(Bill Sunderland is shown in one of his auto shop classrooms in this undated photo. Photo courtesy of Jim Howes)

WATSONVILLE — Efforts are underway to help get the auto shop at Watsonville High School named after one of its long time instructors, Bill Sunderland. Following a 47-year career under the hood at the shop, Sunderland retired in 2017.

Sunderland’s career at Watsonville High was so long that he taught the children of many students, several of whom went on to successful careers as auto mechanics. This includes David Kadotani, who owns Kadotani Auto Repair and David Toriumi, who owns Toriumi Auto Repair.

“He touched a lot of lives,” said Jim Howes, assistant director for the Regional Occupational Program and a Watsonville High alumni. “I was in Bill’s class back in 1974 and he made a big difference, not only in my life, but also in the students around me. To this day he cares deeply about his community.”

Sunderland’s focus at the auto shop was engine repair, Howes said.

“He’s the guy that really got the auto shop fired up,” Howes said.

Watsonville High alumni and current principal, Elaine Legorreta, said she recalls the days when she was a student at WHS and seeing Sunderland around campus.

“I can’t think of WHS auto without thinking of Bill Sunderland,” she said.  “I never took a shop class but he was always smiling around campus and seemed to be at most events. The guys all wanted to get into his class to work on their cars and such. He’s responsible for the careers of many of the area’s best auto mechanics.”

Legorreta said that when she returned to the campus to teach years later, it became a running joke between Sunderland and another teacher about being numbers one and two on the district seniority list.

“He loved being the longest serving Wildcat,” Legorreta said. “Even when Bill reduced his workload to part time you could count on him to be on campus working in the shop fixing something. Even now he is supporting his successor to refine his teaching techniques. On top of all that he is a deeply kind man. Such a lovely person.”

“I’d like to see Bill recognized for who he is,” Howes said. “He’s the kind of guy we don’t want to forget.”

Anyone hoping to weigh in on the topic of the naming of the auto shop can contact Howes at 254-0695.

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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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