'Mr. Ohlone' who helped name Fremont college dies - Article, Office of College Advancement
Sunday, April 7, 2013—Reprinted from Contra Costa Times.
By Chris De Benedetti, The Argus.
Fremont—One night in 1967, tension rose at a public meeting in the Mission San Jose district, where the name for the area's new college was to be selected. Felipe "Phil" Galvan, an Ohlone Indian descendant who'd grown frustrated that promises to name the school after his tribe were being broken, began to speak to the large crowd.
"We native people often have this happen to us," Galvan said. "The majority makes a promise and then they take it back. To solve this, I take away my permission for you to use the Ohlone name."
He then left the meeting, his son, Andrew Galvan, recalled last week. But when he arrived home, there already was a phone message from college President Stephen Epler. College officials had selected Ohlone as its name, but didn't want to vote officially until he returned to the hall.
"He basically shamed them into naming it Ohlone," Andrew Galvan said.
Phil Galvan had fought with passion and dignity to preserve the history of Ohlone Indians, and he won. It was not his first or last victory in that cause. That is the rich and admirable legacy of Felipe "Phil" Galvan, who died March 25. He was 87.
Born in Hayward in 1926, he was the descendant of Ohlone Indians, who for centuries lived in large numbers throughout the Bay Area. He also was the descendant of Patwin, Plains Miwok and Bay Miwok Indian tribes, and also was of Mexican heritage. "But, culturally, we say we're Ohlone because everything we do is rooted in our Indian ancestry," Andrew Galvan said. "Everyone knew Phil Galvan as Mr. Ohlone."
And with good reason. In the mid-1960s, he led a successful movement to stop Fremont officials and Caltrans from building major roadways through the Ohlone Indian Cemetery in the Mission San Jose district. Situated near the intersection of Washington Boulevard and Paseo Padre Parkway, the cemetery had been in use since the mission's founding in the 1790s, according to Andrew Galvan.
His work inspired unlikely allies, such as Bishop Floyd Begin, then head of the Catholic Diocese of Oakland. In 1971, Begin turned over the cemetery's deed to the Ohlone Indian Tribe Inc., a nonprofit group Galvan formed at Begin's urging to preserve the land.
"It's the only piece of Californian mission property returned by the Catholic Church to a group of Indians, that I'm aware of," said Andrew Galvan, curator of Mission Dolores in San Francisco.
George Rodgers, an Ohlone College professor, said Phil Galvan was a mentor who changed his life while giving a guest lecture at Ohlone in the early 1970s. "It opened my eyes and ignited something inside me," said Rodgers, then a 27-year-old student. "I didn't know who the Ohlone were, but he talked of their history and culture, how they were stewards of the environment. He's the portal to the past for Ohlone College."
From 1972 to 2011, Galvan was in charge of maintenance and groundskeeping for Sisters of the Holy Family, a Catholic order of nuns in the Mission San Jose district. Sister Gladys Guenther, the congregation's president, said he was dedicated to his family and work. "He would drive the property every night in his pickup truck to make sure things were safe and secure," she said.
In addition to his son, Andrew, he is survived by his wife of 65 years, Sarah Mary Galvan; daughter, Eleanor Galvan; son, Michael Galvan; and many others, including four grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
Galvan will be honored in a brief ceremony Wednesday at an Ohlone College Board of Trustees meeting. Funeral services were held last week and he was buried at Ohlones Indian Cemetery, Andrew Galvan said. "He was a kind, good and loving parent who would give you anything," he said. "He loved until the last beat of his heart."