I had the chance to reconnect with an old friend of mine — Ben Gross, Jr. — last weekend, and the opportunity to see him again brought back a flood of memories from the early days of Milpitas, when Ben’s dad served as our mayor. It was awesome to see the many copies of early editions of The Milpitas Post that Ben had saved, a number of them chronicling the nascent Milpitas community. And stories about the new Milpitas neighborhood dubbed “Sunnyhills” got me thinking about the significant role it played in the development of Milpitas…

I grew up in the 1960s in Milpitas. I lived near Sunnyhills, but not in it. I did, however, go to school in Sunnyhills when I spent two years as a student at Thomas Russell Middle School (it was called a junior high in those days). So I spent many after-school afternoons with my friends who did live in Sunnyhills. I remember the neighborhood of Sunnyhills as a place where the homes were well kempt, and the local park was HUGE (or at least it seemed that way!). Sunnyhills, built as an affordable housing neighborhood that was occupied in large part by workers from the Milpitas Ford Assembly Plant, was a vibrant area that welcomed everyone in. 

While I certainly was aware that Sunnyhills was a very diverse neighborhood, it really didn’t matter to me, or anyone else for that matter. The thing is, we worked, played, and went to school in a multicultural environment, and we never thought for a second about our differences. While I did grasp the meaningful words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he said he was longing for a day when we would all be judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin, I did not grasp the fact that the Sunnyhills neighborhood was practicing Dr. King’s teachings in real time. Sunnyhills, born of racial peace and justice, was a living testament to all that was good in our country in the 1960s. 

In those days, Sunnyhills served as the conscience of our community. Political and civil rights leaders from Sunnyhills toiled in the halls of Congress, the legislature in Sacramento, and the City Council chambers in Milpitas to ensure that housing laws were adhered to, discrimination of any sort was thwarted, and everyone, regardless of race, religion, or national origin, was treated with respect and was valued in our society. What an awesome example Sunnyhills set for the young City of Milpitas! We owe much of our diverse heritage to Sunnyhills, and the political, religious, civic, and civil rights leaders it fostered.  

Bob Livengood
Bob Livengood is a former Mayor of Milpitas.

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Comments (7)

  1. Amazing to realize how–growing up living in the Sunnyhills neighborhood of Milpitas in the 60’s and early 70’s–I took diversity and tolerance for granted. One of our mayors was black. My father, Gilbert Brooks, was president of the school board for a number of years…and he is black. My friends were Caucasian, Latino, Asian, black–you name it. It’s taken until now to fully realize what a blessing it was; thank you, Milpitas!

    1. Hi Sharon,,,,I agree with your comments. Your father did great things for the students of Milpitas,,,,I think of your Dad when I look at my HS Diploma from Samuel Ayer every once in a while and see your Dad’s signature at the bottom…I hope all is well with you and your family!

      Bob

  2. Thanks for sharing this article of Milpitas which I call home relatively recently. Made aware of Milpitas’ multicultural heritage, I would be interested in reading and learning more of the historical, economical, geographical, and/or cultural aspects of Milpitas in the future.

  3. After my dad divorced my mom my moms sister tooks my mom me and twin sister to live with her. She lived off piedmont rd. Landess was thre only way to get to my auntie home. I recall the slaugter house and remember the smell that we use to pass going thru calaveras blvd. It was a small road. My mom and us moved to SunnyHills apts in 1977. I went to Milpitas high and would of graduated in 1982. Being that i was hispanic i met my good friend Anthony Cardenas which was later on known as “lil Joker” i adopted the aka “Wino” we both became very infamous thanks to my homeboys that grew up and lived in the surrounding neighborhood, knowns as the “SunnyHills Dukes”. Of course we became “VSH Dukes” after being initiated into the only hispanic gang of northside Milpitas. The Dukes were well known and feared we didnt take crap from no one.it was the best yrars of my life hanging out at sunnyhills park, riding to calskate to fignt with the other rival gang in the Southside of milpitas which was By Ayer high school area.Those days are long gone but the memories will always be with me and my SunnyHills Family. “Varrio SunnyHills por vida locos”

  4. After my dad divorced my mom my moms sister tooks my mom me and twin sister to live with her. She lived off piedmont rd. Landess was thre only way to get to my auntie home. I recall the slaugter house and remember the smell that we use to pass going thru calaveras blvd. It was a small road. My mom and us moved to SunnyHills apts in 1977. I went to Milpitas high and would of graduated in 1982. Being that i was hispanic i met my good friend Anthony Cardenas which was later on known as “lil Joker” i adopted the aka “Wino” we both became very infamous thanks to my homeboys that grew up and lived in the surrounding neighborhood, knowns as the “SunnyHills Dukes”. Of course we became “VSH Dukes” after being initiated into the only hispanic gang of northside Milpitas. The Dukes were well known and feared we didnt take crap from no one.it was the best years of my life, hanging out at SunnyHills Park, riding to calskate to fight with the other rival gang in the Southside of Milpitas which was by Ayer High school area.Those days are long gone but the memories will always be with me and my SunnyHills Family. “Varrio SunnyHills por vida locos”

  5. I came across this article and the way Bob described the Sunnyhills neighborhood brought back so many good memories. I grew up in this neighborhood with my family during the 60’s and this was my stomping grounds for many years. My brother would hang out with Ben Gross Jr and the emphasis on cultural diversity did not exist in my memory. Some of my most emotionally significant memories were with my family and Ben Gross Jr watching and mourning the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy in the family TV room. Ben was part of our extended family and seeing his name in this article and remembering his dad’s contribution to this early Milpitas neighborhood and city leadership makes you appreciate the history of the city. I am very fortunate to have known Bob Livengood during high school as a class officer. I enjoyed watching him excel in city government. Like Ben Gross Sr he helped Milpitas grow into a special city.

  6. Great article.so true,while living there and battling puberty and pimples,I never really had the reality slap that we were living MLK s dream.my closest friends were of color,but at the time I didn’t notice,or care.life changed after I left sunnyhills,a cold slap in the face.but it still instilled in me where I’m from and ppl I loved growing up there.as I get older,like brother Donnie,you really appreciate the little community that was like a cacoon from the reality of this country and it’s past

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