December 7, 1942 – July 3, 2009
Peter Relis, age 66, beloved husband, father, grandfather, teacher, coach, mentor, and community activist, passed away on July 3, 2009 at Hospice Serenity House, in Santa Barbara, CA after having battled cancer for four years. A much-honored high school teacher whose passion was to help under-represented minority students realize their potential, he carried on his work to the very end of his life.
Born in New York, to Walter and Esther Relis, Peter Barish Relis spent his childhood through high school years in Long Beach, CA. Signs of Pete’s curiosity, ingenuity and determination were evident early on. He developed a passion for fishing, sailing, and downhill skiing. In 1960, he graduated from Wilson High School, lettering in football.
In college, Pete’s interests turned to science, surfing, and the Civil Rights Movement. He attended UCLA for one year then transferred to UCSB. Pete belonged to the peace movement and became a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War. He graduated with a BA in Zoology/Political Science and earned his teaching credential.
In 1964, Pete married his high school sweetheart Carol Clark, and they settled in Santa Barbara where he began his teaching career. In 1967, Pete took his first teaching position at La Cuesta High School. Year in and year out he labored to make a difference in students’ lives.
In the early 1970’s, Pete met and was profoundly inspired by Cesar Chavez. He marched with Chavez on several occasions. His interest in the plight of farm workers was part of a larger commitment to civil rights inspired by the freedom marches in the 60’s. Pete was an instrumental part of the foundation of La Casa De La Raza in Santa Barbara. In 1974, he was awarded the “Special Appreciation Award for the Outstanding Contributions made to La Casa De La Raza and who made the Dream of a Community Cultural and Educational Service Center become a reality.”
Pete Relis has been recognized in many ways for his 40 years of service to the students and families of Santa Barbara and for his community activism. In 1996, the Santa Barbara County Latinos for Better Government gave Pete the Educational Leadership Award “for 25 years of dedicated service to his students, parents, and the community.” In 1996-1997, he became a Mentor Teacher for the Santa Barbara High School District. He was honored as a “Local Hero” in 1998 by the Santa Barbara Independent (photo above), Jack O’Connell and Representative Lois Capps. In 2004, Pete was awarded the Outstanding Teacher/Professor given by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). Pete Relis was one of the original founders of the Cesar Chavez Dual Language Charter School.
Most recently, he began the Cesar Chavez Leadership Institute (CCLI) and the Cesar Chavez Leadership Club (CCLC). Pete continued to work to encourage promising young students to take accelerated AP classes at Santa Barbara High School in order to prepare them for a university education and for a quality life.
Peter Relis is survived by his wife of 45 years, Carol Clark Relis, his daughters and sons-in-law, Lisa and Ryan Nakasone and Lori and Jim Bianco, his son Matthew and daughter-in-law Sarah, his four grandchildren Sophia and Luke Nakasone, Isaac Daniel and Aaron Asher Peter Relis, his brother Paul, Paul’s wife Kathy, and their children Andre, Andre’s wife Alex, Sarita, and Mia Relis. Private services were held at the Carpinteria Cemetery.
A public memorial service will be held Monday, July 27th at 2:00pm at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, 1535 Santa Barbara St. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Pete Relis’ name may be sent to Serenity House of Santa Barbara.
Arrangements by Welch-Ryce-Haider Funeral Chapels.