Family loss leads to motivation for education
by Araceli Fosado
After the death of his sister, Gary Willis’ outlook on life completely changed.
“We had a very close relationship. I always wanted to be like her. Her death hit me
hard," Willis said.
Eleven years later, Willis recalls his sister as the primary motivation for continuing
his academic career. Earlier in life, he had earned an associate degree from Victor
Valley College and built a strong career working as a carpenter.
However, after 31 years of working with cranes, cold weather and miserable conditions,
Willis realized that he did not want to be a carpenter for the rest of his life--
especially not after he was diagnosed with kidney cancer in the fall of 2012.
“I tried to keep a positive attitude; my daughter was my main motivation,” Willis
Soon after his surgery, the former Marine was informed about the new Building Inspection
Program for veterans attending San Bernardino Valley College.
“Carpentry is all about production, I needed a more lenient job so I decided to take
this opportunity,” Willis said.
Gary Willis' dedication enabled him to pass the California Residential Mechanical
Inspector and the California Commercial Mechanical Inspector exams. These two exams
are administered by the International Code Council (ICC) and are based on the International
According to Achala D. Chatterjee, Dean of the Applied Technology, Transportation
and Culinary Arts program division at SBVC, “Willis is one of the most determined
and motivated students I know.”
A variety of opportunities have opened for Willis since he has obtained his inspector
“I can work for schools, companies in the city, or the county. San Bernardino Valley
College has given me the training that I need to become a mechanical inspector. If
I wasn’t here, I don’t think I would have gotten my certification" Willis said.
The unconditional support from his daughter Tessa Hodge and Professor Mike Zabala
has encouraged Willis to continue his career. Gary’s next goal is to become a certified