Former student talks about historic Bonsall Schoolhouse

By Jennifer Leung

2015 promises to be an exciting year for the Bonsall Schoolhouse. Not only will the historic site celebrate its 120-year anniversary with an exterior restoration over the summer, efforts are also being made by the Bonsall Education Foundation (BEF) to reach out to people who would like to tell of their experiences as former students of the schoolhouse.

One person who recently shared his memories is David J. Saldana of El Cajon.

Saldana was born on November 19, 1928 in Colton, Calif., the son of Elias and Francisca Saldana. In 1932, his father lost his job at the Colton Cement Plant and the family, including David’s brother and sister, traveled south to look for farm work.

His father began working at a ranch in Monserate Valley, owned (or possibly rented) by Japanese ranchers John and Joe Yoshimura. The Yoshimura brothers, whom David remembers as “good people,” provided a home for the family on the ranch where they grew strawberries, peppers, corn, and alfalfa. Today, the ranch would be located east of Interstate 15 and north of Highway 76.

David Saldana started kindergarten at Bonsall School in 1935 and has vivid memories of his first day.

“Mr. Yoshimura’s teenage son walked me to school and then left to return to the ranch,” said Saldana. “I cried, because I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t know an ounce of English, as we spoke Spanish at home.” He then recalled how the teacher, “gave me this soft, square thing, in different colors and I started to eat it. I didn’t know that it was clay,” he said, with a laugh. The teacher also gave him some crayons and a coloring book.

Saldana’s desk was on the left of the building towards the rear, close to a window; he watched the cows in the fields and the squirrels run up and down a nearby tree. He remembered singing the “ABC song,” while the teacher used her pointer to show each letter. He also fondly recalled singing other songs, including one called, “On the Way to School.”

On one occasion, the students took a fieldtrip to a nearby bridge, where they were allowed to fish in a small pond.

Saldana then began riding on the bus that came from Pala with the Native American students. The biggest thrill, he recalled, was when the bus crossed the San Luis Rey River at Bonsall, because there were large wooden planks in the water so the bus could get to the other side.

“The bus driver’s name was Ben Freeman,” said Saldana, who also remembered his playmates at the time, Marie Scott and Marie and Gabriel Silva who lived on the same ranch.

To get to the bus, Saldana walked a half-mile to the Cooper Ranch. The Cooper Ranch had racehorses and he remembered meeting Mr. Cooper. Saldana also remembered the Clancy family, who owned a chicken ranch near the school.

In 1938, Saldana and his family moved to San Luis Rey Valley, where he attended San Luis Rey Elementary and later Libby Elementary School. He went on to graduate from Oceanside High School in 1947 and then joined the Marine Corps.

After station duty at Pearl Harbor, Saldana returned to Camp Pendleton and met and married Pearl Aguirre in 1951. They had four children: David, Christine, Diane, and Adrian. Pearl passed away in 2001, just shy of their 50th wedding anniversary. Saldana then married Paz Sanchez and today they spend time visiting friends and family.

David Saldana said he was very thankful to the Bonsall Schoolhouse for his start in education and sometimes thinks about moving back here to what he calls “God’s Country.”

If anyone has a memory, story, or records relating to the Bonsall Schoolhouse they would like to share, please email an inquiry to:


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