College invites alumni, faculty to visit website and share memories

Published in the March 13 – 26, 2019 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Happy birthday, Gavilan Community College. In 2019 it celebrates its 100th year of providing South Valley residents with higher education opportunities

The Gavilan College Educational  Foundation is planning a number of events, the central one being a Sept. 7 gala with the theme “Gavilan Through the Decades.” The Gilroy campus will sparkle with a retrospective of the growth of the college. The centennial celebration will give guests an opportunity to walk  through the campus and experience the passing eras while enjoying fine wines, good food and music.

The charter for San Benito Junior College was approved March 8, 1919 by the San Benito County Board of Education. The first graduating class of eight women and one man took place in June 1921.

In the 1960s, California started a movement to build more community colleges. San Benito Junior College received the new name of Gavilan Community College and students started attending the Gilroy campus in 1967. Over the years, Gavilan has grown to about 13,000 students taking classes at the main campus as well as smaller satellite campuses in downtown Morgan Hill and Hollister and at Coyote Valley along Bailey Avenue.

“It’s important we recognize and take time to pause and look at our timeline, which is why this centennial looks at what occurred here historically from 1919 to 2019 that really became touchstones for all of our alumni and all of our community members,” said Superintendent/President Dr. Kathleen Rose. “We also want to celebrate the thousands of people who came to Gavilan College seeking points in their education and developmental journey to be able to build a better life for themselves.”

Gavilan social science instructor Leah Halper took a sabbatical to write a highly detailed document chronicling the college’s history. It describes San Benito Junior College having a “soft launch” in 1919.

The founders were not sure how the college would succeed at that challenging time immediately following the “Great War” (later called World War I) when veterans were returning to America. In the 19th century, the rural county of about 8,900 residents had a small private religious college in Hollister. The new community college based in the high school was the 11th in the state.

“There were not a lot of students at that time,” Rose said. “A lot of the early students were women.”

There was some skepticism in the county about providing education for females through a community college, she said. Many parents preferred that their daughters get married and start a family rather than seek an education.

“The centennial is going to be about what happened every decade for people historically through the life of our college,” Rose said. “For people who are going to attend the centennial, yes, it’s going to be a celebration. We’re going to have stations here on campus to celebrate the history of the college in the ’20, ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s, ‘60s and beyond so that the community can be reminded about the growth of the college throughout its history.”

For the gala, Gavilan is seeking sponsorships, offering packages from $500 to $50,000 to help pay for the expenses. Other centennial celebration events will take place throughout the birthday year. There will be alumni meet-and-greets and parties at various locations in San Benito, Gilroy and Morgan Hill.

Jan Bernstein-Chargin, public information officer for Gavilan, encourages alumni or former instructors to share their stories about their experiences while as a student or faculty member.

“We know so many members of this community have a Gavilan story. This is a story we’re all going to tell together,” she said. “So we’re going to invite people to go to our alumni page and click on the tell-your-story link and tell us your alumni story. We want to be able to highlight these and feature these in the website.”

On a personal level for Rose, Gavilan holds a special place in her heart. In 2009, she started working as the executive vice president at the campus following seven years working at Hartnell Community College in Salinas.

In July 2016, she started as the president and superintendent, replacing Steve Kinsella.

“This is my third year as the college president and this is the tenth year at the college,” she said. “This is the longest community service at a college that I’ve ever done. This is my home. And I will be here at Gavilan until I retire, whenever that is, sometime in the far-off future.”

Rose feels proud to hold “a position of honor and privilege and humility” to be able to be working at Gavilan at this time in the college’s history.

For the centennial year celebration, she has immersed herself in the history of the college and seeks to educate the public about its past to guide decisions for its future evolution as technology and career opportunities change higher education in the coming decades.

“There are so many things about Gavilan that resonate with me personally,” she said. “I just feel such a level of being at being home here at Gavilan — and I always have.”

She also sees 2019 as a year marking a new beginning for Gavilan with five new major projects being completed in the next decade. These will be funded by $248 million in bond money after voters approved Measure X with 57 percent of the district-wide vote in November 2018.

The projects include a new library and learning center, a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math center, a performing arts center, and a central utilities plant at the Gilroy campus. A new San Benito County campus set to be built on land a few miles south of Hollister will bring Gavilan College back to its farm town roots.

The passage of Measure X shows the residents of the Gavilan district, which include the South Valley region of Santa Clara County and all of San Benito County, believe in providing its people with an  opportunity for higher education through a local college, she said.


“These are brick-and-mortar projects that we’ve been waiting 50 years to do,” she said. “And to be able to be in a leadership position and celebrate that and talk about that at the moment of our centennial, from a career perspective and a personal perspective I really feel I’m at the peak of my profession.”

Rose expresses gratitude to the community for the commitment its shown  Gavilan over the years.

“I have felt such support from the community in my three quick years as college president,” she said. “We’ve asked a lot of the community to support us, support us in our Measure X journey, and support us as we’ve done many changes here. We can’t wait to see what the next 100 years brings.”

Marty Cheek