Former farmworker brothers who grew up to have accomplished careers, a police officer who taught an anti-drug program, and a man who mentored local youths for decades are the finalists for the name of Santa Maria-Bonita School District’s newest campus.
The Board of Education will review the three finalists and possibly pick a name during a meeting set to begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Souza Student Support Center, 708 S. Miller St.
With 69 names submitted by the community earlier this year, the school naming committee recommended the board pick from three:
» Dr. Francisco and Robert Jimenez — The children of migrant farmworkers, the brothers attended Santa Maria-Bonita schools.
Francisco Jimenez is an award-winning author of children’s and young adult literature. He wrote about his family’s struggles as Mexican immigrants working in the fields in California. He is a professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Santa Clara University.
In nominating Francisco Jimenez, Gretchen Bircher said naming the school after him would recognize education, celebrate the farmworker community and honor a man who went from the field to a distinguished academic career.
Bircher and her husband attended presentation by Francisco Jimenez at Allan Hancock College a year ago.
“We were both moved and impressed by the deep affection Dr. Jimenez has for Santa Maria and the profound emotional response of the audience,” Bircher wrote. “The love and admiration that we saw and felt demonstrated to me that this community needs this school to be named after Dr. Francisco Jimenez.”
Robert Jimenez began working for the district in 1957 as the evening custodian at Main Street School. He held various positions in the district and retired as the purchasing supervisor in 1995. He died in 2014.
Naming the school after him would recognize classified employees, one person said. Two of his children teach in the district.
“Robert’s commitment to the district went beyond being a motivated, loyal employee,” Margaret Porter Ontiveros wrote. “He quietly mentored those with with whom he worked because he believed in their potential and he believed in the power of education.”
» Bill Libbon — A former student of the Santa Maria-Bonita district, he served as mentor to local youths for more than 40 years. Libbon led the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Maria Valley for decades before retiring earlier last year as director.
In nominating Libbon, Alex Posada, Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department director, noted the successful tutoring programs and family services offered through the Boys & Girls Club.
“I can think of only a few persons whose careers placed them in a position to make a positive impact on the lives of thousands of young people,” Posada wrote.
Grace Mendoza recalled the long hours worked by Libbon to keep youths busy and off the streets.
“Bill may not have been a formal educator, but he helped many students and guided them towards a better life,” Mendoza wrote. “He had helped thousands of students stay on the right track.”
Libbon influenced multiple generations of youths through his role in creating what parents knew would be a “safe place for kids,” Kathryn Bernard added, noting his “dedication and devotion to families and youths who face tremendous challenges.”
» Mark Riddering — The former Santa Maria Police Department corporal was instrumental in bring the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program to the district. Lou Gehrig’s disease ended Riddering’s career in 1998. He died in 2008.
A former narcotics officer, Riddering pursued the DARE program for the local district to continue his battle against drugs. While not a district employee, Riddering’s role as a DARE officer put him in the classrooms and on playgrounds as an important mentor to youths, according to Mike Cordero, a retired police lieutenant and former city councilman who submitted the nomination.
“It is impossible to know how many lives Mark has saved, or how many of our youth were spared from going through our legal system as a result of drug or gang involvement,” Cordero wrote. “We also cannot measure the number of kids that have managed to break the cycle of gangs and/or drug use in their family.”
He added that Riddering’s efforts continue “to touch the hearts and minds of our youth long after he had died.”
Two former police chiefs, Dan Shiner and Russell Mathews, sent letters of support.
“In my opinion Corporal Riddering was a role model for everyone,” said Shiner, now police chief in Texarkana, Texas. “His service to his chose profession, his dedication to those that he served, his unwavering love for people and unbridled faith in humanity were the hallmarks of his existence.”
Fourteen of the district’s 19 schools are named after people who made great contributions to the community, officials noted.
The new school, which will house kindergarten through sixth-grade students on a campus north of Betteravia Road and east of Blosser Road, is scheduled to open in August.