SRJC instructor and War Hero Turns 90


Arthur Gonzalez-Martin

Bill Michell stands in front of a group of his colleagues thanking them for his surprise 90th birthday party on Oct. 7.

Grant Wetmore, Staff Writer

On Oct. 8, 2016, Bill Mitchell turned 90 years old. In his near century of living, Mitchell has been many things: a soldier, an accountant, a postal worker and an ice delivery man. But for more than half his life, Mitchell has been an instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Mitchell was born in 1926 and grew up in Peoria, Ill. In 1943, he wanted to follow his brother into service and join the Marine Corps in World War II. Mitchell wanted to be a Marine after watching ‘Guadalcanal Diary’, a movie that featured the Marine Corps. However, his parents wouldn’t let him sign up. He remained in high school instead.

“I kept cutting school and raising hell,” Mitchell said. “Finally, the dean called me in and said, ‘You know, Mitchell, the way you’re going you’re going to grow up to be a bum’. And I accepted that.”

Faced with this alternative, Mitchell’s parents finally relented. On Dec. 17, 1943, when he was only 17 years old, Mitchell signed up to be a Marine.

Mitchell’s time in the Marines was eventful. On February 19, 1945, he was a part of the first wave of troops into the battle of Iwo Jima. He was present for both the first and second iconic raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima, a moment that has been memorialized in both statue and photographs.

“I was only frightened three times”, Mitchell said about his experience. One of these times was when he was shot in the arm on the 19th day of the five week-long battle. Out of his platoon of 40 men, 36 were killed or injured.

“I went in at 17. Eighteen first wave of Iwo Jima. Nineteen discharged from the hospital and Marine Corp.,” Mitchell said, “All before I turned 20. The Lord was very good to me.”

After his discharge, Mitchell took classes at the University of San Francisco and majored in accounting. Over the years, Mitchell held various jobs until one of his friends convinced him to return to USF and get his teaching credentials. His first teaching position was at George Washington High School in San Francisco in 1953.

For the last 52 years, Mitchell has been an instructor at SRJC teaching accounting and College Skills math.

“It wasn’t as crowded,” Mitchell said about the SRJC when he first started teaching there, “It had fewer buildings so it was a smaller campus.”

When asked what his favorite part about teaching is, Mitchell replied: “[The] people. The students. I enjoy them. They were fun. Never really had a bad student.”

Now Mitchell is semi-retired and works within College Skills helping students in the math lab.

“He always had a joke in his pocket”, said department chair Wanda Burzycki. One of Mitchell’s co-workers, Julie Muzzatti, says “He puts students at ease.”

On Oct. 7, the College Skills department threw a surprise party for Mitchell’s 90th birthday.

“Never mind the applause, just give me the booze”, Mitchell joked as he was greeted by his colleagues.

Currently, Mitchell is the oldest and longest working faculty member at the college.