The quality of life San Diegans enjoy today can often be attributed to the philanthropy and vision of the region’s leaders of yesteryear.

Kate Sessions, Alonzo Horton, and many others are notable changemakers in our history.

So, too, does Jim Polak and his family.

Jim, the son of European immigrant Benjamin Polak, was raised on traditional community values.

“Our family’s passion for philanthropy started early on with my grandfather in Holland,” explained Jim’s daughter, Cynthia Polak Baker. “Papa [Benjamin Polak] was raised in a small European community and grew up with the notion that you always give back to the community in which you live.”

Following in His Family’s Footsteps

When Benjamin immigrated to the United States, it was only natural for him to do the same. Benjamin served as mayor of La Mesa from 1936 to 1948 and encouraged his children to adopt the same principles of community service and philanthropy that he lived by.

As young boys, Jim and his brother, Ben, watched their father save the La Mesa community from bankruptcy during the Great Depression with strong fundraising and business savvy.

So, it’s no wonder Jim grew up with the same commitment to his fellow neighbors.

Jim was an Eagle Scout and served in the Navy during World War II in the Mediterranean theatre. Upon his return, he joined his father in business and deepened his involvement with the La Mesa community.

“I can’t remember a time when my parents weren’t volunteering or contributing,” recalled Cynthia. “Ninety-nine percent of what Jim did was community based. San Diego, and more specifically La Mesa, helped my parents get their start, so it was only natural for them to give back in the community.”

After the war, Jim became a prominent figure in local business and real estate. This success led to his becoming a significant philanthropist in the region alongside his wife, Peggy. He would serve on the boards of numerous nonprofits, including San Diego Foundation.

Role Model in the Region

Despite his charitable and business efforts, many argue his most outstanding achievement was something less tangible.

According to his obituary, “Jim’s greatest accomplishment was the example he set every day, of being the most principled, moral and exemplary person he could be for his family.”

In January 2015, San Diego lost a true visionary and changemaker in Jim Polak. But thanks to his legacy fund at San Diego Foundation, his impact lives on.

Through a planned gift realized through his matured estate, the James Polak Family Foundation Fund supports the family’s passion for community service, social programs and education.

Today, thanks to Jim’s Legacy fund and the family’s values, the third and fourth generation of Polaks continue the legacy left by Ben, Jim and many other Polak family members who believe in giving back.

Learn More about Legacy Funds