HESPERIA - A community leader who helped make Stater Bros. a household name in the High Desert and throughout Southern California will be remembered this weekend.
Stater Bros. Markets will hold a public "Celebration of Life" in remembrance of Executive Chairman Jack H. Brown at 9 a.m. Saturday at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, 4000 East Ontario Center Parkway.
Brown, who served as the chairman of the board, president, chief executive officer and most recently executive chairman of Stater Bros. Markets for over 35 years, helped the largest privately owned grocery chain in Southern California become a powerhouse in the industry. The 78-year-old San Bernardino native died Nov. 13.
Longtime Victorville resident Felix Diaz said he was saddened to hear of the passing of "Jacky" Brown, someone he called his close "childhood friend."
"We first met in in the mid-'40s, on the E Street barrio of Victorville," Diaz said. "He was about 4 or 5 years old and I was about 7 or 8 years old."
Diaz said Brown's father, "Big Jack," was the town sheriff who would drop off young Jack at his nanny's - Manuela Vazquez - home on E Street, just a couple of houses down from Cancino Market.
"During summer mornings, Jacky would wave from there, as I stood on the corner of Cottonwood and E streets," Diaz said. "I would run to meet him and we'd play marble games."
After the friends became adults, Diaz said Brown's friendliness never ended, with Diaz being greeted by Brown with "Hey Amigo" and a big bear hug.
"When I wrote my books, I added parts about Jacky and sent him the text for him to edit, which he did. He also sent me the three photos which are included as part of the text," said Diaz, who authored "Footprints from the Barrio," which includes a 1940s photo of Brown with boxing champion Joe Lewis.
"I remember visiting his office at the old Norton Air Base and taking him a copy of my book. I loved Jacky as my brother and will truly miss him," Diaz said. "My deepest sympathies and prayers to his and the Stater Bros. family."
Hesperia Councilman Russ Blewett, who knew Brown for nearly 30 years, told the Daily Press the Stater Bros. leader was probably the biggest contributor to the Inland Empire.
"I don't know of any other individual who helped give away over a $1 million each year for the last eight years," Blewett said. "He's blessed a lot of lives by donating to food banks, the Sheriff's Department, the military, school and other groups."
Blewett, who was nominated as a Stater Bros. Hero of the Heartland, said he visited Brown the day after the Albertsons grocery store in the Midtown Square Shopping Center on Main Street closed five years ago.
"I told him to buy the store," Blewett said. "A year later Stater Bros. opened at that location and I think it's been the top producing store in the chain. During the ribbon cutting, Jack told everyone, 'We're here because of your mayor.'"
After extensive remodeling, the company opened its new Blue Ribbon Stater Bros. supermarket and closed its store located on the corner of Main Street and G Avenue.
Blewett said "loyalty" to family, to friends, to his employees and the community was probably Brown's biggest trait, and was demonstrated by Brown opening a large company warehouse in "bankrupt San Bernardino," which provided jobs and added to the local economy.
"If the world was loaded with Jack Browns, the world would be a heck of a lot better place to live," Blewett said. "My condolences and prayers to his family and the entire Stater Bros. family."
Brown's vision and leadership helped guide the company that was founded in Yucaipa in 1936 and expanded into seven counties, where it employs some 18,000 workers. Brown, who served the supermarket industry for over 65 years, helped celebrate the company's 80th anniversary this year.
Known as the largest privately owned supermarket chain in Southern California, Stater Bros. operates 169 supermarkets California. The first Stater Bros. store was opened in 1936 by twin brothers Cleo and Leo Stater and their siblings Lavoy and Virgil.
The Celebration of Life will begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at Citizens Business Bank Arena. The event is open to the public. For more information, visit staterbros.com.
Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, RDeLa Cruz@VVDailyPress.com or on Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz.