Dr. Wenck was first elected to LTCC’s Board of Trustees in 1974 when the college had just formed and was located in a motel on Highway 50. He retired in December 2016 as the third longest-serving community college trustee in California history. During his tenure, he was elected eight times to the Board, serving as Board President five times.
“We’re all deeply saddened to hear about Fritz’s passing,” said LTCC Superintendent/President Jeff DeFranco. “He gave so much of his life to this college, providing service and support for more than 40 years. LTCC would not be what it is today without his contributions. His lifelong efforts have created a lasting legacy of real positive impact on our college and on our greater South Shore community.”
Kerry David, who has served as a LTCC trustee since 1992, said, “Fritz was a true advocate for education in our community. He was always an advocate for the college, and he firmly believed that ‘students come first.’ I had the pleasure of serving with Fritz on the Board for 24 years, and he was a great mentor to me. We are thankful for his leadership and the countless hours of service he gave to LTCC.”
Dr. Wenck became a trustee on March 5, 1974, when the first Board of Trustees was elected by South Lake Tahoe voters. At that time, they also voted in favor of creating the Lake Tahoe Community College District, laying the groundwork for a college in South Lake Tahoe. Joining Dr. Wenck in that first trustee group were William Conlon, Rev. Donald Swanson, Dr. Will Cluff, and Roberta Mason, who retired as an LTCC trustee and Board president in 2014 after 40 years of service.
At the time of his retirement, then-Board President Dr. Karen Borges said, “It’s rare for a community college in our state to have a trustee stay on board and be active and committed for this long. Fritz is really special, and we owe him a debt of gratitude for his devotion to LTCC. He’s always thought about what is best for the long-term success of the college, what is best for students, and after that, what is best for all the other interests of the college.”
Upon his retirement, LTCC’s Board passed a resolution honoring Dr. Wenck’s decades of commitment to the college and renaming LTCC’s Board Room after him. Dr. Borges’ words about Dr. Wenck’s guiding principles were captured in a plaque that is now displayed in the room that bears his name.
While he didn’t expect to be a trustee for as long as he was, Dr. Wenck committed to it for the long haul because of the importance of the work.
“My goal right from the start was to get a college here, and to be a help to students and citizens of our town,” Dr. Wenck said upon his retirement. “Getting the school in place and making it open and accessible to anyone who wanted access, for vocational and transfer students in particular…this has been the most important part of the job.”
During his time as trustee, Dr. Wenck was part of a team that fundamentally transformed the college from its early days at the motel to its current 164-acre campus off of Al Tahoe Boulevard.
Dr. Wenck and the original Board of Trustees members hired LTCC’s first president, Dr. James Duke, in 1974. Together, they oversaw the land acquisition that made LTCC’s current campus possible, moving out of the motel and to the new space in 1988.
The Board next selected Dr. Guy Lease in 1990 as LTCC’s second president. During his tenure, Dr. Lease and the trustees oversaw the additions of the Child Development Center, a technology wing, the G Wing classrooms, the standalone Physical Education building, the Student Center, the commercial grade kitchen that supports the Culinary Arts program, and the library and Haldan Art Gallery.
Dr. Wenck was also a fundamental part of helping to pass the Measure F bond in 2014, providing LTCC with crucial funding of $55 million to upgrade and modernize existing classrooms and facilities. In championing the bond’s passage, he wrote, “Our students deserve the best education we can give them. Measure F funds would continue and even improve the high-quality experience LTCC provides. Should we be satisfied with merely an adequate educational experience, in merely adequate facilities? I believe that in order to achieve their goals and do their best work, students need a well-supported and enthusiastic faculty, teaching in the finest facilities we can provide.”
Dr. Wenck was on the board when then-President Dr. Kindred Murillo accepted a nearly $6 million donation from Lisa Maloff to build a university center at LTCC, which opened in 2018. Dr. Wenck was also part of the team when Dr. Murillo retired and LTCC’s board selected its current president, Jeff DeFranco.
“Fritz was the board chair who hired me,” said DeFranco. “I’ll never forget that phone call from him, and I’m forever grateful for the trust he placed in me.”
Dr. Wenck was an early advocate for online education at LTCC, and experience in that was part of his list of requirements when hiring superintendent/presidents. He also encouraged exploring the use of online textbooks and classroom materials. He felt that moving education into the online world allowed those who couldn’t take traditional classes to still access an affordable, quality education.
In 2015, Dr. Wenck was honored by the Community College League of California for his then-40 years of service to LTCC and the community college mission.
In addition to his work at LTCC, Dr. Wenck was a dentist in South Lake Tahoe for 52 years. He was also a very active member of the South Lake Tahoe Optimist club for years, heading up their annual Easter egg hunt on LTCC’s campus.
Dr. Wenck was born and raised in Illinois just outside of Chicago. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from St. Bonaventure University in New York, then graduated from the Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago where he earned his Doctor of Dental Science degree. He then joined the United States Navy, where he served as a dentist in various locations, including Camp Pendleton in California. After completing his service in 1970, he moved to South Lake Tahoe and began practicing dentistry.
Dr. Wenck continued serving in the Naval Reserves for another 21 years, during which he met his wife, Patience, who was serving as a U.S. Army nurse. She retired at the rank of Colonel after serving as commander of a Combat Support Hospital in Washington. Dr. Wenck retired from the Navy Reserves as a captain after 29 years of service. The Wencks have seven children and 10 grandchildren.
Those who wish to can honor Dr. Wenck’s legacy by making a donation to the LTCC Foundation (www.ltcc.edu/giving), which supports student scholarships and academic programs at the college.