Robert W. Nichelini ’60

Robert W. Nichelini, Class of 1960

I have always been told my maternal grandmother came to Oakland from San Francisco after the 1906 Earthquake. She originally immigrated to San Francisco in the 1890’s from Sweden. My father’s parents immigrated to the Napa Valley (near Rutherford) also in the 1890’s. When my father married my mother, he wanted to build a house near Vallejo (he worked at Mare Island) but there was no Carquinez Bridge (had to take the ferry from Crockett) and my mother did not want to be that far from her mother. So, my parents lived in North Oakland, eventually purchasing a “flat’ at 754-756 60th Street where we lived downstairs and my grandmother lived upstairs. By the time I attended OTHS, we lived at 544 Aileen Street near Telegraph (Temescal District).

School assignments were geographically based – you were assigned to a high school based on where you lived. The City was divided into five high school sectors (Oakland Tech, McClymonds, Oakland, Fremont and Castlemont – Skyline did not exist). Because school attendance boundaries were generally drawn from the hills to the “flatlands” all high schools had very diverse student bodies (except McClymonds that primarily served West Oakland). My father went to McClymonds because he lived with his sister in Oakland during his high school years due to lack of educational opportunities in the Napa Valley during the early 1900’s. I always thought I would be going to University High School on Grove Street (now Martin Luther King) from where my mother graduated, but it closed prior to my high school years (became Merritt Business College and then Oakland City College).

You hear a lot about alleged racial divides during the 1960’s, but that certainly was not the case at Oakland Technical High School. We had a very diverse student body with an African-American Class President. No one thought much about race then. We all just got along. I think things changed when Skyline High School was built and the attendance district drawn to include only hill-area residents.

Most of my time was spent with the ROTC Unit (see below) and I wasn’t that involved in other school activities. I don’t think I ever had any real “hard” times except preparing for some classes. If I lacked interest in a particular topic, I would put off studying until the last minute and, of course, sometimes not doing too well on the examination.

I was primarily involved with the ROTC Program – Leader of the Competition Platoon and Member of the Eagle Drill Team. It was this involvement that led me to enroll in Air Force ROTC in college and then on to a career in the United States Air Force and Air Force Reserve. I credit the ROTC Program as being a major personal development and turning point in my life.

There are three classes/teachers that stand out:
Terrance Carroll – Mechanical Drawing: Mechanical Drawing was one of my favorites and a class I looked forward to going to everyday. I only recently learned that one of my son’s friends is his daughter.
Master Sargeant Richard Davis – ROTC: The start of my interest in the military service.

Master Sargeant Carroll Goodman – ROTC: A real leader who was an important element in my life development.
After OTHS, I graduated from San Francisco State University. As previously stated, I was a member of the SF State Air Force ROTC Unit and, unlike a lot of my classmates, I knew that I had a “job” (with the US Air Force) when I graduated. That accompanied by the fact that ROTC officials monitored my grades and class standing made sure that I was on track for an on-time graduation.

Immediately after graduation from SF State I went on active duty with the US Air Force and was assigned to a base in New York. While stationed in New York, I met and married Mary Ann and we have been together for 43 years. I remained on active duty for five years and then transferred to the Air Force Reserve where I served for the next 25 years. I retired as a Colonel in 1996.

In 1971, I joined the Oakland Police Department working my way through the ranks to Deputy Chief of Police. In 1995, I transferred to the Vallejo Police Department as Chief of Police and held that position until I retired from law enforcement in 2012.

I have been a member of the planning committees for the last three class reunions (30, 40 and 50 year). As a result, I have on-going contact with several class members and, while we are not close friends, we exchange emails and see each other on a fairly regular basis.
I still have contact with two friends from OTHS:
Steve Ernst – Steve is retired from the Bank of America and lives in San Francisco. We have dinner in SF about 4 times per year.
Ron Williams – Ron joined the Army after high school and learned to speak fluent German while assigned to duty in Germany. After the Army he became a German television personality. We visit whenever he comes to the US.

Things that did not seem very important in high school become critically important later in life – I wish I understood how important understanding history is. I just thought it was a boring subject until I lived it (while I was stationed in Korea, for example).
I am always proud to say that I am from Oakland and an OTHS graduate. When I was with the Oakland Police Department, being an Oakland resident and a Tech High graduate always “opened doors” for me. Several years ago (maybe 1985) I was responded to a murder at OTHS – a student was stabbed while on the second floor. I was sitting in the Principal’s Office and noticed a color photo of the front on the school hanging on his wall. No one working in the office had any idea when the photo was taken. However, I knew it was a 1959 photo that appeared in the front of the Yearbook and I was able to identify many of the students pictured. Gave me a lot of credibility.

I like tradition and Tech has 100 years of it. Too bad the inside of the building is so different, but I’m glad it still has the same exterior.
As stated above, what seems unimportant and boring today, will become critical in later life. Education is important so make the best of the short time you have in high school.