Major General John W. Pauly, USAF, presents Colonel Camillo Wilde, USAR-MI, his promotion insignias with the assistance of Camillo’s wife, Mrs. Patricia H. Wilde.
Camillo Wilde (B.S. ’51) grew up during the Great Depression in a one bedroom house in East Los Angeles. The son of German immigrants who did not speak any English, he held a number of odd jobs to help the family make ends meet, including shining shoes for a nickel. “I was known as a street kid,” Camillo reflects.
“I worked hard at the shoe shine and was sometimes given as much as a quarter. Sailors would come in their black shoes, and I would have to give them a better shine than army men in brown shoes.”
Camillo and his family lived in a Jewish neighborhood, and when World War II started, his parents, who were registered as enemy aliens, were interrogated by FBI agents. Camillo remembers the agents coming to their door asking to see their papers and interrogating them about their reasons for leaving Germany. Camillo was the only member of the family who, having been born in the United States, was a citizen. His sister was not naturalized until she got married, and his parents became citizens in the 1950s.
When the United States entered World War I, Camillo’s father served in the German Army and was sent into combat. He was gassed and wounded, and his wounds necessitated his migration to a warm climate. German authorities recommended Argentina or California, and the family, having selected California, sailed on a freighter for Long Beach via the Panama Canal.
In 1942, the family moved to downtown Los Angeles. Camillo was in the 8th Grade and enrolled at Los Angeles High School. He worked for Von’s Grocery as a deli clerk through high school and college. “I would come in at 5:00 PM and work until 10:00 PM, slicing deli meats and cheeses. I made good money and moved up the ranks, becoming a journeyman clerk, a member of the union and an apprentice to the manager,” Camillo says.
As a student at Los Angeles High School, which at the time was quite prestigious, he says, Camillo first considered becoming a high school teacher and eventually a principal. He had excellent teachers and did well in school. He was even inducted into the Ephebian Society, which is a service organization and academic honor for top graduates of Los Angeles area high schools, who demonstrate a commitment to leadership, service, character, and academic performance. Camillo met his future wife and UCLA classmate, Patricia, at the Ephebian induction ceremony at city hall.
And yet, despite his scholastic achievements, it wasn’t until his high school counselor asked him where he wanted to go to college that Camillo even considered continuing his education at the post-secondary level. “It hadn’t occurred to me to go to college,” Camillo explains, “But I had taken all the hard courses and done well. My friends were going to Stanford, Dartmouth, and USC, but with no money I realized I had to go to a public institution. My school counselor suggested UCLA, and I went. Before then, I hadn’t even heard of [the University].”
Initially, Camillo had hoped to join the naval academy. “In high school I saved my money and attended prep school in Long Beach during the summers,” he explains. “I took the entrance exam and the physical, and in my first try I passed the physical but flunked the English portion of the academic entrance exam. The following year, I got appointed to the military academy, passed the entrance exam and the English portion but failed my physical exam, as my right ear had been temporarily damaged. I was devastated.” His dreams of naval academy dashed, Camillo enrolled at UCLA in the spring of 1947.
Camillo’s first memories of UCLA are of being overwhelmed by the daunting schedule changes and unfamiliar college community. Having never been on a college campus before, it was a completely foreign environment. “Fortunately, I had a few friends from high school who had been there for a semester already and could show me the ropes,” Camillo reflects. He rushed into the Delta Tau Delta fraternity to join these friends, living in an off campus fraternity house for one semester before moving back home and commuting to and from campus.
“Some of my fraternity brothers and members of the Delta Tau Delta Fraternity were extras in movies. Johnny Sheffield played the ‘boy’ in the very first Tarzan movies, and Roy Jensen, a football player, appeared in 100 movies and TV series as an extra or a background stunt manager,” Camillo recalls.
As a member of the ROTC, in which he minored as an undergraduate, Camillo first considered majoring in geology, which he thought would be valuable for the army. Ultimately, he changed his major to business education, deciding the business world would offer him additional job prospects. He was inducted into the Pi Omega Pi Business Education Honorary Society and was an active member of Scabbard and Blades, an ROTC Club. In those days, Camillo recalls, as a land grant university, UCLA required its male students to enroll in ROTC and there were a number of temporary barracks and bungalows that had been built on campus to accommodate the growing number of veterans.
In addition to his ROTC activities, Camillo played rugby for two years and lettered in the sport. “Fraternity life and athletics were a big part of the social scene then,” he says. “We played Cal and Stanford and all the other major schools. And we also would go back to the fraternity house after games to drink beers. If we had been in football, we might have been expelled for that,” he laughs.
As for the academics, Camillo was very pleased with his UCLA education. “I had a number of prestigious professors in my business education courses,” he says, “including Dr. Sam Wanous, who had published the most textbooks of any professor at UCLA, and possibly in the country, at the time. Every public school in the country used his textbooks,” Camillo explained, “and he became the Associate Dean of Education, when I was a student.” Camillo took a 20th Century Typing course with Dr. Wanous and his colleague and co-author Dr. L.W. Erickson. “Dr. Wanous was an outstanding instructor,” Camillo continues. “He was down to earth, had good values, and was approachable.”
Throughout his time at UCLA, Camillo dated and fell in love with his wife, Patricia, an education major. They married during their senior year at UCLA and both graduated in June of 1951. “Patricia taught for a year at Will Rogers Elementary in Santa Monica after we got married. She had interviewed in Santa Monica and Beverly Hills and had to wear white gloves and a navy blue suit with a hat; that was the recommended attire for interviews by UCLA at the time,” Camillo recalls. “After a year of teaching, she took some time off to raise our four children and returned to teaching in 1968, after they had mostly grown.”
Having graduated from UCLA with a business education degree in 1951, Camillo first worked for a chemical company and then a truck company before considering a career as an educator. When asked why he became interested in teaching and education, Camillo explains how impressed he was as a student with his courses at Los Angeles High School and the quality of his teachers.
“They had the capacity to change lives for the better, and I decided I wanted to do that, too,” he says.
In 1955 Camillo returned to UCLA to begin graduate school, where he took courses in the education department to qualify for his secondary teaching credential. Selecting social studies as his emphasis, he also took geography and history courses outside of the education department and was initiated into the Phi Delta Kappa honors society as a graduate student. He also completed his graduate field work at Whittier College.
“Those were the early years of John Wooden,” Camillo remembers, fondly, of his time in graduate school at UCLA. “He was a new coach then. UCLA won the Pac 8 in my sophomore year. And even then he was a very approachable guy. He said hi to everyone he ran into on campus. I came back to campus years later when I was a principal with my superintendent, and Mr. Wooden showed us around the new gym. For a person like that to take his time with someone from his early years, who wasn’t even on his team…that was pretty nice of him, and pretty meaningful.”
In 1956, Camillo was offered his first teaching job at Milliken High School, a brand new school which opened that year in Long Beach. He continued teaching while in graduate school, taking courses in Westwood at night and on the weekends. While in graduate school, Camillo got a new job in Long Beach and had to transfer to Long Beach State, as “the commute would have been terrible,” to continue at UCLA. He received his masters from Long Beach State in 1959 and his credentials from the state.
After teaching at Milliken for a few years, Camillo left to assist in the opening of a new school – Bolsa Grande – in Garden Grove, where he worked as a department head and assisted in the purchasing and oversight of new equipment and curriculum development. There, he was selected by the Garden Grove Board of Education to be a district master teacher evaluator. He also started training student teachers at Long Beach State College before being appointed to Assistant Principal at Lompoc, where he helped to open a new campus and high school.
By 1965, Camillo had become Principal of Cabrillo High School, where he served for two years before joining the district office as Assistant Superintendent. Spending a total of eleven years at the district offices, Camillo worked for five years as Business Superintendent and six years as Instructional Superintendent before returning to Cabrillo High as Principal in 1976.
During Camillo’s time at the Lompoc district office, Patricia returned to teaching. She had received a UCLA University-recommended credential through the state in elementary education, and she was hired quickly in Lompoc Unified at West Wings Elementary, on the Vandenberg air force base. “She was a wonderful teacher,” Camillo recalls of his wife, “And we were both very proud of our work.”
After thirty years as an educator, Camillo retired in 1986. “We had rich careers and a wonderful life,” Camillo reflects. “I loved my job, and I loved being an educator.”
“But I wouldn’t to it again today,” he admits. “Today, everything is so different than it was when I was teaching. Teachers are as good as they’ve ever been, but leadership is so much more difficult. My generation wouldn’t put up with the conflict of second guessing,” Camillo explains. “As principal, you made decisions and that was that, now there is so much push back from parents and from other administrators, so many lawsuits that you can’t lead, you can’t do your job.”
After retiring in 1986, Ccamillo began several decades of voluntary public service. His contributions were acknowledged with a Santa Barbara County Resolution by the Board of Supervisors on December 7, 2010, when he was recognized as a “true public servant”: citizen soldier, educator, and community volunteer. Camillo’s service included Chair and member of the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission; Chair and member of the Santa Barbara County Assessment Appeals Board; Santa Barbara County Schools Reorganization Committee; and Allan Hancock College Measure I Bond Committee.
When asked what makes a good teacher and a good principal, Camillo replied,
“You can’t be in it for the money, and you have to commit your life to teaching and to the students, rather than the clock. Someone always gets short changed if you expect to leave at 3PM. Teaching can be a very rewarding profession if you are willing to put in the time and go the extra step. That’s when you see the greatest impact.
“As for principals, everyone has a different leadership style, but you have to let the kids know that you care about them. You have to be present, get in their faces so they know who you are. It takes about two years to establish yourself as a leader and a real presence in a school, but when you see kids in the classroom, in the halls, on the playground, they start to see that you care about them; that you’re more than just a figurehead.”