Two Bills and me

Learning from a pair of passionate Broncos and extraordinary human beings

As the School of Engineering centennial comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on two engineering Broncos who made an indelible mark on their university, their school, and me personally.

With a degree in mechanical engineering, Bill began a long and distinguished career at companies that included General Electric and FMC. In his spare time, he was active in his local community and at Santa Clara University. Bill served as the national president of the Alumni Association, president of the Engineering Alumni Board, and a member of the Board of Regents. He and his wife also established the William and Marijane Adams Jr. Endowed Mechanical Engineering Fund, which helps mechanical engineering students each year with financial support and research fellowships.For Bill Adams ’37, senior year at Santa Clara was full of milestones. In October 1936, Bill toured the construction site of the not-yet-completed Golden Gate Bridge, compliments of George L. Sullivan, then dean of engineering. A few months later, his parents scraped up enough money to send him on the train with the Bronco football team to New Orleans. On Jan. 1, 1937, Bill witnessed Santa Clara defeating Louisiana State University 21–14 in the first of two consecutive Sugar Bowl victories. Then, at his spring commencement Bill was awarded the Nobili Medal, given to the male graduate judged outstanding in academic performance, personal character, school activities, and constructive contribution to the University.

At age 95, Bill is still active on campus attending lectures, Alumni Board meetings, musical performances, and impromptu discussions with the School of Engineering dean. He visits the Donohoe Alumni House often and frequently provides me advice and opinions about the state of the University and the direction of the Alumni Association.

Bronco by heart: Bill Nicholson ’36. Photo by Charles Barry

Then there’s Wilmot “Bill” Nicholson ’36. Raised on the family pear ranch in Alviso, Calif., Bill graduated from Santa Clara as a civil engineer. In 1948, he founded the W. J. Nicholson Company—a construction, management, and consulting firm that built many Silicon Valley landmarks. This company also built the Charles H. Graham Residence for Women in 1963, just two years after Santa Clara first admitted women as undergraduate students.

Bill held numerous community leadership positions, including mayor of the City of Santa Clara. As a lifelong supporter of the University, he also taught for 20 years in the civil engineering department. He served on the Civil Engineering Advisory Board, Pastoral Ministries Advisory Board, Engineering Alumni Board, Board of Fellows, and the Board of Regents. In 2003, Bill and his children donated the St. Clare Garden to the University in memory of Bill’s wife of 64 years, Ruth.

Bill was an engineer by trade, a Bronco at heart, and a rancher by blood. He was active in agriculture throughout his long career and was herding cattle and riding horses in Montana three weeks before his death in 2007.

As a marketing major who is admittedly not strong in math or science, I often marvel that two engineering majors 50 years my senior would have such a profound effect on my life. Both Bills were frequent visitors to the University and I relished every encounter. Their unwavering support for Santa Clara taught me what it means to be a Bronco for life. Their charming personalities and quick wits left everyone they met feeling enriched, uplifted, and committed to making a difference. With their words and their actions, both Bills challenged me to be a better leader, and I am truly grateful for the deep imprint both left on me—personally and professionally.

Our University Mission is to educate citizens and leaders of competence, conscience, and compassion and cultivate knowledge and faith to build a more humane, just, and sustainable world. Bill Adams and Bill Nicholson lived this mission every day of their lives; two amazing men, two passionate Broncos, and two extraordinary human beings. I know I am a better citizen, leader, and person today because I’ve had the privilege of knowing these two Bills.


Kathy Kale ’86
Assistant Vice President for Alumni Relations

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