The year was 1948, a year after they arrived in Monticello as educators.
I was 15 years old and just promoted to the ninth grade. I am a son of a father that was of Spanish/Navajo decent and a mother that was Spanish American. My family numbered 11 children, five girls and six boys. The youngest boy passed away at three days. I was the fourth son born in the family.
In those days, the Spanish American boys trend was to quit school when they reached the age of 15. They were strong enough to be hired and earn money. My brothers before me were no longer in school and working.
My nephew, a friend and I quit school and followed the path the other Spanish boys had taken. (Prior to this year, there had only been two boys graduate in the history of the school built in the early 1930’s).
Somehow, Coach Dale Maughan and Principal Larue Winget discovered my quitting and proceeded to visit my home, while I was working. My eldest sister Pauline was there and interpreted for my mother, who didn’t speak or understand English.
They convinced my mother that I should be in school! It only took a couple of minutes from her to “convince” me that I was to return to school and graduate. Needless to say, I was in school bright and early the next day.
In the school years that followed, I began enjoying sports and began to get noticed for my athletic abilities. During baseball practice, Coach Maughan noticed me throwing the baseball from the outfield all the way to home plate.
He called me in and asked me if I ever pitched. I told him no. He proceeded to show me how to wind up and throw. At that time, Gene Shafer was the catcher. After a few dry runs, he told me to try to hit the mitt. I wound up and threw a perfect strike. He told Gene to move the mitt around the plate and I was able to hit it at a pretty good percentage.
Growing up I had spent the summers on our small farm in Verdure. I entertained myself by jumping over sagebrush, chasing rabbits and squirrels, and then graduated to using them as targets while throwing rocks at anything that moved. I also used tree trunks, poles, and birds as targets.
Getting back to baseball, Coach told me, “Johnson, you are going to be the high school pitcher”. I was so proud I had a difficult time coming off of Cloud Nine. I felt wanted and needed; great feeling.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of my teammates such as Cooper Jones, Pudge Pehrson, Larry Bailey, Dean Butler, Bill Halls, Leon Behunin, Charlie Whipple, Stephen Eager, and Richard Lyman. I mention Bill Behunin. He was helping Coach Maughan with practice.
One of my fondest memories was nearing the end of basketball season. It was the last time we were going to play our archrivals, Blanding. We were warmed up and waiting in the locker room before the game started. Coach Maughan started his pep talk by saying, “Bill, Charlie, Johnson, Stephen, you are graduating and you haven’t beat Blanding in the past five years. What are you going to do tonight?”
With this, he turned around and walked upstairs. I thought to myself, “Coach, you want a win, you’re going to get one.”
The game started. The score was 6–0 ours. They called a timeout. We resumed playing. The score was 12–4 and they called another timeout.
I don’t remember the score at halftime, but I remember Mr. Behuniun coming into our locker room and addressed us by saying, “If you win this game I will buy you a steak dinner at the Outwest Café Monday night.”
We returned to the game and kept the pressure on. In the middle of the fourth quarter, Coach Maughan showed his “class” by pulling out the top scorers, Bill Halls, Johnson Gonzales, Charlie Whipple, and Billy Johnson to keep them from running up the score.
The score could have been higher but was recorded at Broncos 32 – Buckaroos 50, and the steaks I remember were delicious.
In a conversation with one of the players from the Blanding team, he mentioned the fact that we had a great coach. In later years, whenever Coach and I met or kept in touch by phone, the highlight of our conversation was the night we beat Blanding. He mentioned that if he was running for mayor he would win without showing up. I truly believed him!
My sister, Angeline subscribed to the Deseret News, and every Sunday morning they would print in the sports section all of the basketball leagues, the teams and the players by name.
I would read and study the teams in search of a Spanish surname, but in the two years I played basketball, I never encountered one. I had mixed emotions that not one Spanish player was mentioned, proud on one hand and sad on the other that they didn’t have somebody to guide them.
My brother Bill graduated a couple of years later, then others followed him. I’d like to believe that I helped break the trend of quitting school and gaining an education.
In the following months of my senior year, our graduation was postponed due to a Spinal Meningitis epidemic that caused some deaths. The whole town was quarantined and everyone was supposed to be vaccinated. After a few weeks, the all clear was announced and our graduation was resumed.
Mr. Winget had moved on, but returned as our guest speaker. I’ll never forget his address to the audience and the fact that one of the graduates had quit school, but returned and proved to be a good athlete and a good student, and an example for other kids to finish school and graduate.
After graduation, I found myself working in “Red Canyon” mining uranium. It was summertime and during the July 24th Mormon Days I boxed in the ring for Robert Nieves.
My sister, Julia Pascali from California, was visiting and invited me to live in California with her family.
I left Monticello and started seeking employment in San Jose, CA. I had gained employment working in the canneries, but these were seasonal, and I soon became jobless. I had no qualifications. But I had my diploma.
I applied for a job that was advertised in the newspaper for Western Electric Co., a subsidiary of AT&T. The first question I was asked was, “Do you have a diploma?”
I had it with me and got my start of a career that lasted 30 years eventually ending with Pacific Telephone. I married and raised three beautiful and successful daughters. My wife and I were fortunate to buy a comfortable home in San Jose, CA and properties in Incline Village, NV, situated on the north end of Lake Tahoe.
We are retired, living off the fruits of our labor.
I feel very blessed that Mr. Dale Maughan and Mr. Larue Winget visited my home.
Everything I’ve accomplished in my life is due to their concern and caring of my future. They had a tremendous impact on my life, and I will never forget them.
Johnson C. Gonzalez