Sig Sanchez was born on November 11th 1920 in Hollister California. To a family with ten siblings, four whom were boys, the other six were girls. He grew up working on his family farm, and graduated from San Benito High School. After he graduated he stayed in Agriculture his whole life up to a few years ago. He had farms in Gilroy, Hollister, Merced, Imperial Valley, and Sacramento.
In 1953 Sig was told about an opening in the Gilroy City Council. That was when he started his political career. He stayed for nine years on the Gilroy City Council. He served two terms. He then ran for mayor and was elected in 1958 where he stayed for two terms, until 1963. In 1963 he ran for Santa Clara County Supervisors. He stayed for four terms, from 1963-1978. In 1980 Sig was appointed to the Santa Clara Water District board, where he stayed for thirty years. Sig had a very successful career in both politics and agriculture.
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Over the years Santa Clara County has been home to many successful political and historical figures. For my oral history report I have chosen to interview Segundo Sanchez, better known as Sig Sanchez. Sig himself happens to be both a figure of importance in local politics and history. I choose Sig Sanchez because of his accomplishments for Santa Clara County.
Sig’s parents were both of Spanish decent, and both were born in Spain. His parents traveled secretly to the Hawaiian Islands to gain US citizenship. His mother moved when she was 8 years old and father when he was 12. They worked on farms picking pineapples and sugar cane. On both sides, their families ended up moving to the mainland before they meet, for better opportunities. His mother moved to Hayward area, where she lived while she worked in a cigarette factory in San Francisco. From there she got a job house cleaning in Oakland. His father moved to Hollister where he worked on farms. Sig said the Spanish immigrants back then all stayed together in certain neighborhoods. His parents meet because the groups from different cities would meet up every once in a while. Shortly after they meet, they got married in Fairfield. Sig’s parents decided to settle on a ranch in San Felipe, where they grew peaches, garlic, and tomatoes, which they sold to canneries.
Sig was born in the settlement San Felipe near Pacheco Pass outside of Hollister, California on November 11, 1920, making him ninety-three years old today. Sig had ten siblings, four of whom were boys: Petter, Joseph, Marion, and Tommy, the other six were girls: Lucial, Juanita, Anastasia, Meircelus, Julia, and Mary. He had a very happy childhood. He loved the farm and enjoyed working on it a lot. He attended San Benito High School and graduated in 1939. In high school he tried playing baseball but it was hard because he had to walk home ten miles and then finish his chores around the farm. He maintained the cows and milked them. He had a lot of love for the farm so it didn’t bother him too much that he couldn’t play baseball or other sports.
It was a no-brainer as to why Sig stayed in agriculture. He grew up doing it his whole life and as Cosby says, “From the earliest days of California’s development, Santa Clara Valley have been considered an excellent agricultural district”(603). He and two of his brothers stayed in the farming industry. In 1942 they got the chance to take care of a farm in Gilroy whose owner was sent into the Japanese-American internment camp because of WWII. The name of the man who owned it was Harry Fugikawa. It was 275 acres and was located where the Gilroy Outlets are now. The Fugikawa family grew tomatoes and in that day, Sig said the Japanese were the best at growing them. Cosby says, “The tomatoes were an important crop with an annual income of $100,000 [and they were] all grown on Japanese leased land”(606) Unfortunately, the family did not get the farm back after the war, because the land was sold to other people. They did reestablish themselves in Gilroy with a different farm.
“According to the census of the 1920, Gilroy had a population of 2,862 persons; Morgan Hill, 646; San Martin, 400.” Says Cosby. This shows the much higher population in Gilroy then the surrounding towns. This is why it was perfect for farming. Cosby says, “It is estimated that 2,750 people live on farms.” It shows how all of Gilroy was involved with agriculture. According to Cosby the weather helped also, as “the average date of the earliest frost in the fall is December 5 and the average date of the latest in the spring is February 25, giving a normal growing season of more than nine months.” This made Gilroy great for agriculture.
Sig has owned farms in many places including Sacramento, Merced, and the Imperial Valley. He grew sugar beets and tomatoes in Gilroy. In the Imperial Valley he grew just sugar beets. In Merced he grew cotton and cantaloupe. As a farmer his biggest struggle was labor. It was hard work back then to farm without all the machines they have today. Everything had to be handpicked. He says he was one of the first to bring migrant workers from Mexico to work. For him he never had any problems with the United Farm Works or better known as the UFW. Sig really treated his workers well with lots of housing, which had kitchens and bathrooms in all of them. He never had any trouble with the workers he hired.
The only scary time for him was the dry seasons. Since farming relied on wells he sometimes had to dig deeper then ever before. It never became so dry that his crops died. Also pesticides were never a problem for him. “In 1954, there were 73.1 million hectares of irrigated croplands in the Untitled States. By 1986, this had increased to 11.05 million hectares” (589). According to Cosby “the frost of winter is only from December 5 to February 25, leaving us with nine months of normal growing seasons.”(601) The water in Gilroy hasn’t been a problem yet, Sig says. Cosby documents that “in 1928 the average rainfall was 20 inches”(601) while the average this year, 2013, was still 20 inches. “So if it worked the last 90 years I don’t see a problem coming anytime soon. Every year some pesticides would get banned and he would just have to use a different one. The problem is that we are polluting our land.
“The seriousness of these problems can be illustrated by data showing that one-third of the topsoil of U.S. agricultural land has been lost over the past 200 years, “according to Cosby (251). The land values at the time were $250 an acre to buy or to rent was $17.50 an acre per year. The crop value was only $10 a ton depending on what you grew. “During 1922 the crop value was between $4 to $4.50 a ton”(604) and now its about $400 a ton, according to Sig. Farming has long been an important part of Gilroy’s economy.
According to Cosby “1920 Gilroy had a population of 2862 people, and of that 2,750 people lived on farms.” This meant that nearly everyone was farm-related. Cosby says the area grew “apples, pears, peaches, plums, berries, and grapes.”
Sig met his wife in 1941 at a farm he was purchasing. Two years later on November 7, 1943 they got married. They had five children: four of them are boys David, Christopher, Nicholas, and John and one daughter named Donna who was born visually handicapped. His four boys attended Palma High School in Salinas and from there all went to Gavilan College. David went to Santa Clara University, Christopher went to San Francisco State, John attended San Diego State, and Nicholas didn’t go on beyond Gavilan. His daughter Donna, however, attended a school for the blind. Donna now works for the Santa Clara County Department of Education; David, is a developer in Salt Lake City; Chris, owns his own tree trimming business in Delta Colorado; Nick, works for Del Monte Corp in Phoenix; and John is the Athletic Director at St. Mary’s School in Gilroy.
Sig’s political start was really unexpected. One day in1953, he recalls that he went into town to have his tractor fixed. A mechanic named Courtland Rush, who was on the Gilroy City Council, told him he should run for an open spot. He got the spot in 1954 and stayed for nine years on the Gilroy City Council. He served two terms. He then ran for mayor and was elected in 1958 where he stayed for two terms, until 1963. When in office one of his main goals was to serve the people. He says he didn’t want to benefit himself; he wanted to benefit the people. He always expected city employees to treat the citizens with all the respect in the world.
As the mayor he didn’t have in major problems that were playing out in some of the big cities because at the time Gilroy only had 3,500 people. He decided to run for the Santa Clara County Supervisor Seat in 1963. He stayed for four terms; from 1963 to 1978 he accomplished many things. A big on was to prevent flooding. He “advocated for the merger of the Santa Clara County Flood Control and Water District with the Santa Clara Valley Water District to better address flood management and water importation,” (Ducker A9). He did this because at the time the flood control program was really being over looked because the county supervisors had so many other things to do. So he really thought that flood control fit well with the Water District anyway.
Sig is, however, most famous for his twelve-year struggle to get the 101 Highway system built. He wanted this built for a very long time because Monterey Road was called “Blood Alley,” due to the extreme numbers of accidents and deaths. The reason it took so long to build was all the road money was being put into the Eisenhower Interstate System. Original plans called for four lanes on both sides of the freeway all the way through. But he learned that the plan wouldn’t get accepted until it was cut down to two lanes. Eventually an additional two lanes were added to relieve all the traffic coming through San Jose.
After his fourth term he decided that it was his last term. Instead of retiring, he was appointed director of the Santa Clara County Water District board in 1980, where he served for thirty years. According to Ducker “Sig is one of the two only appointed, rather then elected, members of the board.” He helped the valley survive the 1987-1992 droughts. He feels he did great things for the county; Ducker particularly cites the “1987 merger of the Gavilan Water District in South County with the Santa Clara Valley Water District, allowing for full integration of all the county’s reservoirs and groundwater facilities.
Sig also played an “instrumental role in the 1992 development of the San Luis and Delta-Mendota Water Authority, a joint organization of 32 water and irrigation agencies that contract with the United States Bureau of Reclamation for water from the Central Valley Project,” according to Ducker.
Sig has served as a board member of HOPE Rehabilitation, Wheeler Hospital Foundation, and the Gilroy Elks Club. As a advocate for water and flood control issues, he has been an active member of national, state, and local water resource organizations, including the Agricultural Water Advisory Committee, Central valley Project Authority, Pajaro River Watershed Flood Prevention Authority, San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority Board and Finance Committee, Uvas/Llagas Flood Control and Watershed Advisory Committee, Santa Clara Valley Water Commission, Santa Clara Valley Water District Board And Hoc Audit Committee, and the South County Regional Wastewater Authority. Sig has done so many things for the city of Gilroy a South County that he was inducted into the Gilroy Hall of Fame in 1991.
Now Sig is retired man who spends his days at home relaxing. But, seems to me he still follows local politics. Every Thursday he likes to play poker with his friends and watch football on Sundays. Sig truly is a remarkable man, and he has done show much to prove it. He will forever be remembered here in Gilroy and as well in California.