EL SOBRANTE -- Long before the advent of 24-hour chain drugstores, Bob Jeha was known to open his pharmacy on San Pablo Dam Road in the middle of the night to fill prescriptions for customers in need.
He would even give medications to people for free if they couldn't afford to pay, said longtime friend Jim Storer.
"I've known a number of people who were quite ill and needed a lot of medications," said Storer, the former principal of De Anza High School. "Bob never turned anybody away for lack of ability to pay."
Jeha's generous spirit extended far beyond his drugstores; it can be found throughout this West Contra Costa community of nearly 13,000 that he helped build.
Jeha, 84, set up his first drugstore in 1959 in what was once the snack bar of the Park Theater, which was owned by his father. It was the first of five pharmacies he would operate in the East Bay, including stores in Rodeo, San Pablo, Richmond and Dublin.
But it was in El Sobrante that Jeha left the deepest imprint. That was where he and his wife, Patricia, made their home, raising daughters Cathy and Sheri and son Bill, a member of the Walnut Creek police force. Sheri and Bill are licensed pharmacists like their father.
Bob Jeha co-founded the El Sobrante Rotary Club, which sponsors an annual goodwill medical mission to Baja California, and the El Sobrante Chamber of Commerce. He also started El Sobrante-based Tri-City Titans Pop Warner football and coached basketball and baseball for the El Sobrante Boys Club.
Jeha was recently honored by the El Sobrante Rotary for 50 years of service to the community.
The son of Lebanese immigrants, Jeha was born in Berkeley and grew up in Benicia. He became interested in operating a pharmacy after working in a Benicia drugstore in high school and went on to attend the pharmacy school at Idaho State University.
Jeha started Park Rexall Drugs a few years after he graduated. He offered free prescription delivery in a sedan with a giant mortar and pestle mounted on the roof. He dubbed the service "Pills A Go Go," which was bannered across the front of the car.
"I went into debt opening my first pharmacy, but my philosophy was that if you needed (a prescription), you were going to get it, no matter what," Bob Jeha said.
Said Patricia: "He got free rent at the theater. He couldn't have done it otherwise, because there was no parking and a lot of competition nearby."
The theater pharmacy is now operated by Jeha's nephew, David Jeha, while daughter Sheri Jeha operates Brookvale Pharmacy in San Pablo. The other three stores have been sold.
Jeha's decision to found the Rotary International chapter came out of the desire to pull together the El Sobrante business community, along with a general interest in health care.
Jeha was part of a Rotary project to build a dental clinic and establish an annual dental health mission to the village of Mulege, Mexico.
Each year, the Rotary sponsors three local dentists to go to Mulege to provide checkups and dental work for residents who would not otherwise receive care.
"When you go down with that program, you get immersed in dentistry, and everyone becomes a dental assistant for a week or so," said Dick McCloskey, an El Sobrante painting contractor and a longtime Rotary member.
Jeha also initiated a Rotary program to donate pharmaceuticals to needy communities in the Philippines, Bill Jeha said.
The Tri-City Titans came together when Jeha put the money together to finance the teams that now include players from Richmond and San Pablo as well as El Sobrante, Bill Jeha said.
"Someone came to him about starting a Pop Warner (franchise), and he designed the whole league," Bill Jeha said.
Jeha retired in 1987 but continued to fill in as a pharmacist for several years when Bill Jeha, who works as a pharmacist part time, or David Jeha needed his help.
He has lived in a Walnut Creek condominium community since 2003 but still attends El Sobrante Rotary meetings regularly.
HOMETOWN: El Sobrante
CLAIM TO FAME: Longtime pharmacy operator and philanthropist. Co-founder of the El Sobrante Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce and founder of Tri-City Titans Pop Warner football.
QUOTE: "I went into debt opening my first pharmacy, but my philosophy was that if you needed (a prescription), you were going to get it, no matter what."
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