Emma Sepulveda: John Sanchez is an unsung hero, and a role model for young Latinos

Reno Gazette-Journal
June 21, 2009

John Sanchez was born in 1924 to Mexican parents who came to the USA to work in the mines of Nevada. He lost his mother early in life and after spending a short time in an orphanage he went to Ruth, Nev., to work in the copper mines, while taking care of his younger sister and brother.    

During World War II, he enlisted to serve his country, but, not happy with the limitations of being nearly blind in one eye and therefore not eligible to be with the combat troops, he persuaded a key person in the army to list him as having 20/20 vision so he could become a paratrooper. A few months later, he was part of the 101st Airborne landing in Europe, and, with sight in only one eye, he was jumping from planes to do whatever needed to be done to win the war.

There are many medals and military distinctions on his wall testifying to the bravery of his actions, but he is too humble to talk much about this period of his life.

Once the war was over, Sanchez attended the University of Nevada and obtained a degree in accounting. He wanted to be an attorney, so his dream of going to law school took him and his young wife, Eleanor Gomez, to Denver. He found a little place to live near the school, but, when the owner of the building found out his last name was Sanchez, he tore up the lease papers and told the couple: "No Mexican will live here. Your place is on the other side of the tracks." John Sanchez and his wife drove away from Colorado that afternoon and never went back.

Later he was accepted to law school in Utah and eventually was admitted to the Nevada Bar. He came to Reno to practice law. After a few years with a firm, he opened his own office and continued practicing alone until he retired.

Sanchez still lives in Reno in the house he built with Eleanor, his wife of more than 60 years. In that house are memories of the family, war and the law.

To honor his cultural heritage and to follow the style of his father, he replaced the conventional dark suits and white shirts worn by every other lawyer in the state with clothes of vibrant colors. John Sanchez was, and perhaps still is, the only attorney in this country who wore a pink suit, pink shirt, pink tie and pink shoes to court.

But it wasn't the bright clothes that made him memorable in a courtroom. According to his friend and fellow attorney John Squire Drendel, it was his legal skills, his preparation, his professionalism and his integrity that made the color of his clothes nothing more than another uniqueness in the life of an incredible man.

John Sanchez is an unsung hero, and a good example for young Latinos to follow.

Emma Sepulveda's column appears every other Sunday in Voices.