Sig Sanchez—former mayor of Gilroy and loyal advocate for South County throughout his 55-year public service career—died peacefully Jan. 30, according to family members.
Sanchez died in his sleep about 9pm at his longtime family home in west Gilroy, his son Chris Sanchez said. The family is finalizing details for an outdoor memorial service in Gilroy in the near future.
Sig Sanchez turned 100 on Nov. 11, 2020. Born in Hollister in 1920, Sanchez ventured into public service in the early 1950s, when he served two terms on the Gilroy City Council from 1954-1958. That was followed by two terms as the city’s mayor.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Sanchez served four terms on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. From 1980 to 2009, he served on the board of directors of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, now known as Valley Water.
Chris Sanchez said his father had remained healthy well into old age. Starting a couple years ago, he began to “slow down at home,” Chris said.
“He had a great, full life,” Chris Sanchez said.
Sig Sanchez was married for 63 years to Jane Sanchez, who died in Gilroy in 2007. The couple’s survivors include their five adult children—who were raised at the family home on Fifth Street—as well as “13 awesome grandchildren and 16 delightful great-grandchildren,” said Sanchez’s daughter-in-law, Maria Sanchez.
Sanchez’s legacy is hard to miss in South County. A sign on U.S. 101 designates a portion of the freeway through South County as the “Sig Sanchez Freeway,” so named by the state legislature in 1994 in recognition of his efforts to develop the route.
Valley Water Director John Varela—who occupies Sanchez’s former water district board seat that represents South County—counted Sanchez as a friend and mentor in public service. Varela will ask the Valley Water board to recognize Sanchez’s career and accomplishments at an upcoming meeting.
“He was genuinely a great man and a great advocate for the people he represented, and he was so loved by so many,” said Varela, a former mayor of Morgan Hill.
Many of Sanchez’s friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances lined up at a Valley Water board meeting in September to celebrate his approaching 100th birthday.
“Sig has always been a straight shooter, and a consummate gentleman,” Gilroy’s then-mayor Roland Velasco said during the Sept. 8 online celebration. “Sig is a man of the people. I think we should all be so lucky to be able to live a life like Sig’s. To Sig and your family, thank you and happy birthday.”
Sig Sanchez was born in Hollister as the second of 11 children. He was raised by his Spanish immigrant parents on the family farm, to an agricultural background that would stay with him the rest of his life. When he grew up, Sanchez followed in his father’s footsteps and at the age of 21 began operating a farm in east Gilroy, where the Gilroy Premium Outlets are now located.
During his agricultural career, Sanchez branched out into warehousing, commercial real estate and real estate development, says a resolution adopted by the Valley Water board in recognition of Sanchez’s centennial. He was a co-founder of Gilroy Foods, and progressively expanded into more growing operations in the Los Banos area.
Sanchez entered politics in the 1950s on the advice of a local tractor mechanic in Gilroy. He was first elected to the city council in 1954, and continued to win re-election for three more terms—including two as mayor of Gilroy, whose population was about 3,500 at the time.
“Things were really informal in those days,” Sanchez recalled in a 2009 interview with the Dispatch. “It was a lot more fun. (Gilroy) was a small town, and everybody knew each other.”
Hundreds of people showed up to a celebration of Sanchez’s retirement from the water district in 2009. Another former mayor of Gilroy, Don Gage, said at the time, “Sig is an example of what a politician should be. He’s honest, fair, forthright. He’s not scheming or conniving. He works for the people, he’s always approachable and he’s going to be missed by a lot of people.”
U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren last year submitted a resolution to the Congressional Record recognizing Sanchez just before his 100th birthday.
Lofgren’s resolution notes that among Sanchez’s accomplishments on the water district board is the “merger of water districts that allowed for the full integration of all the county’s reservoirs and groundwater facilities, as well as many other important projects.”
Sanchez also served the community as a board member of local nonprofits, including HOPE Rehabilitation, Wheeler Hospital, South Valley Hospital, Health Dimensions, Inc., the Odd-Fellows and Rebekah Children’s Home.
Sanchez has been inducted into the Gilroy Hall of Fame, and in 2013 was named the chamber of commerce’s Man of the Year.