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Gift from Santa Rosa High alumnus to pay off for new graduates


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.

There will be no application process — teachers from every academic and vocational department on campus will nominate students. A committee of two foundation members, an administrator and a counselor will decide which nominees will receive a Fleck scholarship.

Starting this spring and continuing perhaps in perpetuity, some promising SRHS students with a range of grade-point averages will receive tremendous news: they will have been chosen to receive thousands of dollars to continue their formal learning — at a four-year university, two-year community college or accredited vocational school.

This year, the scholarship recipients each will receive about $3,450. That amount would be greater, but for Year One of the Fleck scholarships the new endowment did not receive a full 12 months of investment earnings.

Foundation leaders intend to increase the scholarships to about $5,000 each year starting next year.

"That's humongous," said an elated Doug Pavese, a co-founder and stalwart of the nearly 26-year-old foundation.

To start, the foundation will award Fleck scholarships to 15 graduating seniors. The scholarship committee will choose 14 of them from the various departments' nominations.

The 15th scholarship will go to a senior identified by the administration as a senior who stands out for his or her contributions to the school — who bleeds the Orange & Black — and who will be especially missed.

This year, the scholarships will total nearly $52,000. When the gift per student rises to about $5,000 starting in 2015, the total will become approximately $75,000 per year.

The Fleck scholarships will greatly expand the beneficial role of the Santa Rosa High School Foundation, which each year contributes more than $100,000 to programs and endeavors across the campus. The money for those grants will continue to come from fund-raising events and foundation membership fees, as the Flecks instructed that their bequest be used only for scholarships.

Foundation officers said that in coming years, they would like to write checks to more than 15 students if the investment returns allow an expansion of the scholarship program.

"I'm tickled pink about it," said Jim Ward, the foundation's president. "It's going to benefit kids far into the future."