A Special Groundbreaking Makes History, Remembers It : Schools: About 300 people attend the ceremony at the site of the future Clarence Lobo Elementary in the hills of San Clemente. It is the first in the state to be named after an American Indian leader.


As the warm winds carried the scent of burning ceremonial sage through the air, American Indian Monica Arce raised her arms to the sky Wednesday, seeking permission from the forces of nature to use this canyon land for a school.

Her prayers and blessings, which were later mixed with ceremonial songs, dance and the release of doves, were part of a special groundbreaking ceremony for the future Clarence Lobo Elementary School in the hills of San Clemente.

The school in Rancho San Clemente is named for the late chief of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians and is the first in the state to honor an American Indian leader, according to school district officials.

“We are here to celebrate not only the groundbreaking of a school,” Supt. James A. Fleming said, “but we are here to celebrate a nation of people, the natives of California.”


Not only was the ceremony a tribute to Lobo--who served as chief from 1946 until his death in 1985 at age 72--but a reunion for his family, which traces its roots in the Capistrano Valley to as far back as 1826.

About 300 family members, civic leaders, educators and American Indians from throughout the county attended the ceremony at the Calle Aguila site.

“I can remember Dad telling us that someday his efforts would result in something positive, not only for us, his children, but for all of the people who live in the valley that Cabrillo in 1542 praised so highly,” Clarence Lobo Jr. said.

“Again, we are enjoying California history,” he said. “More importantly, we are making history today. We are excited. We know that young people who will attend Clarence H. Lobo Elementary School will ask, ‘Who was this Chief Lobo?’ This will be their renaissance.”


Clarence Lobo spent much of his life in the house where he was born in 1912, on San Juan Capistrano’s historic Los Rios Street, according to a tribute to Lobo written by local historian Doris Walker.

In 1946, he was elected chief of the Juaneno Indians, who numbered about 1,000, according to Walker. About a third still live in the community, she said.

Lobo traced his roots in San Juan Capistrano to 1826, when his great-great-grandfather, Juan Antonio of the Cahuillas--also an Indian chief--went to Mission San Juan Capistrano at age 60 to be baptized.

A graduate of the former Capistrano Union High School, Lobo was involved in local civic and public service and drove a school bus for many years in the Capistrano Unified School District.


“The children of this Capistrano Unified School District who had Clarence Lobo as their bus driver had the bonus of a lesson in Indian lore each day as they were driven through his band’s former lands,” Walker said. “They loved the songs and stories he shared with them and have no doubt remembered them and him into adulthood.”

Lobo would spend much of his time as chief, however, seeking official recognition for the Juaneno band, taking responsibility for the future of his people, as well as preserving their past.

“He wasn’t a person who sought a lot of recognition for himself,” according to Lobo’s other son, Wesley. “He wanted it for his people.”

While the band has received official recognition from the state, efforts continue at the federal level.


In an emotional speech, David Belardes, tribal chair of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians, thanked the late chief and his wife, Bess, who could not attend the ceremony, for their “lifelong giving of themselves.”

“I just wonder how Clarence managed to do the things he did,” Belardes said later.

The $9.6-million school for 700 students is one of five opening in the fast-growing Capistrano Unified School District next fall. Three groundbreaking ceremonies were held this week, but the one at the Lobo school site was by far the most special, officials said.