September 17, 1999
By Daniel H. Muñoz, Jr.
Let us say you want to find out a bit of history about your hometown, where do you go for the info? You go to the library!
But where does the librarian go when they want to gather information that someday you will need?
In the city of Chula Vista when the Civic Center Library needs any information, background, a picture, a story about their town, the first and usually the last person they talk to is John Rojas, also known as "Mr. Chula Vista Local Historian".
"John is not only `Mr. Chula Vista Local Historian' here at the library, but he has a great wealth of material resources in his home," stated Nora McMartin, Community Outreach Manager for Chula Vista Public Libraries. "He has the photographs, he has all kinds of information, and he is the source for most of the archival materials at the library."
With a chuckle Ms. McMartin continues, "we are always worried about a fire. Along with his memory, his garage stores the history of Chula Vista."
The history of the City of Chula Vista starts with the incorporation of the city in 1911. Despite the relatively recent beginning of the city there were no historians preserving the information for future generations. Chula Vista at the time was a farming community; a community of blue-collar workers and a proliferation of historians were missing. That was until Rojas arrived in 1960.
A Chief Petty Officer, Rojas retired from the navy in 1972 and went to work for the U.S. Postal Service until 1992. When not walking the streets for the Postal Service, Rojas would spend his time walking the streets of Chula Vista taking pictures of the homes, getting to know his neighbors, and noting the vegetation and trees in the area.
"What is fascinating about John, just mention an address, just an address nothing else and he will go on and tell you the history of that home, who lived there and it could be multiple tenants, what the structure of the house was, the design, the period, any other information. So he is what I would call the walking encyclopedia of Chula Vista history," stated McMartin.
According to his wife Nina, John has always been curious about the past and through his volunteer work with the San Diego Historical Society; it marked the beginning of his love for local history. "I can't remember a day that John hasn't had a book, pencil and paper with him. With his love of photography he has made all this visible for the community," she stated.
For 21 years Rojas walked the streets of Chula Vista taking pictures, writing notes, basically laying the foundation for the first Historical Society of Chula Vista.
"Had Rojas not started the Historical Society in 1981 I hate to think of the materials that would have been lost," stated McMartin. "You only need one person to collect the materials, but if you don't have that one person, all those memories, all those materials are gone."
Since moving to Chula Vista John Rojas has been an active historian collecting, researching and preserving the history of Chula Vista. His love of the community and desire to preserve the history of his hometown led to the founding of the Chula Vista Historical Society in 1981, the publishing of the Chula Vista Historical Society Bulleting from 1981 to 1991. The publishing of the Chula Vista - The Early Years, Vols. I-VI. As well as authoring books of Chula Vista Public Art and Chula Vista's Trees, and co-author of Historic Chula Vista: Historic Homes and Other Historic Sites.
"What makes John special is his caring and preserving of the history of Chula Vista. Accessing the information, artifacts and pictures from him, and putting all that together we have the history preserved for the city," stated Frank Roseman, manager of the Chula Vista Heritage Museum.
"He has created an incredible legacy. John may not always be here but what he has collected for residents now and for the future residents of this community is invaluable. You could not put a price tag on it, as you know once that kind of stuff is gone it doesn't come back again," continued McMartin.
For all that John Rojas has done for the City of Chula Vista, the Civic Center Library, McMartin spearheaded a drive to say thanks and recognize all his efforts. The effort started about a year ago and through the work of McMartin and of others such as Frank Roseman, Rojas was recognized on August 31, 1999 with the passage of a resolution by the City of Chula Vista.
In recognition of the impact John Rojas has in preserving the history of Chula Vista, the Chula Vista Library Board of Trustees presented a resolution naming the Local History Room at the Civic Center Library in honor of John Rojas. From now on, the name of the local history room will now be known as the "John Rojas Local History Room."
During Hispanic Heritage Month John Rojas is a shinning example of the contributions of Hispanic Americans to the United States.
(Editor's Note: Due to the ill health of Mr. Rojas we were unable to interview him for this article. A reception honoring him is planned for October 10, 1999 at 10 a.m. in the Civic Center Library.)