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Mr. Willard B. Knowles – Eighth Guardian of Alhambra

Born in Logan, Utah on August 31, 1901 he was a graduate of Logan High School and Utah State University.  At Utah State University “Butch” Knowles played football and was known as a “terror” in the Rocky Mountain Conference.  He was referred to by many gridiron fans as “the Red Grange of the Rocky Mountain Conference.”

He went on to complete his graduate work in the University of California.  After college he taught junior high school in Logan for a half a year followed by a three year assignment as the athletic coach and physical education director at Logan High School.

In 1927 he came to the Alhambra Union High School District as an athletic coach and physical education director.  He served in this capacity until 1935, when he became principal of the high school replacing Edna Broon.

In 1942 his educational career was interrupted by World War II.  For the next three years he served as a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander in the Southwest Pacific, assigned to an Australian destroyer.  In 1945 he returned to his job as Alhambra principal.  During his time of active duty Virgil Bozarth served as Alhambra’s Principal.

In 1950 Willard left his post of Principal to become the Superintendent of Schools for the Alhambra Union High School District replacing retiring superintendent Forest Routt and superintendent of the Martinez Elementary School District, concurrently.  Dr. Grenville Jones replaced Willard as principal of Alhambra.

On September 1961, Knowles’ submitted his letter of resignation, addressed to President Henry A. Hartz of both school boards stating:

“On May 10 I received a call from Houston, Texas, offering me a position as educational and public relations director for a sporting goods manufacturing company.  On that weekend I went to Houston and consulted the president of the company and since then have been trying to decide what I should do.  I have finally made my decision and hereby submit my resignation to you as of Sept. 1 for our consideration.  This will allow me to complete my responsibilities as of Aug. 1 as I have four weeks vacation coming to me.

“This decision will mean that I will retire from public education after 34 years in Martinez and three and a half years in Utah.

“It is with reluctance that I make this decision because I have devoted my life to education and I am very proud of the fine school system we have developed through the untiring efforts of many board members and a staff of teachers and classified personnel that hold top place in preparation, loyalty and devotion to duty.  Many citizens have made outstanding contributions.  The combined efforts of all concerned have placed Martinez in a very high educational position in the state.

“Your favorable consideration of this request at the earliest possible date will be appreciated.  I will continue to live in Martinez, so will be available for consultation as you desire.”

With that he retired from 37½ years in public education—three and a half years in Utah, and 34 years in Martinez.  He accepted a position as educational and public relations director with Featherlax of Houston, Texas, manufacturers of sporting goods, specializing in protective equipment. 

He continued for the next several years to make his home in Martinez, where he lived with his wife, Elsie.  The Knowles had three children a son KW Knowles, and two daughters, Mrs. Jo Ann Granshaw and Miss Judith Knowles.

Mr. Knowles is credited for beginning the process of the unification of the Martinez Elementary School District, the Vine Hill Elementary School District and the Alhambra Union High School District, a process that became a reality less than two years later.  Mr. Thomas Turner who followed Mr. Knowles holds the distinction of being the first superintendent of the Martinez Unified School District in 1963.

Mr. Knowles had an impressive list of affiliations with professional organizations, including Utah Education Association,  California Teachers Association, National Education Association, Phi Delta Kappa, California Secondary School Administrators Association, California Association of School Administrators, American Association of School Administrators, California Interscholastic Federation Council and Pupil Protection Fund, which he has served as president; executive committee member of National Federation of High School Athletic Associations, which he has also served as president, and National Alliance Football Rules Committee.

Through the years he served as a California high school football official, a Pacific Coast Conference football official, vice chairman of the Football Rules Committee and a track official for the Amateur Athletic Union.  His participation in sports was versatile, running the gamut of football, basketball, track, wrestling and baseball.

Service clubs and other organizations with which Knowles was affiliated include the Martinez Exchange Club (past president), Martinez Rotary Club (past president), Bay Area United Crusade (member of Board of Governors), Martinez Chamber of Commerce (past president) and American Legion.

Knowles was a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

Willard B. Knowles passed away in Sacramento County on May 30, 1989 at the age of 87.  But his memory lives on in the beautiful little city of Martinez which he called home.  His name forever remembered by every athlete and every student of Alhambra High School.  For to this day the Alhambra Football Field still bears his name, a man who gave so much of himself for all those that he touched with his life.

David A. Rich - December 21, 2012