100 Years of Solicitude
Centenarian makes her life all about helping others
By Jessica Laskey
It might seem hard to imagine working until you’re age 87, but when you meet Mary Ellen Fort, who celebrated her 100th birthday in December, it’s easier to picture.
Though Fort loved her job at American River College, what she enjoyed most was that the work allowed her to help people. After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in psychology and counseling at Sacramento State, Fort taught psychology at ARC.
Then she went into counseling and eventually helped develop the Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement and Minority Engineering Program, which became a national standard for helping minority students get into science, math and tech studies.
“I intuitively felt they needed help,” says Fort, a longtime Arden Park resident. “I tried to develop protocols that would give them a better chance to move up the ladder.”
As described by the Institute of Education Services, MESA/MEP “recruits Black, Hispanic and Native American students and provides assistance, encouragement and enrichment programs to help them succeed in the fields of mathematics, engineering, science, and computer science.”
Fort served as ARC’s MESA and transfer center director and articulation officer and counselor, a liaison among the three regional public college systems, Los Rios, Cal State and UC.
“I really loved working with students,” she says. “Educators are kind of a strange breed. We help people to the next step.” She loved the work so much she continued part time at ARC until she was 87.
When not on campus, Fort volunteered for various organizations, including the executive board of Business Volunteers for the Arts, UC Davis Leadership Council and UC Davis Medical Center.
The medical center has a special place in her heart. It saved her husband’s life. After her now-deceased husband, Robert, was in a serious car accident, he spent three months in the hospital’s intensive-care unit. He was given a 10% chance to live. He not only survived but, Fort says, “he came back fast.” They spent that Christmas in the Caribbean.
Fort was so impressed with the faculty, nursing staff and doctors’ embrace of her husband and the care he received that she volunteered for the hospital board. Robert used his talents as a charitable gifts and trusts attorney to help fundraise for the medical center.
The hospital introduced Fort to Joan Stephens Hadly, a med center employee who became a close friend. “She is one of a handful of strong, trailblazing, compassionate and indefatigably determined women leaders with whom I’ve been lucky to know and call my friend,” Hadly says of Fort.
Sacramento is lucky to have Fort, who sings the praises of the city she’s called home for 100 years.
“The people here are very warm and embracing,” she says. “They’re not afraid to try new things. We have good theater, art, music. It’s hard to put a finger on it. Sacramento has a message all its own.”
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.