Milpitas Unified School District's Board of Education approved naming the new elementary school at McCandless after Mabel Mattos, the land on which the Milpitas Community College Extension is built after former Mayor Ben Gross, and the Family Resource Center at Randall Elementary School after Josephine Guerrero following a public hearing during its meeting on Tuesday, May 9.
The name recommendations came from the work of the Milpitas Advisory Committee, which consisted of 11 members of the Milpitas community. While five are parents, four of the six staff members are also community members: Elizabeth Correa, Maria Vasquez, Lisa Ciardella, Pearl Bray Chavez, Mauricio Gavidia, Silvia Dias, MaryJane Gertz, Patti Belanger, Michelle Eacret, Deana Harn, and Reena Choudrey. In addition to the committee, staff consulted with Milpitas librarian Steve Fitzgerald, who suggested names, as well as Renee Lorentzen, the Milpitas City Parks and Recreation Director.
Superintendent Cheryl Jordan explained the committee was careful to consider people who represented a range of ethnicities and in particular, looked for female leaders of the past as Pearl Zanker is the only school property named for a female leader of Milpitas. As requested by the Board, the committee only considered those historical figures who have made significant contributions to Milpitas.
Longtime resident Harriett McGuire, Margaret Rodrigues, and Mabel’s son James Mattos spoke in support of naming the new facilities after these residents and the significance of their lifelong contributions to the City of Milpitas.
“Milpitas Unified School District could have no better role model for one of their schools than Mabel Mattos as its namesake, as she embodied all the traits we all want for our children to aspire to,” Margaret said. “I read your mission statement and I was really impressed by a Culture of We, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. That is my Aunt Mabel.’ She was just inclusive of everyone.”
James brought a picture of his mom from 1966, when she was president of the PTA, and gave Board Members a history of Mabel, born in Madera, California . She later attended Airpoint School in the foothills of Milpitas through eighth grade, and was a part of several service organizations including an original member of the Milpitas Garden Club, lifelong member of the Milpitas Historical Society, PTA, and Young Ladies Institute.
“During mom’s life, she had seen Milpitas go from rolling hills with orchards, two-lane roads, very little traffic to a city that grew with the times,” he said. “Mom lived a long life and never left the city that she loved. Her heart was always dedicated to keeping Milpitas a great place to live and if mom, Mabel Mattos, is selected for the new school name, it would be a great honor for mom and for our family.”
Resident Robert Burrill also referenced a YouTube video he created about Mabel called “Putting up Cots with Mabel Mattos.”
Former Mayor Ben F. Gross was a civil rights and union activist who became one of the first African-American mayors in California in the 1960s. He was also one of the first black city council members in Santa Clara County when he was elected in Milpitas in 1962, and served a term as mayor beginning in 1966 and was on the City Council until 1971.
According to an obituary published by the Milpitas Post September 16, 2016: “Mrs. Guerrero was a woman ahead of her time and dedicated to serving her community. She worked at the U.S. Post Office for 32 years a the assistant postmaster as well as establishing her own business, Milpitas Cleaners. …. Mrs. Guerrero was also the first woman to serve on the Milpitas Planning Commission (1954) and was Woman of the Year for the City of Milpitas.”
“I knew most of these people,” Harriett said in opening up her remarks, noting having lived at her current residence for 50 years. “...I’m just coming to speak in favor of all of them: Ben Gross, Josephine Guerrero, and Mabel. I have been a member of the Historical Society since it founded in 1980.”