The trio was selected from a pool of nominees to be considered for the biennial honor based on their post-high-school achievements. On Friday, April 3, the honorees will tour the district, which now includes Freedom and Heritage high schools, before being honored at a reception at Nines restaurant in Brentwood.
Ilene Foster, district coordinator, said Vilchez, DeGuire and Mello were selected because their success stories can be an inspiration to students. “We don’t just hand them (honorees) a certificate and send them on their way,” Foster said. “We want our students to have the chance to meet successful alumni from our district so that they can get an idea of what is possible after high school.
“We don’t just honor the best of the best, either. In the past 10 years, we’ve celebrated valedictorians and athletes, but sometimes the average student can have a story that is just as inspirational.”
Vilchez, who graduated in 1949 from a class of only 70, said he was a normal student. He enjoyed art classes and thought of being an industrial designer, but his college education took a hiatus when he joined the Navy and later the Marine Corps. After fighting in the Korean War, he returned to Brentwood and took a part-time job at the post office while continuing his education at Diablo Valley College.
That unassuming part-time job became a permanent career choice. Vilchez began delivering the mail in 1956 – by 1971 he was named Post Master, a position he held until his retirement in 1992. Nowadays, Vilchez relaxes at his home in downtown Brentwood, where he’s lived most of his life. He enjoys taking day trips and working in his flower garden.
Vilchez is being recognized for his public service not only as Post Master but as a member of the Brentwood Lions Club, Elks Club and American Legion.
“I’m getting a little too old to be volunteering these days,” Vilchez said, “but it’s something you just want to do when you get older. There are these groups out there who do good deeds and you want to help them out, and I got to do some great things. I’d do more now if I could, but it’s tougher for me to get around these days.”
Like Vilchez, DeGuire still lives in Brentwood. She graduated from Liberty in 1982 and went on to receive a degree in pharmacology from University of the Pacific. She attributes her career path to the mentoring she received at Liberty.
“I was surprised when I found out I was selected as an honoree,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve done anything special. It’s not like I’m pulling people out of burning buildings or anything, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to go back and thank some of the teachers who inspired me.
“I have very fond memories of my time at Liberty, and looking back, I realize I was so lucky to be surrounded by such outstanding teachers and mentors. They were able to see something in me that I couldn’t see in myself. I don’t think you realize what an impact these teachers will have on you when you’re in high school, but the effect is so profound.”
DeGuire said it was her chemistry and biology teachers at Liberty who got her interested in science. After graduating from college, she went on to work for Longs Drug Stores for 10 years before returning to University of Pacific to teach courses, earning her the Graduate of Distinction honor in the field of education.
Today, DeGuire is the director of postgraduate professional education at the Thomas J. Long School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at University of the Pacific. She teaches in the fall, and during the spring semester works on fundraising and alumni outreach.
Like DeGuire, Mello said teachers at Liberty helped guide him on his career path. He graduated from high school in 1976 and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from Utah State University. For the past 30 years, Mello has worked for various intercollegiate athletic programs and is currently the associate commissioner of sports administration and championships for the Sun Belt Conference. He is also a member of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 Championship Cabinet.
“Liberty High School played such an important part in my life, creating the foundation for what I do today. I always had an interest in sports, but I wasn’t gifted with the talents to play, but I got to write about sports for the school paper and keep stats for teams.
“Liberty was the catalyst to my career. I honestly believe that if it weren’t for the people at Liberty who spent time guiding and mentoring me, I wouldn’t be where I am. They were so caring and they helped guide me to the path that lead me to where I am today.”
Mello has worked all across the country for college sports programs as director of media relations or sports promoter. His hefty resumé led to his selection as the Liberty Graduate of Distinction in the area of business, an honor that surprised him.
“I’m very humbled by this honor,” Mello said. “I’m looking forward to returning to the campus. It’s been years since I’ve been in Brentwood, but it will always be my home.”
Mello, Vilchez and DeGuire will be honored at the reception at Nines at 3:30 p.m. The free event is open to the public.
For more information, call Ilene Foster at 925-634-3521, ext. 5220.