The story of Alhambra High School Scholarships

by  Harriett Burt

That there is a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow is a popular old myth…except in at least one instance.  At the end of the Alhambra High School student rainbow, there actually is a pot of gold --- about $120,000 last year in scholarships for graduating seniors.  Just how that money got there last year and every year for decades is an interesting story of community and family love, business support and recognition of student achievement that merits investment in their future.

 Every year on the Wednesday evening in June before the last week of school the Alhambra High Performing Arts Center fills up with parents, students and representatives of a wide variety of community organizations, individuals, representatives of businesses, the armed services, and foundations for the annual Honors Assembly.  And as the names are called and the checks presented, the history of the Martinez community flashes before our ears as names from the past become contributors to the future.

The awards average from $200 to $1500 with occasional larger awards from outside foundations and institutions or from individual donors such as Louis Edwards of the AHS class of 1956.  He spearheaded a 50th anniversary fund drive which netted $30,000 from fellow class members last year.  Eleven scholarships from that collection were given to members of the class of ’06.  Mr. Edwards is donating $5000 this year for one student and is actively encouraging subsequent classes to do the same thing for their 50thanniversaries.

So who were the people whose names are attached to scholarships and where does the money that honors them come from?  Here is a list of just some of the honorees over the years:

Tom Fletcher was a member of Martinez Lions Club and well known during the 40s and 50s as the operator of the snack concession at the County Courthouse.  Blind himself, Tom was an active member of the Martinez Lions which has made helping the blind its major local and international project.  The scholarship was established at his death over 25 years ago and is funded by the annual Crab, Steak and Corned Beef and Cabbage dinners sponsored by the Lions Club.

Officer Tom Tarantino was a Martinez native son who joined the Martinez Police Department in the 1960s.  He was the first officer killed in the line of duty and the scholarship has been given in his memory for about 30 years.   It is funded by the Martinez Police Officers Association.

Leila Bray, the daughter of long time Sheriff R. R. Veale and wife of Justice A. F. Bray, was a graduate of Alhambra High School, class of 1909, and first editor of the Alhambra Torch.  This scholarship has been given to students intending to enter the nursing profession since her death in 1983.  The Bray family funds the scholarship

Helen Lough Nunes was Dean of Girls at Alhambra in the 1960s and early 70s.  She was very committed to encouraging young women who might not have easy lives or much positive support during their high school years.  The scholarship is presented each year by Mrs. Nunes’ granddaughter, Lainie Leach, now a teacher herself in the Martinez schools. It goes to someone who has overcome a rocky start and a lot of challenges to succeed at Alhambra.  Funded in the early years by Soroptimist International of Martinez, Mrs. Nunes’ family funds the scholarship now.

Al Jamieson was an iconic Social Studies teacher at Alhambra High School for over 30 years.   Sometimes controversial, Mr. Jamieson was celebrated for challenging conventional thought and encouraging students to explore all sides of a controversial historical event.  Memorial contributions and his family funds the scholarship in his name.

Antone Pellegrini, the son of an Italian fisherman, was a football hero at Alhambra in the early 50s and an all-league and High School All-American linebacker who came the closest of any Alhambra star to making the NFL, stopped only by a knee injury acquired playing football in the Navy.  A longtime member of the Martinez Recreation Commission and active in the Boys and Girls Club and Alhambra sports programs, Antone continued his interest and support of student athletics until his death in 1999.

Ralph Jackson  came to Alhambra in the late 1950s as a coach and physical education instructor serving as assistant and head coach in both football and basketball and becoming vice-principal in the 1970s.

Joe Tavan was a Italian immigrant who farmed in the Reliez & Alhambra valleys  in the first half of the 20th century.  At his death, he left a great deal of money to not only his church, St. Catherine of Siena, but also to all the other churches in town having told people that since everyone had been so nice to him, he was ‘going to leave them a buck or two.’  He also donated land for a baseball field at Rankin Park and left money to the school district to fund a prestigious scholarship which has been awarded each year for the past 45 years.  

Clem Viano was a popular Alhambra track star from the class of ‘54 and the scion of Viano Winery, the only surviving active winery in Martinez.  People loved to stop by and sample the vintages and join Clem in the humorous conversations about the state of the world. Viano Winery carries on the wine-making tradition in Martinez to this day through Clem’s sons and his widow.  The scholarship fund was set up in his memory at his death in 2005. 

Lawrence Miller  was the younger of several children from a well-known local family.  All of the Miller youngsters had talent: one was an artist, another a student leader, several were athletes.  Lawrence was a wrestler who reached the pinnacle of high school achievement by winning the California State heavyweight title in 1967.  He went on to be a wrestling star at the University of Montana and came home to Martinez to teach and coach at Martinez Junior High School in the early 1970s.  During the summer after his first year of teaching, he and his mother were killed in a traffic accident in Texas.  For years, the scholarship in his honor was funded from the memorial contributions.  In recent years, a classmate and fellow athlete from the Alhambra Class of 1967, Phil Satre, has funded the scholarship in Lawrence’s memory.

Paul Yriberri was a longtime Martinez resident and teacher at Miramonte High School whose own children attended Martinez schools.  Mr. Yriberri died recently and a scholarship will be awarded in his memory in June.

Arthur McHarry  grew up on a ranch in Franklin Canyon and used to ride his horse to the High School each day in the second decade of the 20thcentury, often with younger children ‘hitching a ride’ with him.  He married fellow Alhambra graduate Charlotte Reed and they operated Reed’s Stationery Store on Main Street for many years.  A vocational scholarship is given in his name.

As mentioned in an accompanying article, Martinez service clubs fund many of the annual scholarships as do fraternal organizations such as the Italian Catholic Federation, the Cabrillo Club and Los Cerritos Chapter of Eastern Star as well as the Moose Club and the Women of the Moose.  Local businesses such as the Lippow Development Company fund scholarships as do local representatives of national and international businesses including Shell Oil Refinery, Bank of America and Wal-Mart. 

Other scholarships including military academy appointments, Buck Foundation full-ride lifetime education scholarships, State Regent Scholarships and individual university scholarships are awarded at the Honors Assembly any years local students apply and win them.

Alhambra High Technical Specialist Martha Morin coordinates the program which includes scholarships students may apply and compete for as well as some that are awarded by decision of staff/community organization representatives.  She has been involved with it for 11 years and finds it a very rewarding activity.

But the heart of the AHS pot of gold belongs to the Martinez community individuals and organizations who keep the memories alive and work hard to fund the dreams of the future.  

This and other articles by Harriett Burt can be found at The Martinez Patch and the Martinez Historical Society Month Newsletter



Martinez Historical Society

1005 Escobar Street - Martinez, CA 94553  (925) 228-8160