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Now and Then – COC Foundation Honors Don and Cheri Fleming

| Community | March 7, 2019

He was born four months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, catapulting the U.S. into World War II, and spent his boyhood in the small town of Tyler, Texas recreating his own version of “Tom Sawyer’s Adventures.” Like most growing boys, Don Fleming had a fascination and love of automobiles. He also loved sports, excelling in baseball and football.

After high school graduation, Don joined the Marine Corps serving on a helicopter carrier in Southeast Asia. As a member of the 5th Marine Expeditionary Force, he was involved in sorties into Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. When he was discharged in 1962, Don began dabbling in a series of business enterprises, which led to a partnership with General Electric in Austin, Texas; then into the development of the first tanning salon business in the United States.

Born in Bay Village, Ohio, Cheri Sykes grew up in neighboring Parma Heights during the early days of rock ‘n’ roll and Atom Bomb drop drills. In spite of the international strife posed by the Cold War, the Sykes family, like many in America at that time, was home for five o’clock dinners, spending quiet evenings together – often in front of the newest technological innovation, the television set.

Cheri was an outstanding student, excelling academically through her elementary and secondary school years. Her prowess in German prompted the high school cheerleader to pack her bags after graduation and head to Ohio University, intent on becoming a language teacher.

While in college her enthusiasm for teaching was eclipsed by a growing interest in business, leading Cheri first into a career in banking, then later into starting her own business – coincidentally, a tanning salon.

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When this shared business interest brought 2019 Silver Spur Honorees Don and Cheri Fleming together in the early ‘80s in Austin, Texas, the meeting of West with Mid-West was magic. “It was like I was hit by a silver bullet,” Cheri told friends, “I knew that we would be married the first time I saw him.” The feeling was mutual – as Don explained at a recent tribute dinner for Cheri, “She is a woman as gorgeous as she is smart … the wind beneath my wings, and is simply the most amazing woman I have ever known.”

The tanning salon venture brought the couple to California in 1984, but a fascination with cars led them to invest in a 1985 car leasing business, a 1989 Woodland Hills Lexus dealership, and then a Toyota partnership. When their Toyota partner bought them out in 1990, Don and Cheri dabbled with retirement. Don indulged his love of golf and Cheri became active in charity work.

A golfing friend ended that retirement in 1997 when he convinced them to be partners in a Santa Clarita Acura Dealership. Because the partner lived in Oregon, Don and Cheri became the hands-on promoters of the venture. The Flemings had their work cut out for them, reviving and rebuilding the dealership. Their perseverance paid off and the business began to climb up the financial charts.

Enchanted with the Santa Clarita Valley, the couple sold their house in the San Fernando Valley, moved to Valencia, and plunged into the Santa Clarita charitable and social scene. With their familiar Shih Tzu mascots at their sides, the Flemings electrified not only the business world, but the SCV charitable scene as well, with their innovative ideas and hard work.

In the past 22 years, both Don and Cheri have served as leaders on the boards of charitable organization like the Henry Mayo Newhall Health Foundation, the SCV Child & Family Center, SCV Chamber of Commerce, American Cancer Society, and SCV Boys & Girls Club Foundation, earning them the prestigious titles of SCV Man and Woman of the Year in 2004.

Cheri’s work with the American Cancer Society and Arthritis Foundation is only eclipsed by her service with the Soroptimists of Greater Santa Clarita Valley, both locally and nationally. In 2012, she became president of Soroptimist International of the Americas, which is made up of 28 regions with about 33,000 members in 20 countries.

Both Don and Cheri have continued to sponsor or raise money for numerous SCV charities, and Don has served as the president of the Santa Clarita Valley Auto Dealers Association. His wit and infectious sense of humor have made him a popular choice as an auctioneer and emcee at many local events.

The Flemings’ non-stop support of the community’s charitable institutions made them a natural choice to be selected as the COC Foundation’s 2019 Silver Spur honorees. The 29th annual event, which was inaugurated in 1989 to honor the Santa Clarita Valley’s outstanding leaders, will be held Saturday, March 16, at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.

Founding organizers, LaVerne Harris and Kathleen Maloney, initiated the precedent of holding the prestigious events at Los Angeles area museums. Prior venues have included the Gene Autry Museum, the Santa Monica Museum of Flying, and the Southwest Museum in Pasadena.

Past honorees include Cliffie Stone, “Aggie” Agajanian, Scott and Ruth Newhall, Tom Dierckman, Michael Berger, Tom Lee, Gary and Diana Cusumano, Charlotte and Frank Kleeman, Lou and Rita Garasi, Wayne Crawford, Harold and Jacquie Petersen, Gary and Myrna Condie, Richard and Marian Sandnes, and Jack and Doreen Shine.

For more information on the event, contact the College of the Canyons Foundation, cocfoundation@canyons.edu. Or call 661-362-3737.

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About Linda Pedersen

Linda Pedersen is a 50-year resident of the Santa Clarita Valley. She has alternated being a columnist and feature writer with volunteering in the community.

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