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Honored Alumni Honoree Fred Brown Reflects on His Legacy at Cal Poly

Alumnus Fred Brown holding a photo of himself during his time at Cal Poly.

Fred Brown (Physical Education and Biological Sciences, ‘63) has ties to Cal Poly that go back more than six decades. Over the years, Brown has kept Cal Poly close to his heart, through his lifelong bond with fellow survivors of the tragic 1960 Cal Poly football team plane crash, his career of coaching generations of student-athletes and his decades of fundraising efforts to support Cal Poly students. For this and so much more, Brown will be honored as the Cal Poly Alumni Association Distinguished Service Award Honoree at the Honored Alumni Awards and Celebration, to be held Friday, Oct. 27.

As an ardent supporter of Cal Poly and of student success, Brown has channeled his love of athletics into his involvement in one of the longest-running Cal Poly fundraising events, the Cal Poly Alumni Association's Greater Bay Area Golf Tournament. Over the last 20 years, the event has provided scholarship funds to more than 150 Bay Area students. 

The 2023 tournament will mark a farewell for the tournament, and Brown hopes the event, to be held Monday, Oct. 23, will end as it began — successfully raising funds to help students. 

“We've earmarked these funds to students from the East Bay and tried to make their stay at Cal Poly a little easier,” he explained. “I know the ones who have responded back really appreciate the financial assistance. That's the positive side of being involved with the golf tournament.” 

Fred Brown, looking out at Spanos Stadium.

Brown’s own journey to becoming a Mustang had an unlikely start at a different Cal. “I was originally recruited at Cal Poly, but I went to Cal Berkeley,” he said. A couple of years later he made the transfer to Cal Poly. While initially enrolled as an engineering student, it was during his time as a dual sport student-athlete that Brown discovered a passion for coaching and switched majors to physical education. 

After playing both football and basketball as a Mustang, his first job after graduation was as a high school football and swimming coach. He went on to coach men’s and women’s basketball, and over the years has seen many of his athletes go on to attend and play for Cal Poly. He is still coaching at a community college today.  

"As I've been coaching over the last 45 and 50 years... I now see the grandkids that my former athletes have after I've coached their kids,” he said. “That's just a great experience." 

Brown has been part of many athlete’s stories over the years. His own story unfortunately includes one of the darkest days in Cal Poly history, when the plane carrying Brown and fellow members of the 1960 Cal Poly football team crashed in Ohio. 

Brown credits a twist of fate for saving his life that night. Just before takeoff he switched seats from the front to the back of the plane to make room for the mother and sister-in-law of the co-pilot. He survived the crash while those who took his seat in the front perished, along with 16 Mustang football players, the student manager, a team booster and both pilots. 

Fred Brown looking at an article about the 1960 Cal Poly football team plane crash.

"You never get over that," he said. “I have had nightmares. Different things may trigger it.” 

Over the years Brown stayed in touch with his fellow teammates and was there at the dedication of the Mustang Memorial Plaza. 

“The ones who became my really close friends were the ones that were in the accident who survived that I hardly even knew before,” he said. “There's eight or nine of us that are very close and we get together at least twice a year." 

Despite enduring tragedy, Brown didn’t let that event change his feelings toward his alma mater. In fact, Brown's is a true Cal Poly legacy family. His daughter Nicole Yuen (Speech Communication, '93) along with his granddaughters, Bailey Yuen (Graphic Communication, '20) and Reilly Yuen, all attended Cal Poly. Fred’s brother Bill Brown (Social Sciences, '65, M.A., Education, '67), his sister-in-law Rose Brown (Elementary Education, '65), and his niece Keri Monroe (Agricultural Management, '88) Keri’s husband, Dan Monroe (Engineering Technology, ’88) and her daughter Molly Monroe (Kinesiology ’21) are also proud Mustangs. 

“It's still a small college,” Brown said. “The friendships you develop are lifelong and that's what's been important to me.” 

In addition to staying involved at Cal Poly, today Brown continues to stay active in Northern California as a women’s basketball coach at Merritt Community College, and through the co-ownership of The Canyon Swim School, which he and his brother have run since 1976. But most important to Brown is his wife, Carol. 

“She was my best friend in high school," he said. “And we dated throughout college." She means everything to me. She’s the key to our family togetherness. It's just been a wonderful lifetime with her." 

Fred and Carol brown.