By Craig Morgan
When Robert L. Fletcher returned to Phoenix after two-and-a-half years of service in World War II, he was “broke and in need of work like everybody else.” After trying his hand at a couple of businesses, he turned to farming, which grew to be more than a vocation—it became one of his life’s passions.
Helping hard-working families send their children to college became another. Fletcher and a group of farmers and ranchers teamed up to buy 325 acres in Tempe to help expand what was then known as Arizona State College, but Fletcher still saw an educational void on the west side of the Valley.
After lengthy discussions with local businessmen and lawmakers, Fletcher donated funds, matched by the Arizona legislature, to help create an ASU campus. He also convinced the Sands family to give up its lease on state-owned lands, paving the way for the ASU West campus on Thunderbird Road between 43rd and 51st avenues.
Thirty years later, ASU West provides almost 10,500 students a rich, liberal arts education as well as programs that meet the demands of the twenty-first-century workforce. Recognized for its nationally unique New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, the West campus marries the best aspects of the small-college experience with the resources of a top-tier research university.
What motivated you to donate the initial funds for the creation of the West campus?
“Nowadays, it seems like nobody will do anything unless they get paid for it or get recognition for it, but in the old days, you all tried to help each other and make Arizona a better place. The street I grew up on, East Portland Street, everybody knew everybody. You helped your neighbor.
During the Depression, my mom would make a bigger pot of stew and say, ‘Bobby take this down to the Smiths or Joneses’ or whoever. That’s just the way we were raised.
“As the west side grew, there was no place really for the working-class people, like we were, to go to college and get a better education, and that was the main thing we were talking about: helping working-class families. It was important to me, because I didn’t go to college, but with my kids, in that era, it also seemed to be important to them, and it seemed to be important to America.”
Do you take any personal satisfaction in the effect you’ve had on the community?
“It’s bigger than I ever thought it would be by this time, but I don’t take anything out of it. I just figure that’s the Lord’s will, and he blessed me to be able to help out.”
Do you think gifts such as yours could pave the way for others to pay it forward?
“After serving in the war in North Africa and Italy, you knew what you went through, and you appreciated what you had at home and what you were given. I think what you’re asking me is how do you get your grandkids to appreciate what they have or what could be? How do you get other people to appreciate what they have and try to make it better? A lot of it has to come from your parents and the way they were raised, but a lot of it has to come from the examples that are set around you.
“It’s that simple. You do things for each other because you’re a community.”
View the ASU West Fletcher Library in 360 degrees. Click inside the video to move perspective:
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