With over 375 people in attendance, Gavilan College celebrated its centennial anniversary on Sept. 7 in Gilroy.
Founded in San Benito County in 1919 as San Benito Junior College, the school became the Gavilan Joint Community College District in 1963 and was moved out of the county. Though it was originally located in Hollister, the main campus is now in Gilroy, with satellite sites in Morgan Hill, Hollister, Coyote Valley, and an aviation maintenance site in San Martin. Two bonds have passed that stated a campus would be rebuilt in San Benito County.
“Reflecting, it is amazing to be back,” said Kristina Chavez-Wyatt, graduate with the class of 1995 and executive director of the San Benito County Business Council. “I met my husband here in chemistry class, so the college holds a special place for my family.”
For Gavilan Superintendent/President Kathleen Rose, the centennial is a way of celebrating the past while preparing for the future.
“This is a place of educational opportunities and dream-building,” Rose said. “Going forward, we are all about, how do we design programs for students for the next century for Gavilan College?”
One attendee whose love of education was evident was Felton Owens. Raised as one of nine children, Felton’s father worked multiple jobs to ensure that all of his kids had a chance at furthering their own education. As a result, all nine children attended college.
Felton’s brother Dr. TJ Owens was a Gavilan College Dean of Students, who pushed for academic excellence among high school students.
His work came to fruition with the Dr. TJ Owens Gilroy Early College Academy, often referred to as GECA. Located on Gavilan’s main campus in Gilroy, GECA enables high school students to get a head start on college.
As GECA’s website states, in four years students can “graduate from GECA with not only a high school degree, but also an AA/AS or 60 transferrable college units.”
“We appreciate that Gavilan appreciated TJ and what he stood for,” said Susan Owens, Felton’s wife.
Owens family members also spoke of the importance of junior colleges. “They provide an opportunity for everyone,” Susan said.
Felton said, “The closer you can go to school where you live, the better it is for you.”
Associated Students of Gavilan College President Miriam Hernandez is in her third and final year at Gavilan. “People truly care about you here,” she said. “You will find, in the one to two to three years you are here, a strong community.”
Hernandez said about the centennial, “I think it’s been a fantastic effort that students, staff, and the community has made to keep the school going.”
Grace Cardinalli, administrative assistant to the vice president of student services, echoed this sentiment. “It’s 100 years. That alone not only states the staying power of the college, but also the importance of education in the community we serve.”
San Benito Junior College originated and operated for 41 years in San Benito County. A new campus, named Gavilan College, was built in Santa Clara County. It has operated for 59 years in Santa Clara County.