A week had passed before she had the energy to go back down to the arena.
She needed to ride and find a way to put it all behind her.
When Alexis Lynn Brown took the reins of her horse, it broke into a gallop. It was a while before she returned to the stables with an answer.
“I wondered ‘Can I do this?’ and when I got back my trainer asked me if I was ready,” Brown, 22, says. “It was a hard decision, but I knew I had support from my family and friends.”
After witnessing the auto accident that claimed the life of one of her best friends, Kyle MacDonald, Brown had to decide if she would withdraw from the upcoming Cattle Call Rodeo Queen competition.
“I knew Kyle would be kicking my butt up and down Main Street if I didn’t go through with it,” she adds, a smile breaking through the painful memory.
Though 2007 would be the hardest year for her on a personal level, it would also be her year of triumph. Brown went on to win the title of Cattle Call Rodeo Queen, cementing her name in the town history she has dedicated her professional career to promote.
“There’s been times I wanted to leave, but growing up being close to family and having friends that were like family has kept me here,” Brown says. “I’ve always wanted to be involved with public relations and I want to do that for the Brawley community.”
Brown didn’t take her role lightly. She held the title of first princess for the Cattle Call Rodeo Queen the year before and knew it was going to be tough competition.
“When you’ve held a title before, the judges know that. They are harder on you,” Brown admits.
Finally claiming the title of Cattle Call Rodeo Queen was a surreal moment for her.
“I didn’t get into showmanship as a little girl. I remember watching the rodeo queen charge through the arena, that giant American flag waving … I knew I wanted to be like her,” she says.
But as a self-proclaimed “guy’s girl,” Brown wasn’t used to flashy outfits and the pageantry required of the queen competition. Trail riding was her private therapy, taking her horse out for rides outside the city, far from the glitz and glamour that’s needed to win.
Brown recalls always spending her free time during her childhood outdoors. She attended Mulberry School and Brawley Christian Academy before she went from an eight-student classroom to the packed halls of Brawley Union High School.
“I was never into sports. I was riding horses, shooting, fishing and swimming in the canals,” Brown says.
Her father David Brown and her mother Queda Brown both worked for John Benson Farms. She remembers being raised “old school” where notes left on the television set on Saturday mornings read: “No TV. Go outside.”
She went mud bogging with her father and learned to love the site of agriculture fields around the Valley.
“My parents are two of the hardest workers I’ve ever known. I appreciate that they worked so hard to give me what I have,” Brown says.
As the youngest of six daughters, even at the local high school Brown discovered her family’s roots run deep in Brawley.
“It makes for a small dating pool,” she jokes.
Over time Brown realized that the idea of going to college after high school graduation didn’t appeal to her. Instead, she decided to work towards her public relations aspirations close to home.
At the age of 15, she took her first job and eventually learned the agricultural industry from the business side. She worked at Imperial Compost (a division of the Dune Company) and learned state regulations as a compost analyst.
After graduating from BUHS, she was training horses when someone suggested she run for Cattle Call Rodeo Queen.
“That experience gave me the confidence and knowledge to continue on to the next chapter of my life,” Brown says.
Later, she went to work for the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation, her beginning in the professional public relations realm.
“The first day on the job, I had to polish 375 glass paper weights. I was thinking, are they serious? We had an event in two days and I hated every one of those glass weights,” Brown admits.
But in the next year and a half, Brown’s love and knowledge of the Valley’s history would make her indispensable.
From the moment former coworker and now friend Jennifer Jaime met her, she knew Brown was dedicated to the Valley like no one else.
“When we worked together at IVEDC, some people would have to brush up on their knowledge of the Valley before a trade show,” Jaime says. “Alexis (Brown) knew it inside and out.”
Brown specifically has a passion for the agricultural base of the Valley’s economy and for the numerous valuable resources the region has to offer.
“I love being an ambassador for the community, and at trade shows I was able to represent and talk to people about the Valley. All the experience I picked up along the way came together during that job,” Brown notes.
Jaime says that when she started as an intern at IVEDC, Brown was an amazing mentor.
“We have a special bond that you have with somebody when you’re from the Valley. It’s not something everybody grows up with. It’s that small-town connection,” Jaime says.
Most recently, Alexis has moved on to become the event coordinator and administrative assistant at the Brawley Chamber of Commerce. The new position represents the culmination of her passion for community and events like Cattle Call finally merging into the next chapter of her life.
“I have a vision for the chamber and the information we should have at hand to promote the community and the businesses our city offers. I hope to see that continue to grow,” Brown says.
But as professional as Brown is, Jaime says she is also very down to earth.
“She’s such a strong woman, she knows what she wants out of life,” Jaime adds. “She can put on her lipstick at work and dirty cowgirl boots on the weekend.”
Despite her professional role, Brown agrees that some things haven’t changed as she has grown from a young woman to burgeoning professional.
“My friends and I still hang out and do things we did in high school. The fishing is good right now,” she says with a laugh.
She has been known to ride along in her boyfriend’s tractor when the harvests run into the midnight hour, something she used to do with her father.
The truth is, Brown confides, she would rather stop traffic for a tractor crossing the road than to deal with big-town traffic.
Brown is still involved in the Cattle Call Rodeo Queen competition as one of the committee members. Kelly Hannon, who serves on the committee with Brown, says Brown has a spark about her no matter if she has manure on her shoes or if she’s dressed up for a formal event.
“She is a tremendous person. I wish there were a million more like her with that kind of drive and love,” Hannon says. “There’s so many people who say you should’ve done things this or that way, but Alexis (Brown) will actually come on and join in and help. She’s the first one to do what needs to be done.”
Now Brown has her sights set on continuing to promote Brawley and the community she calls home.
Though nothing can change what happened and she feels the loss of her friend Kyle’s generous, caring spirit every day, Brown says she appreciates her other friends and family now more than ever.
When she remembers that difficult year, Brown says she recalls the best advice she received from one of her inspirations, her sister Lura Poggi.
“She also went through an accident and she’s the strongest woman I know. She’s one of the greatest moms I’ve ever seen. After the accident, she told me one day I’ll wake up and take a baby step. Then another step. And in a long time, I’ll grow and move on,” Brown says. “She was right.”
Family’s Matriarch Makes Marvelous Music
By Gary Redfern
When most people request a birthday dinner it involves a big meal at a fancy restaurant, and the occasion might be even more notable when the guest of honor is turning 92. Not so with Jean Brock.
“What I wanted for my birthday was a hot dog,” she quips. “So we went out to the asparagus shed (for a cook out) and had a lot of my longtime friends come. I just wanted something simple. Of course, Don (her son, Don Brock) cooked chicken for everyone else.”
Her big memory of the March 22 event does not have as much to do with what others gave her as it did with reminding her what she and her late husband Warren achieved.
“It’s sort of shocking,” Brock muses over the large family gathering. “You start out with two and now there’s over 40.”
The granddaughter of Imperial Valley pioneers Reuben and Mary Malan, who started farming in Brawley in 1904, Brock was born in Wasco, Calif., in 1919, one of the many stops in the Methodist pastoral career of her father William. What her father and mother Myrtha gifted to her was music, something she has generously shared through her piano and organ playing for more than 80 years.
On a surprisingly cool late morning in May the smooth chiming of piano notes is heard from her doorstep. Stopping to greet a visitor, Brock rises from the piano in the living room of her El Centro home, answers the door and explains, “ Practicing for a memorial service on Saturday. They want The Beatles.”
Though her preferences tend toward chamber music and big bands, and her regular work as an organist is Sunday mornings at the First Methodist Church in El Centro, Brock spares room for the modern.
“ ‘Yesterday,’ ‘A Day In The Life,’ ‘Let It Be,’ ” she recounts when asked her Beatles favorites. “I think they’re fantastic. Their pieces are enduring. It was a gift of talent and the right combo got together.”
Encouraged by her parents, she took to the keyboards at age 4 and by age 10 had a regular engagement playing at her Sunday school. In the ensuing eight decades, the requests haven’t stopped. As with her recent birthday party, keeping it simple seems her secret to a long, fulfilling life.
“I’ve played for many organizations all my life. It just seems to me the thing you do” with a talent, Brock says with her usual clarity.
She laments there are fewer and fewer organists, her favorite keyboard, though one local musician has caught her ear.
“Matthew Edwards does wonderful pedal work,” she says of a fellow musician who plays at local Methodist churches. “He’s just a natural.”
Brock recalls she took to the keyboards “by ear” and while she eventually learned to read music, she still relies on her instincts.
“My great-granddaughter says, ‘You’re playing a song. Where’s the music (sheet)?’ I say, ‘Up here in my head,’ ” she smiles.
Despite her vast musical talent, Brock, true to women of her era, never strayed from home. Her family’s travels led back to Imperial Valley for several years in the 1930s and that was when she met the man she would eventually marry.
“He remembered me hitting him over the head with a Sunday school paper when I was in the sixth grade,” she says of her late husband Warren. “(Later) he was a mighty senior and I was a lowly freshman.”
They married in 1940 and had four children: Don, Jim, Mary Jean and David, all of whom play a musical instrument. The couple lived in Imperial Valley until 1971 when Warren Brock’s business activities moved them to Fresno. He was a farmer and also president of Valley Nitrogen for eight years. They returned to Imperial Valley in 1994. Warren Brock passed away in 2006.
Though her residency in Imperial Valley was sporadic throughout her life, she has many memories that are fading into history as Valley pioneers and their children pass on. Her father’s homestead still stands at the southwest corner of Dogwood Road and Malan Street in Brawley. When Reuben Malan arrived in 1904, the Imperial Valley was just three years past its first settlement. Imperial was incorporated that year as the Valley’s first city and Brawley would not follow until 1908.
“My granddad said when he lived there he could see the trains starting out from El Centro, it was so clear,” Brock says in disbelief and then adds, “I think that was a tall, tall tale.”
But Brock does remember the historic snow storm of 1932, the best photos of which are enlarged in the lobby of the Sun Community Federal Credit Union branch in El Centro.
“When we had our snow we went to see some Scottish singers. But everyone went outside to see it snow. We made a snowman that lasted for a week it was so cold,” she remembers.
Her major undertaking outside the home, aside from musical performances, was working for the blood bank in Fresno in the 1980s. It was a responsibility she recalls taking very seriously.
“It’s a very important thing if you’re the one asking the questions because although they do a lot of testing, you have to ask questions to know what’s in the (prospective donor’s) blood,” Brock says.
That meticulous nature is without a doubt a mainstay of her long musical career. So is having fun with music, which she recalls learning from an eccentric uncle when her family lived in the Los Angeles area. There were plenty of keyboards around as her mother’s father was a piano tuner in Baldwin Park.
“We had extras to play. We would just play things at will. He called himself ‘Professor Screw Loose,’ ” she says of the uncle, Donald Scott. “The whole family would come out and we would entertain them.”
After more than 80 years, that enthusiasm endures.“I’ve tried needlepoint and knitting,” Brock says of some passing fancies over the years, “but you get burned out on it. With music, I haven’t. It’s my one claim to talent.”