OAKLAND, Calif. - Retired East Bay teacher Jack Nelson planned to lace up his running shoes for a special run on Tuesday to raise money for three East Oakland schools, marking the end of a decades-long tradition to help elevate students.
Nelson, a product of Oakland public schools and a graduate of Skyline High in 1972, has used his running to help schools in his hometown as well as in San Leandro, where the 68-year-old former history teacher spent most of his teaching career.
Tuesday's run will mark his 31st charity run, and he said it will be his last. In all, Nelson has raised $252,000 and covered some 1,500 miles to benefit a wide range of school programs at more than half a dozen high schools.
His runs have included a 100-mile course from Sacramento to San Leandro in 2001. The following year, he covered 125 miles from Monterey to the East Bay, which took him two days and seven hours.
He said his fundraising has targeted wherever he saw a need, and over the years, his efforts have been varied and far-reaching, benefiting programs from sports, to academics, to the arts. Last year, he helped establish a student marching band at Fremont High School in East Oakland, where he’s currently a baseball coach.
On Tuesday, his 4.9 mile run, which he’s dubbed "The East Oakland Ramble," will help raise money for programs at Fremont and Castlemont high schools to pay for football helmets and other equipment, as well as food for the players. The fundraising was also for the cheerleading programs at the high schools to pay for uniforms, pompoms and competitions.
A portion of the money raised this year was also going toward Bishop O’Dowd High School, to help its basketball and drama programs. Nelson said the funds served as a special tribute to his uncle, John Dennis Heagerty, who's turning 80, and was an alum of O'Dowd, a graduate of the school's 1960 class.
Nelson said his uncle will be a part of the event and festivities, which will begin in San Leandro at 1:40 p.m. on Foothill Boulevard across from Jerry's Beef Burgers Restaurant.
The city’s mayor Juan Gonzalez and former mayor Sheila Young planned to be at the starting line to kick off the run.
From there, the retired teacher will be joined by two San Leandro High School students who will run one mile to the Bishop O’Dowd campus off 98th Avenue, where Nelson will present a check to the school. He will also celebrate his uncle John, whom Nelson said has been a big inspiration and drive in his efforts to help schools over the years.
The running team will expand to include more students as well as Nelson’s sister, Dea Nelson, and the runners will make their way down the hill to Castlemont High School on MacArthur Boulevard, where Nelson will present a check to that school, and cheerleaders will be on hand to welcome the group.
The Castlemont Knights’ cross-country team and Fremont High baseball head coach Rowan Driscoll, will also be a part of the event.
After the ceremony, the running team will expand to include more students, and the group will make the final three-mile leg of the run to Fremont High on Foothill Boulevard.
Once they reach Fremont High, the school’s cheerleading squad, will join the softball, football, and basketball teams to congratulate the young runners, Nelson explained.
"And that’s going to be the end of my running career," he told KTVU.
Nelson said he’s fallen about $2,000 short of his $10,000 goal for his final charity run. He admitted it’s been a challenge to raise funds, especially in Oakland where he acknowledged that businesses were struggling.
Still, as he knew first hand that every dollar counts when it comes to helping schools, he’ll put his all into this final run.
And those at the finish line can expect another hero’s welcome like he received last year when he completed a seven-mile course to raise money for Fremont High's kids.
While the retired teacher no longer worked with students in the classroom, he’s been a beloved figure at Fremont where he’s been a mentor and encouraging force to students.
In addition to coaching, he said he also served as the "waterboy" for the school's football and basketball teams.
He said over the years, he’s operated by answering the call to help wherever he saw a need.
"My dad taught me that no task is too small if it benefits someone or something," Nelson shared, adding, "And I've learned that, and I stick by it."
Nelson has taken a very grassroots and old school approach in his fundraising efforts. He said because he wants every cent to go toward the schools and students, he’s avoided using GoFundMe or other crowdfunding sites which take a percentage of money collected.
Those who want to contribute to Jack Nelson's final charity run, can reach out to him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2022, Jack Nelson ran seven miles from his home to Fremont High School in Oakland to raise money and help establish a school marching band at the school.