Schools Plus booster John Bribiescas a driving force for education funding

  • John Bribiescas will be the recipient of the first Spirit of Charles DeMeo Award at Chop's Teen Club in Santa Rosa. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

At least 8,000 graduates of Santa Rosa schools can for certain spell Bribiescas and tell you how a man by that name elevated their education.

But try to count all of the students who have John Bribiescas largely to thank for saving and sustaining their schools' athletics, art, music, drama and other enrichment programs — whether or not they've even heard his name — and you'll need a heap more zeroes.

Teaching English to about 8,000 students, most of them at his alma mater, Santa Rosa High, over the course of 35 years wasn't enough for Bribiescas. He co-founded and for more than two decades has been a leading force of Schools Plus, the all-volunteer organization that has donated more than $4 million to Santa Rosa's secondary schools.

This year alone, Schools Plus distributed $160,000 to the city's high schools and middle schools to offset declines in traditional, government funding of education.

Bribiescas' simplest explanation for why he continues to toil to raise serious money for Santa Rosa's schools — despite being retired at age 65 and a bit hobbled by damage to his cervical vertebrae — is this: "I love my town."

He was 6 months old when his parents moved to Sonoma County from Southern California in 1948. Growing up in the westside, Italian section and in the Santa Rosa Junior College neighborhood, he came to sense that Santa Rosa was the good place it was because of the contributions of community leaders whose names included Friedman, Keegan, Trione and DeMeo.

"As a kid, I played in DeMeo Park," Bribiescas said. In time he figured out that if a member of the westside's St. Rose Parish had a problem requiring an attorney, the one he'd go to was the late Charles or Nick DeMeo.

Bribiescas became aware of how the DeMeo brothers worked their way out of poverty, excelled at law school and became successful, generous members of a community that had been slow to accept Italian-Americans.

"The things those guys overcame. It fills me with awe in the true sense of the word," Bribiescas said.

That awe swelled in him when Santa Rosans learned following the death of attorney, banker and former mayor Charles "Chop" DeMeo in 1995 that he'd left about $16 million for the benefit of Santa Rosa teens and young, struggling mothers.

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