Anti-Italian sentiment was so strong during the 1930s that when Roger Fruci showed up for a pre-arranged internship at a Spokane law firm, the firm wouldn’t hire him.
“Are you not hiring me because I’m Italian?” a baffled Fruci asked the managing partner.
“I’m sorry, Roger, but our clients just wouldn’t understand if we had an Italian working here,” the partner replied, according to a story relayed this week by Fruci’s son.
Fruci died Monday at age 92. Despite the discriminatory environment he grew up in, the gregarious son of Italian immigrants went on to found one of Spokane’s largest accounting firms, Fruci & Associates.
“He was a huge people person,” said Roger Fruci Jr. “He grew the firm on devoted personal service. If he had been in sales, he probably would have made a fortune.”
Roger Fruci Sr. retired at age 87. His children still operate the 35-person accounting firm he started.
Fruci was born in Spokane in 1912. At Lewis and Clark High School, he showed an aptitude for math. He later studied accounting at Kinman University, Spokane’s business college.
It was at Kinman that Fruci won a skills competition. The prize was an internship at one of the city’s largest law firms.
Fruci visited the law office three or four times, trying to arrange a starting date. The business office kept telling him to come back later. Fruci finally confronted the firm’s managing partner, and learned that anti-Italian prejudice was keeping him from the job.
“That’s the environment he started business in,” Roger Fruci Jr. said.
Fruci spent four years in the Army Air Corps before starting Fruci & Associates in 1938. His wife, Marian, did the firm’s internal bookkeeping.
Early on, Fruci identified doctors as an underserved market. He spent two years developing an accounting system to meet their needs.
“At one point, about 25 percent of the physicians in Spokane were his clients,” Roger Fruci Jr. said. “He did everything for them for $5 per month.”
In the 1950s, the expanding firm bought a four-story brick building at 218 N. Bernard. Fruci’s purchase of the former brothel and speakeasy was a sign of his forward thinking, said his daughter-in-law, Jeannine Marx Fruci.
“It was in the dregs of downtown,” she said. “That’s where the old rail yards were, and where the hobos and the bums hung out.”
But the building was cheap. And, as Fruci anticipated, downtown’s retail and office core grew out to meet it. After Spokane’s 1974 makeover for the World’s Fair, the building became prime real estate. Fruci later acquired the building next door, which is now a Kinko’s.
“He was a leader and a risk-taker, but in those days they called them dreamers,” Marx Fruci said of her father-in-law.
Two of Fruci’s sons – Paul and Roger Jr. – became CPAs. Three of his grandchildren also work at Fruci & Associates. His son, David, ran a medical billing service that spun off from the company. It was sold to a Portland firm three years ago.
A Mass of Christian Burial for Fruci will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Aloysius Catholic Church, 330 E. Boone.