This article was contributed by Gavilan College.
Seeing the Gavilan College campus through the eyes of former student body president and alumnus Fernando Gonzalez, you wouldn’t recognize the area today.
“The first year, 1967-1968, Gavilan opened, brand new,” said Gonzalez. “We didn’t even have sidewalks. When the rains came it was muddy all over.” He recalled a passionate speech given by Don Klein, boosting the morale of the students. “It was a really moving speech, telling us to be proud to be there, and to keep the place clean.”
In his second semester, Gonzalez ran for student council and then treasurer. In 1969, he won the runoff election for student body president. He wasn’t involved in student government in high school, but was influenced by older brother Raul Gonzalez, who attended the college while it was still located at Hollister Airport and was elected student body president in his second year.
From the beginning, Gonzalez was a business administration major and worked his way through school. “I have memories of Mr. Howard Hester, very dedicated,” he said. “It wasn’t just textbook teaching, he had a lot of business experience.” Gonzalez credited the quality of teaching when he transferred to earn his business degree at UC Berkeley.
The 60s and conservatives clash
“I was sitting in an acting class when we heard all heard the news Robert F. Kennedy was killed,” Gonzalez said. Events of the time left an impression on him.
“Joan Baez and David Harris came to the campus for the anti-war movement,” he said. “We were pretty conservative, weren’t too keen, but went to listen. Joan Baez was going to sing! A highlight for the campus.”
“While I was student body president, El Teatro Campesino wanted to present ACTOS,” Gonzalez said. People were opposed to letting them on campus.
“We went to board of trustees and made our case that we should see what ETC was about, after couple of meeting trustees, they agreed,” he said. Many programs afterwards dealt with the war, with differing opinions from faculty that created tension. Students wrote and performed a play protesting issues on campus and the war, describing the first college president, Dr. Ralph Schroder, as acting like a king.
“Dr. Schroder was very dedicated to the college,” said Gonzalez. “I always have fond memories of him. He had an open door, encouraged me to apply to different colleges and wrote letters of recommendation.”
“We commuted to get to campus, carpooled,” he said. “There was no public transportation at the time. And smaller roads, but traffic moved very fast.”
College activities and social events
The first year at Gavilan, students were grateful they had a new campus.
“We all wiped our feet on the mats outside the lecture halls,” said Gonzalez. “The student center had a very good cafeteria, real meals, every day lunch was different.”
Once students arrived, they stayed on campus. In between classes they studied in the library and played pool in the student union. Social events included attending athletics, the annual homecoming and parties. “You didn’t need an invitation,” he said. “If you heard about it, you just went.”
Locally, there were lots of little bands around Gilroy. “Back then, anybody could play,” said Gonzalez. “They could form a band, put on a show.”
A family of eight adjusts to the war
“My eldest brother, Albert, also attended college, then enlisted in the Army,” said Gonzalez. “He was shipped to Vietnam, and died in 1968. My brother Raul and I received college deferments.”
Gonzalez received his BA in Business from UC Berkeley, which he was able to attend on a scholarship.
He received a fellowship to continue his education at the University of Southern California. Before completing his graduate degree in business, Gonzalez received a draft notice. He spoke to the local draft board. “Let me finish the last six months. And they denied it, and I got my draft notice.”
Waiting, Gonzalez received the notification letter to be at the Oakland induction center at a certain date. During the two weeks between the denial and notification, the President issued an order: Anyone who had an immediate family member who died serving in the armed forces in Vietnam or Korea was exempt from the draft.
“That happened eight days before I was to show up for enlistment and deployment,” Gonzalez said.
Summer started, and he only needed six units of electives to finish his degree. He came to visit the family and saw a building for rent. The only way to contact them was by Western Union letter.
“I’m interested in that building, what’s your rent?” he wired. “Can we set a time and place to meet?”
They met that summer Gonzalez started a grocery business, and he never left. After 14 years in the grocery business, he started a hardware business, Coast to Coast, after researching franchise opportunities at the San Benito County Library. In 1992 it was renamed to TrueValue.
From Gavilan College to UC Berkeley to USC, Gonzalez acquired the business education to launch, expand and maintain his businesses.