On December 23, 2017, Laura Brown, the Soquel Creek Water District’s General Manager from 1995-2012, passed away after defying the odds by leading a high quality and productive life following her diagnosis of a particularly aggressive and incurable form of cancer in early 2012.
Laura had an unwavering dedication and commitment to public service. Through the practice of lead by example, she fostered a sense of high-morale and job satisfaction within the employees; developed valuable and collaborative relationships within the community; and established an abiding legacy of high standards for professionalism in everything she did.
Laura was raised on a ranch in Moreno Valley, California. She learned to operate a vehicle by driving her family’s tanker truck to the bulk water station when the ranch wells went dry. Ironically, the highlight of her long career in public service was as General Manager of Soquel Creek Water District. Among her many accomplishments in that role were a state recognized conservation program, a well master plan and collaborative efforts with other agencies to address the county’s water issues.
Laura’s youth included wonderful memories of time with her grandmother at Newport Beach, playing the flute and piccolo in the school band, and being active in 4-H. Her favorite 4-H project was raising sheep. Each spring, she would take in orphaned lambs from a local shepherd and raise them on a bottle. She met her husband, Jess, at 4-H camp when they were 9 years old. They shared many fond memories of summer camp in the San Bernardino Mountains (where they later became counselors together) and showing livestock at the Riverside County Fair. Laura attended the University of Southern California and often joked that after meeting the rich city boys, she fell in love with the hog farmer who was her best friend.
Laura found her calling of public service after her junior year in high school when she was selected to shadow the local Congressman in Washington, D.C. The following year, she was one of only two in the nation to win the Washington Crossing Foundation Scholarship for students pursuing careers in public service.
The scholarship included a trip to the foundation’s headquarters outside Philadelphia each year until she graduated from the university. The mentorship she received from the trustees of the Washington Crossing Foundation, particularly the founder, Ann Hawkes Hutton, greatly shaped Laura’s ideals of patriotism and government service as a selfless, honorable and highly rewarding career.
Immediately following their marriage, Laura and Jess moved to Santa Cruz County. Laura began her career here with the City of Santa Cruz. She had the distinction of being the first woman in every position she ever held starting with Administrative Analyst in the Public Works Department, followed by Assistant to the City Manager, Personnel Director then six years as Assistant City Manager. Laura left the City of Santa Cruz in 1991 to take the position of Assistant City Manager of Monterey.
In 1995, she returned to Santa Cruz County to take the helm of Soquel Creek Water District. As Soquel Creek Water District general manager for more than 16 years, Brown was a mentor and community builder. She discovered her passion in water and, following her retirement, became a consultant with HydroMetrics Water Resources Inc., working with water agencies on groundwater management and policy issues.
Laura also volunteered in the community by serving on the Community Board of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz since 2004 and representing that board on the Mills Peninsula Health Services Board and most recently on the Peninsula Coastal Regional Board of Sutter Health. She also was active in the Aptos Chamber of Commerce and served as president in 2013. She was recognized for her professional and community contributions by being named Woman of the Year by the Aptos Chamber of Commerce in 2003.
Laura and Jess shared a love of Zimbabwe, Africa and the arts. After Jess had lived with a family in rural Zimbabwe while performing volunteer work, he and Laura became the sponsors of three siblings, Thelma, Trever, and Chaka Jr. Chaibweza. Since 2000, the Browns saw to the Chaibweza’s education and well being, making several trips to Africa to assist them.
When Thelma was accepted into university in Australia, Laura assumed the role of Mom to a young woman experiencing the challenges of a whole new world and college life. Eventually, Trever joined his sister in Darwin, Australia, and also looked to Laura for guidance. The three Chaibweza siblings brought tremendous pride, joy and love to Laura, and she adored them.
Laura defied the odds by leading a high quality and productive life after being diagnosed in early 2012 with a particularly aggressive and incurable form of cancer. She was admired for her inner strength, positive attitude and spirituality. At the beginning of this five-year journey, Laura was so grateful for being named Woman of the Year by the Santa Cruz Area Chamber of Commerce.
To Georgeann Cowles Eiskamp and the Watsonville Rotary, thank you for presenting the Rotary Foundation’s Paul Harris Fellow recognition to her and Jess. To the students of Aptos High School, thank you for fulfilling Jess’ request by allowing Laura to experience a Prom, and above all, a surprise selection as 2012 Prom Queen (See Photo). At the end of this five-year journey, a special thank you goes to Hospice of Santa Cruz County, Myra Smith Home Health Care, special friend Emma Solden and sister-in-law, Bonnie Fernandez-Fenaroli.
Laura is survived by her husband and soul mate, Jess, her mother Rachelann Daniel of Aptos, her brother Scott Daniel and his wife Susan of Houston, TX, Thelma Chibweza White, her husband James White and son Jordan James Rufaro White of Perth, Australia, Trever Chibweza also of Darwin, Australia, and Chaka Chibweza, Jr. of Chegutu, Zimbabwe.
There will be a private service for family and, later in the spring, a celebration of her life for friends. In memoriam contributions may be sent to the Washington Crossing Foundation, West Coast Scholars, Post Office Box 500, Bristol, PA 19007.
Laura’s positive attitude and energy will always be remembered. Whoever and wherever she served always was the better for her caring efforts. She is truly missed.
Bontadelli Family Initiates the Laura Brown Memorial Scholarship
It was announced that the Bontadelli farming family has donated $5,000 to establish a Laura Brown Memorial Scholarship Fund. In announcing this contribution, Steve Bontadelli stated, “We lost a dear member of our agriculture extended family in Laura Brown. We are very appreciative of the hard work and dedication Laura’s husband Jess has given to our farming community over the past quarter century. We were wondering how best to convey our feelings of condolences to Jess on his great loss.” Bontadelli continued, “My family donated $5,000 to establish a Laura Brown scholarship fund to be managed by the organization, Agri-Culture, and housed at the Community Foundation, to honor both her and Jess.”
The Bontadelli Family is asking anyone who feels in their hearts that this is a wonderful effort, to please make a tax-deductible contribution. In order for a fund to start paying out and be fully endowed it takes a total of $25,000. Checks should be written to Agri-Culture (address below) with a note saying, “Laura Brown Scholarship.”
Credit card donations can be made by contacting the Agri-Culture office. Agri-Culture 141 Monte Vista Ave. Watsonville, CA 95076 (831) 722-6622