Author Shares His Memories of Growing Up in the Sunset

By Erin Bank

Everyone who grew up in the Sunset District during the 1950s and 60s will have stories about their childhood adventures and the changes they have seen in their neighborhood and City. Not everyone writes them down.

Kevin Carroll did. 

“I wanted to write my legacy book for my children and grandchildren and share the most important lessons I learned through the stories of how I learned them,” he said.

Kevin Carroll. Courtesy photo.

Carroll grew up on 38th Avenue between Vicente and Wawona streets, in a house his mother lived in until 2012. He went to Ulloa Elementary, St. Gabriel Catholic Elementary School and St. Ignatius College Preparatory. He played soccer at South Sunset Playground and had a summer job at Fairlane Foods. He wandered the blocks around his home, encountering neighbors and friends and adventures. And he learned the life lessons he shares in his memoir, “The Ambassador of 38th Avenue” (Balboa Press, May 2022).

Each chapter of the book, which Carroll wrote chronologically, tells the story of a different lesson Carroll learned in his childhood years. Lessons like doing good, empathy, self-confidence, embracing the ordinary, the gift of time and the power of affability. 

Most of the 40 stories are set in the Sunset of Carroll’s childhood. He remembers playing on the dunes south of Sunset Boulevard, the dunes that became the new site for St. Ignatius Prep, where he would later be a student. 

These stories, then, are not just a legacy to Carroll’s life, but to the Sunset. His memoir was instantly relatable to anyone from the local Facebook Sunset group or who spent time in the Sunset. Carroll tries to visit the City from San Jose when he can, and still enjoys wandering around his old haunts. The names of businesses may change, but he still feels at home here. He says the biggest change he sees is in the demographics of the neighborhood. No longer is it predominately white.

One lesson came back to him after he saw a post on a neighborhood Facebook group – Carroll’s way of staying connected after moving to San Jose – that Carl had died. Carl was a neighborhood fixture, always cheering at ball games and greeting everyone with a smile. 

“Seeing him was like seeing family,” Carroll said.

Carl also had an intellectual disability and taught Carroll an early lesson in seeing the human in Carl, not just his disability. Carroll wrote a poem, which he posted to the Facebook group, and includes in his book a chapter about Carl.

Carroll has social media to thank for his retirement life as a published author. In 2006, while he was still working as a teacher of religious studies, he attended a retreat at the Jesuit Retreat Center in Los Altos. The theme of the retreat was “A Moment’s Pause for Gratitude.” Carroll was so overcome with gratitude, he wanted to maintain that feeling when he returned home to his daily life of teaching, a growing family and leading youth ministry programs.

“Well, I love to write!” Carroll said. He tapped into his undergraduate studies of English and writing, along with his newly found knowledge of using blogging as a teaching tool, and started his blog, “An Attitude of Gratitude.” 

Each post focused on a small thing in his life he felt grateful for. He began posting the blog on Facebook, and his followers started telling him he should publish it. He repackaged some of the posts and added journaling prompts for reflection and published “A Moment’s Pause for Gratitude” (Balboa Press) in 2017. 

Based on this book, Carroll was invited to speak about gratitude for community groups and businesses, giving more than 30 talks. But then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and he took on a temporary teaching job in San Jose. 

During that job, he taught a sixth grader named Vivian Nguyen, who Carroll discovered had a special talent for drawing. He shared a silly poem that he had written for his kids with Nguyen; a few months later, she’d returned it with drawings, and “Cherries in the Summer” was born, published in September 2021, and featured in a segment on NBC Bay Area.

“I don’t write to make money. It’s an opportunity to write meaningfully for other people,” Carroll said.

The idea for a memoir came as Carroll contemplated his life as he was getting older, and seeing his kids and grandchildren growing up. He wondered, “How I might give myself to maybe be remembered and influence?”

Carroll wrote the entire memoir and still didn’t have a title. His wife, Cathy, remembered something Carroll had told her about his childhood. One of the neighbors had taken to calling him the Ambassador of 38th Avenue based on his extroverted and friendly nature.

“I had as much affinity for the adults as for the other kids. I’d stop and say hi, help someone unload their groceries,” he said.

The title was settled, and The Ambassador of 38th Avenue is back one more time to share his stories and love for the Sunset.

Carroll’s books can be found at, Barnes and Noble, and select local bookstores. For more information, visit

1 reply »

  1. Hello I grew up in the Sunset 46th ave kirkham My whole family aunts uncles and grandparents all lived on 46th ave. Have written about the experience LIFE IN THE SUNSET. Still live on the edge @ 1201 Stanyan. Want to get together for breakfast ? ron jones http://www.ronjoneswriter‘com


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