SALINAS – Neil Patel can still visualize the parking lot when it became a memorial to John Gutierrez, filled with candles, flowers and an assortment of heartfelt notes and messages.
Director of Bolsa Knolls Middle School since the school was established 11 years ago, Gutierrez died of COVID-19 in October, leaving a heartbroken community and district.
On Friday, the school that Gutierrez helped bring into the world will be renamed in his honor: John G. Gutierrez Middle School.
A ceremony will be held between 6.30 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Rogge Road School in Salinas to pay tribute to Gutierrez, who had been an educator in the Salinas region since 1991.
“The entire community felt a great loss of the man and the person he was,” said Patel, a board member for the Santa Rita Union School Board. “The virus has taken so much from so many people.”
Gutierrez, 53, was known as the first person children saw when they arrived on campus before school, and often the last when they left.
A major in Alisal in 1985 and a resident of Greenfield, Gutierrez returned to Salinas after graduating from Santa Clara University and immersed himself in the community as an educator.
He spent 30 years in the Santa Rita School District, as a teacher and administrator at Gavilan View College before taking the same position at Bolsa Knolls College when it opened.
“Why not name a school in honor of a hero who made a difference in his community at that school?” said Patel, an instructor for over 20 years at Alisal, and the school’s golf coach.
A banner bearing Gutierrez’s name will be unveiled at the ceremony in front of the main school building until the permanent inscription of his name is entered.
“He hasn’t been forgotten,” Patel said. “When you help create future generations who now make contributions to society, you must be honored.”
Patel said honoring Gutierrez has been a topic of discussion since his death. Not just the school board, but also students, parents, educators and the community.
“It was a grassroots effort,” Patel insisted. “Students, parents and staff have all expressed their desire to do something for John. It was something that was demanded by our community. “
A sports advocate, Gutierrez was instrumental in helping start a college wrestling competition on campus.
“By paying homage to John Gutierrez, we tell our staff that you are appreciated and needed and that you will be honored,” said Patel.
Patel says a plaque or maybe even a statue of Gutierrez could be in the works.
The event will be webcast live on the Santa Rita Union School District YouTube channel for those unable to attend.