Croft worked with Lopez at IVC when Croft was director of human resources and dean of vocational education.
During the formative years of the extended campus program, classes were conducted in "church halls, fire stations, high schools, everywhere we could," said Lopez.
Under his direction, the program has reached as far north as Brawley, with its center established in 1991, and as far south as Calexico, with a center opening in 1999.
Croft praised Lopez's dedication to his job.
"His service to the Valley in the field of education is difficult to measure," Croft said. "He has impacted a large majority of students out of high school, and folks who come back for re-education and learning, in a large way."
Lopez said the extended campus has maintained a 70 percent female student enrollment since 1974.
As dean, Lopez has devoted much of his time obtaining federal grants to expand IVC's institutional services.
He has served on various national panels, including being appointed by U.S. Secretary of Education T.H. Bell to a panel that reviewed the top performing high schools in 1984.
The highlight of his career, Lopez said, was being invited to the White House to attend a briefing on education by President Ronald Reagan.
He was one of two educators from California selected.
"They just called me," Lopez said.
Lopez's office is lined with photos of himself with President Reagan and T.H. Bell. His framed invitation to attend the president's education briefing hangs proudly beside the photos.
"He's very knowledgeable, easygoing," said Croft of his working relationship with Lopez, adding "If he's a friend, he's a friend for life."
Lopez said he will miss his friendships, students and his "wonderful staff" the most.
"I can't say enough about the staff. They are so loyal and no task is too big for them," Lopez enthused, adding, "It's a team effort."
His staff reciprocated the feeling at a surprise reception Friday honoring Lopez.
Lupe Ruvalcaba has worked with Lopez for 17 years as a student services technician.
"He's a very caring person," said Ruvalcaba.
She added, "He's loved by a lot of people and admired by students, staff, faculty and administration. It's really sad to see him leave."
IVC Trustee Becky Ramirez, who represents the Winterhaven area, lauded Lopez's service to Winterhaven-area students.
"For my community he's made the effort. He's come to San Pasqual (High School) a few times to talk about the extended campus classes. He's a motivator," said Ramirez.
Gregorio Ponce, IVC division chair of science and math, said of Lopez, "He is driven by caring for others, whether he's on the job or off. He cares about students and he finds ways to help them."
While he thinks the process of education has not changed in the 40 years he has been involved, Lopez said "the bar has been raised, and there is more pressure on students to succeed."
He would like to see education in the nation "take the challenge of internationalizing schools more."
He added educators need to "think global."
The best part of his job has been "the access provided for the students," Lopez said. "To drive to communities and see the parking lots full of our students, wherever they are, it's a good feeling."
"Relax," is the first order of business in retirement for Lopez. He plans on traveling with his wife, Olga, who is retiring from her position as adjunct professor and administrative secretary at IVC.
Lopez said he plans on remaining in the Valley and intends to keep connected to education.
"I can't be appreciative enough of the acceptance and support I got in each community," Lopez said.
Staff Writer Laura MacKenzie can be reached at 337-3442.