When Fred Falender greets a new visitor, the light in his eyes is matched only by the strength of his handshake.
Although today he and his wife, Joan, live high in the hills of Belvedere, Fred is a midwesterner through and through, exuding the warmth and modesty of his geographic roots and upbringing.
Born in Indianapolis in 1926 to a dentist and a homemaker, Fred grew up in what he calls a “mixed” community of mostly gentiles and some of Jewish heritage. “There were no troubles about that,” he recalls of his early days. He went to Sunday school and attended the reform congregation of Temple Beth El. “My parents taught me to appreciate things.” Fred’s father treated the Jewish kids who lived in a communal building that had been built for underprivileged Jewish families.
During World War II, Fred joined the Airforce, where he served in the Air and Sea rescue unit, saving those whose planes were shot down off the coast of Brazil. “The planes would go down, and we would be waiting in a PT boat (Patrol Torpedo boat) and rescue them.” Was he scared? “I was young,” he says with a laugh.
After being stationed at a base in Novato, “I got interested in California.” He lived in Walnut Creek and San Francisco before moving to Marin 30 years ago. Why Marin? “Because it’s pretty! And the weather’s nice.”
Fred spent his career as a contractor of residential homes in the East Bay and his native Indianapolis. And he also joined Rodef Sholom, where was on the board of directors and served on the committee responsible for hiring Cantor David. He also helped raise the money to build the Osher Marin JCC.
Several years after moving to Marin, Fred and Joan met and were married by Michael Barenbaum. He has two children, 6 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren. Ten years ago, the Joan and Fred Falender Fund for the Homeless was established, and has been instrumental in the success of Rodef Sholom’s ability to feed and support the homeless ever since.
What advice would Fred give his grandchildren? “My grandchildren are pretty independent. They don’t want my advice!” Fred laughs heartily at the thought.
Fred seems, more than anything, like a happy man. “I am,” he says with a broad smile, and the light dances warmly on in his clear green eyes.