Potter Jr. High School on Reche Road is named for James Elmer Potter, an extraordinary citizen of Fallbrook in the early 1900s and Fallbrook’s first Superintendent of Schools.
James E. Potter was born in Paris, France where his parents were studying. He became an orphan at a young age following the early deaths of his parents. In 1900 James was sent to live with his uncle Homer Potter and aunt Leah in Westfield, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Penn State University in 1917 and then went to Fort Lee, Virginia for officer training in the U.S. Army. Potter was honorably discharged with the end of World War I in November 1918. He married Donna A. Phillips, a college graduate and daughter of a dentist in Potter County, Pennsylvania, in 1919.
James Potter and his wife Donna moved to California where he got a job teaching, first in El Centro and then in Perris, before accepting a job in 1921 as the principal of the new Fallbrook High School on Ivy St. Donna would also take a position as a teacher at the high school.
With meticulous planning, Potter led the development of Fallbrook High from a one building school to a 12-acre campus with a dozen buildings. During the Great Depression of the late 1920s, when money was scarce, the school board applied for W.P.A. funds to modernize the school with an athletic field, a gymnasium-auditorium, and a swimming pool. The facilities were open to the public so that Fallbrook High School became a community center.
James Potter and other progressive thinkers in Fallbrook conceived of the idea to also construct a model home for home economic students. Male students learned construction by being instructed on how to build the adobe model home.
Potter was well known throughout San Diego County and all of Southern California for his achievements in the field of education. Becoming one of the best rural high schools in the country, Fallbrook High was studied and publicized by educational leaders from various areas of the United States and parts of Canada.
In addition to being a leader in education, Mr. Potter for years was a leading citizen of the community. Serving on numerous committees and boards for civic improvement. He was a 32nd degree mason, a member of the Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity, and a member of the Episcopal Church. Potter was also a partner in an olive processing business on Alturas Street in the 1930s. As Assessor and Secretary of the Fallbrook Sanitation District he was instrumental in establishing Fallbrook’s sewage system. Potter was elected president of the Fallbrook Public Utility Board.
During WWII, Donna Potter volunteered with the Fallbrook Red Cross organization.
The Potters did not have any children of their own, but maintained strong family ties. Donna’s parents moved from Pennsylvania to Riverside, Calif, sometimes staying with the Potters in Fallbrook. Upon being widowed, James Potter’s uncle Homer, who had taken him in as a child orphan, relocated to San Diego to be closer to his nephew. Unfortunately, James Potter contracted leukemia at the age of 56 and died in a Riverside hospital in 1947. His wife Donna would go on to live to be 101 years old.