Merv and Sally Fleming Pay It Forward
Merv Fleming married Sally Jo Taylor on June 16, 1968, in Blair, Nebraska. Soon after, they loaded their car with wedding gifts and took off on a 48-year adventure which started and ended in Oregon. Sally had accepted a dietetic internship at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, and since neither of them had seen the ocean, they planned to spend a couple of years in the area and move on.
“They both grew up in Nebraska. After they married they moved to Oregon just kind of as a let’s go out and see,” said Sally’s cousin Bob Bosak. “They fell in love with Oregon and ended up staying. They started near Portland and eventually moved to the Bend, Oregon, area.”
Merv grew up on the family farm and was active in 4-H. After graduating from Herman High School in 1961, he enrolled in the Nebraska Vocational Technical School in Milford. He graduated in 1963 with a Diesel Technology degree and joined the Army National Guard. In May 1965 he started six months active duty and was extremely proud of his military service. In Oregon, Merv worked for “Ma Bell” (AT&T) as a microwave technician specialist until he retired in 1999.
“His education from Milford gave him a start in something he enjoyed doing,” Bosak said. “Milford gave him the confidence to go forward. He was a farm kid, and something about Merv which sticks in my mind is his belief in rejuvenating the soil. Take a step back and he also believed in rejuvenating people.”
Merv and Sally were unable to have children, but they paid it forward whenever they could. They volunteered at the Deschutes County Fair & Rodeo, with Merv serving on the fair board for several years. In 2005, he was named the Grand Marshal of the Deschutes County Fair. For nearly 30 years, the Flemings awarded $1,000 scholarships to high school seniors in 4-H raising non-market animals like rabbits and birds. All applicants had to do was submit a letter stating their goals and how the scholarship would help them achieve it. Sally and Merv would then interview each applicant and award scholarships.
“Everything they did was to build up and encourage others, but always behind the curtain,” said Chris Bosak, Bob’s wife. “They did not seek any acclaim or praise for anything they did.”
They were also frugal and organized. Sally loved garage sales and finding a deal. (Pro tip from Sally: a real garage sale has a box at the curb with free items.) She organized her closets with detailed notes on each item so she didn’t wear the same outfit twice in a year. Merv’s shop included every type of tool you could ever need, which made it easy for him to fix anything.
Their organization skills in life continued on after they died. They met with accountants, investment managers and lawyers to put an estate plan in motion before Sally passed in 2016. Merv then worked with the Oregon Community Foundation to administer the estate with Bob Bosak as the executor.
“The whole process of giving back and paying it forward is what Merv and Sally did all their lives,” Bob said. “They were very giving, loving people. They were always thinking about other people and how they could help.”
Southeast Community College is one of nine long-term beneficiaries of the Fleming’s generosity. The Mervin K. and Sally Jo Fleming Memorial Diesel Technology Scholarship will annually award scholarships based on financial need to students enrolled in the Diesel Technology-Truck or Diesel-Ag Equipment Service Technology programs with a cumulative grade-point average of 2.0 or higher.
“Merv did not want this scholarship to be about grades, because you never know when a shining star will reveal itself,” explained Chris. “You never know what is going to speak to their soul and inspires them. Merv and Sally believed in giving people those chances. That is what this scholarship will do.”
The SCC Educational Foundation was able to award seven $4,500 scholarships for the 2023-2024 academic year to the following students: Gabriel Neeley, Dallas Donovan, Shawn Kuehn, Grant York, Spencer Laurance, Jared Griffin, and Elliott Robotham.
“That’s the generosity they did all their lives. If they saw somebody who needed something, they were there,” said Bob. “I’m sure Merv and Sally are sitting up there looking down and are gleeful as can be. Things are working out just as they had planned.”