Ohlone Elementary School custodian Raúl Gonzales is shown with a brass plaque where the administration building was named in his honor. —Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

“This is who I wanted to be; this was my dream and I am where I have always wanted to be,” said Ohlone Elementary School custodian Raúl Gonzales. 

He has now put in 42 years at various schools, starting out at Freedom School in 1979. He worked at Bradley, HA Hyde, Watsonville High and is now a full-time custodian at Ohlone. 

Born in Santa Cruz and a Watsonville High graduate, Gonzales said he learned tough lessons from people such as head custodian Louie Bilicich at Watsonville High School in the late 1970s who gave him strict lessons on janitorial duties.

“He never let up; I learned from the best,” Gonzales said.

His duties include fixing fire alarms, drinking fountains and furniture, on top of keeping the campus tidy and safe.

“I just can’t believe that I’m seeing Raúl sitting down, even for a minute,” chimed Ohlone Elementary School teacher Cristal Martin, who has been at the school for 17 years. “I mean, he cares that much about our school. Raúl is amazing and everyone here knows that.”

Fourth grade teacher Lisa Woodhouse, who has been at Ohlone for 15 years, said she has “enormous respect” for Gonzales.

“Everyone loves Raúl,” she said. “The students, the staff—he’s just the perfect fit for this school. He does so much for everyone.”

His impact on the campus earned him a brass plaque in 2017 naming the school’s academic and administration building after him. 

“I told them, ‘no, no, no, this isn’t about me,’” Gonzales said. “I just do the work the best way I know. I really like that I get to work with the kids. When I started working here at Ohlone I didn’t know Spanish and these kids have been kind enough to teach me that language. Every time I do something for these kids, they come around and thank me. That is just great.”

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Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. More recently Good Times & Press Banner. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.


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