July 18, 2014

Pinedale History project to honor Ambassador Phillip V. Sanchez on his 85th birthday

Pinedale is preparing to honor one of its own — Phillip V. Sanchez.

The son of Mexican migrant workers, Sanchez grew up in Pinedale and ascended to become the first Hispanic-American to serve in a presidential administration, as director of the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity, from 1971 to 1973.

After that, President Richard M. Nixon appointed Sanchez as ambassador to Honduras (1973-75), followed by President Gerald B. Ford's appointment of him as ambassador to Colombia (1975-77).

Sanchez worked for many years as publisher of Noticias del Mundo, a Spanish-language newspaper in New York, before he decided in 2001 to return to the Pinedale area for his retirement. He lives on West Alluvial Avenue.

"I never really left the roots," he says. "My heart has always been here and always will be."

The Pinedale History Project, a movement that seeks to preserve Pinedale's heritage, will present a tribute to Sanchez on his 85th birthday with a special dinner at 5 p.m. July 26 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial Building, 808 Fourth St.

"If we don't tell the Pinedalian's story, it'll never get told," says David Rodriguez, founder of the Pinedale History Project.

Pinedale was established in March 1923 as a company town for the Sugar Pine Lumber Co. of Fresno. The mill eventually closed. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the site was converted into a temporary assembly center to intern and process Japanese-Americans while permanent sites were built.

After the center closed, the site was used as the Western Aviation Signal Training Unit and the 840th Supply Depot, known as Camp Pinedale, in 1942.

Sanchez's father had worked at the lumber mill. Sanchez's mother worked at the depot. Phillip Sanchez was a bus boy at the depot restaurant.

"They were one of the original Pinedale families," says Rodriguez, adding the Pinedale History Project also seeks to honor other Pinedale residents. "We want to encourage youth in the community that they can make it from where they came."

Developing strong roots

While Sanchez's family lived in Pinedale, he also worked in the fields, helping to harvest grapes, peaches and apricots.

He attended Pinedale Elementary School up to the eighth grade. Then, students had the option to go to either Fresno or Clovis high schools. Many picked Fresno High. Sanchez chose Clovis High.

There, he was first editor of the newspaper, graduated as salutatorian in 1946 and was voted by his classmates as the "Most Likely to Succeed."

Sanchez went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees in political science at Fresno State, where he also was a writer on the Daily Collegian newspaper staff and founder/president of the Sigma Chi fraternity chapter.

Sanchez became Fresno County chief administrative officer in the 1960s, which put him on his way to a life in government service.

"His oldest brother always said the whole family knew Phil was going to make it," Rodriguez says. "They recognized it from the get-go."

Sanchez says his mother, Josephine, was a great influence in his life. She never went to school, but she made sure he received an education.

"My mother understood," he says. "She knew without an education in this country, you weren't going to get anywhere, especially if you were a foreigner, or from Pinedale, or brown."

After Nixon appointed Sanchez as ambassador, Josephine Sanchez met with her son and Nixon at the White House.

In Phillip Sanchez's many meetings with presidents, he says he can't forget Ford. Sanchez was nearing completion of his ambassadorship in Colombia when Ford picked Shirley Temple Black as ambassador to Ghana.

"I couldn't sing as she could — and I still can't dance as well as she could," says Sanchez, who prefers not to talk politics these days.

Sanchez says he also can't forget working in his newspaper offices on Sept. 11, 2001. The offices weren't far from the Twin Towers.

"It's an incredible part of our country's history — that it survived something like that," he says. "Our reporters walked with (dust) caked on their faces. It was hard to believe."

Returning home

Two months after 9/11, Sanchez returned to the central San Joaquin Valley to receive an award as a "Clovis Living Legend" for his decades of public service.

He also visited family still living in the Pinedale area — and decided to return for good.

He mainly has lived a quiet life except for awards that have gained media attention.

Fresno State honored him at the 2008 Top Dog Alumni Awards Gala in the division of Student Affairs. In 2010, he was named a Chicano Alumni Legacy Builder at Fresno State.

A school also was named after him — Ambassador Phillip V. Sanchez Public Charter School.

Sanchez needs a little help getting around, and he mainly likes staying close to Pinedale for events. He recently read books to students on Children's Day at the Mexican Consulate office on North Ingram Avenue.

He also returned to Pinedale Elementary School for a school carnival that featured a salsa-eating contest. And he reminisced at a car show at St. Agnes Mission Church on West Birch Street.

Now, he is preparing for a birthday milestone and party.

"Not everybody gets to be 85," he says. "I conned them."


Special event: An 85th birthday dinner for Ambassador Phillip V. Sanchez will be at 5 p.m. July 26 at the Clovis Veterans Memorial Building.

Cost is $40. The payment deadline is Monday. Details: email or call (559) 367-4851.


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