Sonoma State University to grant Connie Codding, Willie Tamayo honorary degrees

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Two longtime Sonoma County leaders who have encouraged young people to achieve their dreams will be honored next weekend with honorary doctoral degrees from Sonoma State University.

Business owner Willie Tamayo and philanthropist Connie Codding will be recognized at the university’s commencement ceremonies Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Tamayo, 65, and his parents, Jose and Mary, founded La Tortilla Factory in 1977 in Sonoma County and built the business into an innovative pillar of the community. A few years ago, Tamayo helped create the Elsie Allen High School Foundation that provides students financial help for college-related expenses.

Codding’s name is synonymous with philanthropy and civic involvement, both on her own and in conjunction with her late husband, developer Hugh Codding. The family started the Codding Foundation in the 1960s.

Codding, 82, has become one of the best known and most generous philanthropists in her lifelong home of Sonoma County, and to SSU.

This year, for the first time, the school’s graduation ceremonies will be held at the Green Music Center, with each of the school’s six colleges holding three ceremonies each day. Tamayo will receive his honorary degree at Saturday morning’s School of Business and Economics commencement while Codding will be honored at Sunday evening’s School of Education ceremony.

The degrees to be bestowed on Codding and Tamayo are only the seventh and eighth honorary doctorates awarded at SSU since 2009.

Honorees are often local philanthropists and major benefactors to school projects, like Jennifer and John Webley, who donated $2 million to construction of the Green Music Center, and Joan and Sanford Weill, after whom Weill Hall at the music center is named.

Nominees go through an elaborate selection process and must all be approved by the chancellor’s office and board of trustees.

The most recent honoree at Sonoma State, in 2014, was Gary Heck, owner of Korbel Champagne Cellars, who created the F. Korbel Brothers, Inc. professorship in wine business, the first industry-supported professorship at SSU. He also donated $1 million toward the new home of the Wine Business Institute in Sonoma State’s School of Business and Economics.

Codding has been “an enthusiastic and frequent presence on the Sonoma State campus and a tireless advocate for young people and lifelong learning,” according to the announcement of her selection.

One of her favored programs has been the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, known as OLLI, a learning community for those 50 or older. Codding is an OLLI donor and member of its advisory board and outreach committee.

The Codding Foundation created and supports the Hugh Codding Entrepreneur-in-Residence program at Sonoma State’s School of Business, which creates mentorship opportunities for local high school and university students with area employers.

A mother of five, grandmother of 10 and a great-grandmother, Codding has also been involved in the health and educational opportunities for young people.

In Sonoma County, she helped fund a Planned Parenthood clinic in Rohnert Park. Other gifts have aided a local surgery center that provides urgent oral surgeries to low-income children, and helped saved a local high school clinic from closure.

Tamayo has the quintessential American success story, starting a small family business and building it through innovation, such as developing the first low-carb tortilla, a gluten-free tortilla and an organic tortilla.

Having lived in Sonoma County for nearly 50 years, Tamayo has been committed to education at SSU, where he supported undocumented, Latino and other traditionally underrepresented students.

In 2011 visit to Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa, Tamayo saw himself in some of the students’ stories about their difficulties making ends meet and worrying about the future.

He joined forces with the principal and a teacher friend to create the Elsie Allen High School Foundation, which has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for scholarships, fees for college entrance exams, college tours and other college-related expenses.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 707-521-5470 or On Twitter @loriacarter.

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