James Edwin Fleck was the name of the strapping, athletic and fairly reserved young man who attended Santa Rosa High School long ago, during World War II. He played football and baseball and kept largely to the background.
He left Sonoma County after graduation in 1946 and evidently never came back for a reunion, never joined the school's vigorous charitable foundation. He studied and played football at San Jose State University, served in the U.S. Air Force and worked a career as a South Bay officer of the California Highway Patrol.
By and large, he faded from memory at Santa Rosa High School over the last 70 of the school's 140 years.
Today, Fleck's name pops up often in conversations on the brick Gothic campus on Mendocino Avenue and among the alumni, especially older ones. Former schoolmate Brook Tauzer, who's 87 and a retired Santa Rosa Junior College dean and historian, remembers Fleck and marveled at word of what he did before he died on Jan. 27, 2012, at age 83.
“I think it's absolutely magnificent,” Tauzer said.
Fleck and his late wife, Marie Leonard Fleck, bequeathed about $2.2 million to the Santa Rosa High School Foundation. And they left an identical amount to Marie Fleck's alma mater in Vermont.
The couple directed in their trust that the money be invested and the annual earnings — likely to amount to many tens of thousands of dollars — be distributed as scholarships to graduating seniors demonstrating “great future promise.”
When the trust department of a San Jose bank notified the SRHS Foundation of the bequest shortly after Fleck's death, the charitable group's leaders absorbed the bittersweet news of a deceased alumnus' generosity and commenced asking, “Does anyone recall a James Fleck?”
Over the course of the two years since they were told of the bequest, foundation officers have received most of the money earmarked for the organization, they've invested those funds and they've come to agree on how the new James & Marie Fleck Scholarship program will work.