Gus and Dena Housos didn't intend to build a high school when they bought the 80 acres along Ranchero Road.

Housos came to the United States from Greece in 1950, working as a bus boy in Los Angeles. With the help of an uncle, he bought a hamburger stand in Boyle Heights, Gus' Burgers, where he sold his famous half-pound burgers.

And then, one day in 1957, he picked up the newspaper.

"I read the paper and saw the name 'Hesperia,'" Housos said. The city's name is derived from the Greek word "Hesperius," meaning "the Star of the West." The couple felt they just had to drive out and take a look.

"I fell in love with [the area]," Housos said. "I loved the desert, and how quiet it was."

The Hesperia property, now part of Oak Hills, was a refuge for the Housos family, which eventually grew to include five children. The Housoses would drive up the Cajon Pass sometimes twice a week, camping out on their property, holding cookouts, hunting quail or shooting at cans.

Hesperia and Oak Hills have changed a lot since then. A strip mall is going in down the street, at the corner of Ranchero Road and Escondido Avenue to the west. Housing developments are springing up all around the place where once the Housos family camped out under the stars.

Now 85, Housos was told by his family that he could do whatever he wanted to with the land. And what he wanted to do was sell it to the Hesperia Unified School District so that they could build a high school.

"I had a lot of options from other people, but I promised [the school district] they would get the first choice," Housos said.

Tuesday morning, wearing his navy woolen Greek fisherman's cap, he jabbed a ceremonial golden shovel into the turned earth of what had only recently been his property. All around him were the sounds of construction, as ASR Constructors graded the property, the first stage of building Oak Hills High School. More than five dozen dignitaries were in attendance under a cloudless blue sky, framed by the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains.

"Oh, my gosh," Mayor Rita Vogler enthused, "What a beautiful day, what a beautiful view. My heart is a-pumping."

When it opens in August 2009, the school will initially draw in a large portion of the more than 3,500 students currently crowding Hesperia High School, the HUSD's first comprehensive high school. Oak Hills, when it opens, will be the district's third, making the HUSD the first school district in the High Desert to possess three comprehensive high schools. The HUSD, with 21,784 students, is also the High Desert's largest school district.

"The children have long been a-waiting," Vogler said. "I love seeing my tax dollars hard at work, educating the children of this community."

"It is with significant enthusiasm that we embark on this," said board president Bruce Minton said. "The Hesperia Unified School District has grown from a one-room school house, still standing on Main Street, to Joshua Circle Elementary to the existing 16 elementary schools, two middle schools, one junior high school, four alternative education schools and two comprehensive high schools. Twenty five schools in all."

The Housos name, Minton said, is derived from the Greek word "enthos," "which means 'inspired' or 'filled with the divine,'" and is also the root of the English word "enthusiasm."

"As the children of this community, our children, attend this school, and all of our schools, it is our hope and prayer that they may be inspired as they share in our enthusiasm and receive an education," he said.

"I'm excited about the first day of school," interim superintendent Mark McKinney said. "I'm excited about the first test. ... I'm excited about the first football game, the first basketball game.

"We have no idea, day in and day out, what those students are going to do once they leave our school district."

For Housos, repeatedly dabbing his eyes with a white handkerchief as he listened to the dignitaries speak, that was legacy enough.

"It was part of my heart," he said. "It makes me very happy to have a school built there."

Beau Yarbrough can be reached at 956-7108 or at beau@hesperiastar.com.