WATSONVILLE — Almost a half-century after Bill Sunderland began teaching auto shop at Watsonville High School, his former classroom will now bear his name.
The Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees on Wednesday unanimously approved a proposal to name the school’s auto shop after the much-loved teacher.
Sunderland was hired in 1970 — with a $7,400 salary — to rebuild the school’s flagging auto mechanics program.
He was soon teaching five classes, including one for girls who didn’t feel comfortable in general shop classes but wanted to learn the basics, said Principal Elaine Legorreta.
Legorreta said that Sunderland was fresh from earning a general education degree at Humboldt State University, an associate’s degree in auto technology from Santa Rosa Junior College and a bachelor’s degree in industrial science from Chico State when he visited Watsonville High.
“He took the position and never looked back,” Legorreta said, adding that Sunderland could have found a more lucrative career. “Instead he chose to share his love of mechanics with young people, inspiring them and making an impact on his community.”
David Toriumi, who has run his self-named auto repair shop in Watsonville since 1986, said that he managed to get a spot in Sunderland’s popular class as a beginner student. He earned his way into the advanced class by his senior year.
Toriumi said that he was “ecstatic” to hear of the proposal to name the shop after his former teacher.
“If there is anybody who deserves having their name in a building, it is definitely Bill,” he said.
Former student Jim Howes, who first floated the idea of renaming the shop to PVUSD officials, said that Sunderland was often seen working after school ended for the day.
“He was a teacher but he was much more than that,” Howes said. “He has done so much for so many for so long.”
Robert Halton, who works as a mechanic in Chevrolet of Watsonville, said he has spent 22 years “turning wrenches,” a career choice reinforced by his time in Sunderland’s classes from 1989-90.
“He was an awesome shop teacher,” Halton said. “He taught us a lot. He was fun, and it was very educational.”
Joey Vargas, who said he took classes from 1980-84, said Sunderland helped him land his first job in high school at Wright’s Brake Service on Freedom Boulevard. He has worked at Pasillas Tire Service on Airport Boulevard for 20 years.
Vargas described Sunderland as a mentor who would come to school sporting events, and helped when students got into trouble at school.
“He backed us up,” Vargas said. “He was a go-to guy. He was always there to help you.”
David Kadotani, who owns Kadotani Auto Repair, was also one of Sunderland’s students.
Nicknamed “Coach” by students who had trouble pronouncing his Scandinavian name, Sunderland retired in 2017 at 75.
He continued teaching driver’s education at Watsonville High, making him one of the few teachers in the state left with that credential.
He also continued teaching for the Santa Cruz County Regional Occupational Program.
Sunderland said the proposal was “overwhelming.”
“Normally you don’t get something named after you,” he said. “I’m honored.”
Sunderland told the board that his original plan was to quit after two years and then “go make some money.”
But he soon discovered his calling was right there at the school, and rejected two recruitment attempts by a school district in Pleasanton.
“It’s been a pleasure,” he said. “I think I made the right choice. I don’t look back on anything. It’s been a great time.”