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Who was Santa Rosa High benefactor James Fleck?

  • James Fleck, from the 1946 Santa Rosa High yearbook.

It was long ago that scholarship benefactor James Fleck last set foot in Santa Rosa or walked the halls of the high school he honored with his gift of millions.

But schoolmate Martha Comstock Keegan remembers him.

“I knew Jim in high school,” said Keegan, who graduated from Santa Rosa High School in 1947, a year after Fleck. “He was a really good-looking guy.”

Bob Bailey, Class of 1945, recalls Fleck as a nice, quiet guy and a heck of a football player.

Following high school, Fleck studied and played also at Santa Rosa Junior College and for a single year he attended the University of San Francisco. He completed college at San Jose State University and then enlisted in the Air Force and distinguished himself at track-and-field meets as a discus thrower.

After his discharge, he joined the California Highway Patrol. Norm Chavez, a 1945 Santa Rosa High grad who played football with Fleck, also became a CHP officer.

He was surprised one day in the mid-Sixties to step into a staff room at the CHP office in San Jose and see Fleck there, in uniform.

“I never saw him again after that,” Chavez said. “He was sort of a loner, I guess.”

Though Fleck lived most of his life in San Jose, he grew up in Santa Rosa and some members of his extended family live still in Sonoma County.

Niece Joan Fleck of Santa Rosa and nephew Jim Fleck of Sebastopol are the children of his late older brother, Erwin Fleck.

They recall their uncle as an imposing man who never had children and who rarely returned to Sonoma County from Santa Clara County.

The younger Jim Fleck, who retired from the U.S. Postal Service and teaches fast-pitch softball, said it surely surprised him to learn that his uncle and aunt James and Marie Fleck had left more than $4 million to their high schools.

He said he doesn’t know how they came by their wealth, but he was aware that they invested in real estate and in stocks and bonds, and did not live grandly.

Others familiar with the couple said Marie Fleck for years held a responsible job with AT&T and its predecessor telecommunications companies. Some said it’s possible she inherited family money.

Regardless of where the wealth came from, nephew Jim Fleck said he’s proud that his uncle’s gift to Santa Rosa High will boost the education of “kids who aren’t even born yet.”

His sister Joan, a retired engineering geologist, said it pleases the Sonoma County family of James and Marie Fleck that they committed their estate to “helping students they will never know achieve their academic and career goals.”

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