When talking about what makes Coronado, Coronado, no discussion would be complete without touching on community and the people within it. In Coronado we are blessed to have a level of community engagement that makes the city truly unique, something that long-time resident, Cathy Brown, is a big believer in and even bigger proponent of.

Brown was the recipient of the Lewis R. Hardy Jr. Memorial Award, presented by the Chamber of Commerce, at this month’s Celebrate Coronado event. Named in dedication of Captain Lewis R. Hardy Jr., Naval Aviator and instructor who served in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War as well as dedicated his time to Coronado in a variety of ways, Hardy was an involved member of the Chamber of Commerce and served on city council where he strove to make the island the best place it could be for all Coronadans.

“I was so ridiculously surprised,” Brown began when I asked what she was feeling as her name was announced at the ceremony for the award. “I thought I was there to support Tom and Donna Latona, the owners of High Tide Pizza, because they have done so much for this community and they’re constantly giving back. I had no idea! But I was very grateful.” With a laugh, she added, “When they mentioned Cape Cod, I was wondering if there was somebody else from there before it clicked and that’s when I realized I was duped, but in a wonderfully, positive way.”

Brown joins a number of distinguished Coronado community members to receive the award, dating back to 1966. “For me to join them…what an honor,” she said. “It is nice to get recognized for the work, but it’s really out of love that you do things and my pride for this community just goes up a million times.”

In the outline of the award’s ideals which Lewis R. Hardy Jr. personified, the Chamber of Commerce includes, “The Award shall be made to a person who has made relevant and significant business and civic contributions which have served to enhance all aspects of life in the community.” Nothing could better describe Brown, who has volunteered her time and efforts to the community since moving to Coronado in 1995.

“When I moved here, I didn’t have any kids to meet people via school and I wasn’t military, but the one thing I did have was my time, so I started volunteering,” Brown began. “I joined the Junior Woman’s Club and I met some incredible, wonderful women that I’m still good friends with today. …From then, I really just did a lot of volunteer work.” These days Brown serves on the boards for Coronado’s Concerts in the Park organization, the Coronado Real Estate Association, and for Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego.

The Concerts in the Park are near and dear to Brown’s heart and she knows just how important they are to the community as well. Brown became president of Coronado Promenade Concerts (CPC) when Floyd Ross, one of the early supporters of the event in Coronado, decided to make it a non-profit organization in 2010 to ensure a long future for the concerts in honor of his wife, Mary King-Ross, who helped co-found the series in the early 70s. “I love how we’ve been able to take the concert series now and bring it to another level,” she mentioned. “There’s a level of expectation now that we’re going to have some really great music, and lots of different types of music, which is very important. That’s what our mission statement is; it’s a cultural experience to bring people together and introduce them to lots of different types of music and provide a musical experience.”

As president, Brown is directly involved with the many ins and outs that come with booking bands and creating a schedule that suits the community’s wants and needs each year. “Everybody knows a band,” she laughed. “But our committee members will look at every single request…and throughout the years we’ve really developed a good process. When we’re at the concerts we’re working; making sure people are safe, and happy, and just having a good time. That’s what our job is – to make people smile.”

And while there’s a lot of work involved to make that happen – combing through potential band’s material and past performances, finding bands that can play for 90 minutes straight, coordinating schedules, and more – it’s worth it to Brown who loves seeing the community come together and the special moments she’s been able to help orchestrate through it.

“I love the engagements,” she told me with a smile. “We had a marriage proposal just recently on Labor Day weekend, a gentlemen had come up to us and asked if we could sing for his girlfriend’s birthday. It was the end of the season so we said why not, but then he also mentioned that he wanted to propose to her there. I pulled him aside and asked if he was really sure she was going to say yes, not maybe sure, absolutely sure. He was, so [the band] was able to get them up on the stage so he could sing her happy birthday and at the end of it he got down on one knee and she said yes.” There have been a few instances throughout her time as CPC’s president that Brown been able to help local couples share a special moment at these community-favorite outings.

Not only do the concerts add something to the community, but CPC also helps support local bands. “Our game plan is to have a variety of musicians, and especially with the past couple of years now, a lot of bands are not around so this past year we really wanted to make sure we focus on the local bands,” Brown explained. “In 2020 the board took a vote and all the local bands that were on the schedule to play in 2020, we sent them their money and just basically said, ‘We hope this helps and just know that we’re thinking of you.’”

Similarly, CPC decided this past summer to invite the non-profit sponsors of the concert series to come and set up tents during the kick-off concert on Memorial Day weekend and give Coronadans a chance to get to know them. “We have some awesome organizations [in Coronado], we really do,” Brown mentioned. “When we came up for that idea for the last concert to invite the non-profits and give them an opportunity to do public awareness…it was a way to say, ‘Hey look, if there’s something you want to get involved in but you don’t really know about it, it’s so nice and easy when they’re just right there at your fingertips.” It’s something Brown says CPC would like to offer again next summer.

With the concerts able to resume in person this past summer, Brown added that, “This year people needed joy.” Despite not being able to put together a program and get sponsorships ahead of time as they normally would, the board decided to use their reserve funds to make sure Coronadans had a concert season to enjoy this year. “The National Honor Society students helped us with the red [donation] buckets, and they were phenomenal. I cannot give enough credit to those students and our team leaders, working together and bringing us the success that they achieved. We are so grateful.”

Brown’s involvement on the Board of Advisor’s for the local Rady Children’s Hospital support branch also sees her involvement in community events like the annual Turkey Trot. “Each year we take a vote and whatever funds we raise will go to a specific program within Rady’s,” she explained. If a family in Coronado had an experience with Rady’s they can take that into account and focus on that medical area that may have a special significance to the community.

The Turkey Trot is coming up on Thanksgiving morning, Nov. 25, and every year Brown loves seeing the community come together and supporting the cause. “If we have any leftover t-shirts, backpacks, or turkey hats, I’ll drive them over to Rady’s later that morning and they hand them out to the kids that day,” she added. “This is our eighth year doing [the Turkey Trot] and I’m so proud of what we’ve been able to do. We’ve raised and donated over a quarter of a million dollars to Rady’s, and one thing we are exceptionally proud of is that because of the community involvement and different levels of sponsorship…it allows us to have the entire costs of the race underwritten, which means that every single penny of everyone’s registration goes to Rady’s,” Brown mentioned. “We can always use additional help – it allows us to do more and donate more – and this year our goal is to raise $100,000.”

On top of that, Brown dedicates her time as a board member for the Coronado Real Estate Association (CREA). CREA offers resources to real estate professionals and home owners in Coronado with weekly meetings and events that give back to the community. “[CREA] has just really taken the group over the years to the point of a Wednesday morning professional development day,” she explained. “For an hour of your time, you’re meeting other agents…general contractors, insurance people and having that interaction with affiliates as well as other agents.”

For Brown, being able to cultivate those relationships, especially at a local level, and help other professionals in Coronado do the same is another way to give back and strengthen the community. “From a professional standpoint, you get to meet people which you’re hopefully going to work with in the future and it’s nice to get to know them,” Brown commented. “As an organization within the city, I think CREA is so important.”

For Brown, serving her community is a way of life. “I’ve just always been a volunteer and I’m pretty sure this comes from my mother. If somebody needed help, you just do it.” She remembers the adults that volunteered their time to make sure she had sports leagues and other fun events to participate in as a kid and sees this as her time to pay that forward. “When you volunteer you don’t do things so you can get trophies, you do it because you’re wanting to give back. Do it for the next group that comes up. I think that’s how our traditions continue.”

“Make people happy,” Brown continued. “It’s not that difficult if you just try, and that’s all we’re doing. Just bring a little bit of yourself. You don’t need to give 100% percent of yourself, 100 percent of the time,” she added as a reminder. “If you just give a little bit of yourself, a little bit of the time, it has a wonderful cumulative effect where these wonderful projects will come to fruition.” Brown says it’s the same thing whether you’re giving time or donating money to something like the Turkey Trot or the concerts; every little bit counts and that’s what adds up to creating a community that people want to be a part of. “The quality of everyone’s life improves when we’re an engaged community.”

For now, Brown has no plans of slowing down and next up for her is organizing the upcoming Turkey Trot and planning next summer’s celebration of 50 years of Concerts in the Park in Coronado. “We’re exceptionally blessed to be here,” she added as our conversation came to an end, “and we only get one chance at life so we may as well engage in it to the fullest extent.”

For more information about, or how to get in touch with Cathy regarding involvement in either event, visit https://runsignup.com/Race/CA/Coronado/Coronado5KTurkeyTrot and https://coronadoconcert.com/. New people are always welcome and needed to keep a good program running smoothly.

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