Longtime Stater Bros. leader and San Bernardino supporter Jack H. Brown dies at 78

As the Stater Bros. supermarket chain began to grow rapidly under Jack H. Brown’s guidance, the chief executive resisted overtures to move  the company out of his home county of San Bernardino.

He said no to Los Angeles and Riverside and then to Nevada and Arizona, choosing instead to plant the company flag firmly in his hometown, a city that others had fled. Then he invested in the town, its charities and its children. 

“He did not forget his roots,” said Pat Morris, a longtime friend and a former San Bernardino mayor. “That’s the kind of guy he is. He just doesn’t stop giving back.”

Brown, the former chief executive and longtime leader of Stater Bros. Markets,  died Sunday at 78.

The company did not give a cause of death.

“Grief is not a strong enough word to describe what the Stater Bros. ‘Family’ feels,” Stater Bros. Chief Executive Pete Van Helden said in the statement. “Jack touched every one of us in a very personal way, and it is that legacy that we must carry forward.” 

Brown, a San Bernardino native, was first immersed in the grocery store business at age 13 when he got a job as a box boy at Berk’s Market Spot in his hometown.

He joined Stater Bros. in 1981 as the company’s president and served as chief executive and president for more than 35 years, according to Stater Bros. He stepped down from those positions earlier this year, assuming the role of executive chairman.

Under Brown’s watch, the Stater Bros. chain grew. In 1980, there were about 90 stores, according to the International Directory of Company Histories. As of October, the grocery chain had 169 locations.

The company’s expansion was aided in 1999 when Stater Bros. acquired 43 Albertson’s and Lucky supermarket stores, a divestment required by federal regulators to approve a $11.7-billion merger between Albertson’s Inc. and American Stores Co., Lucky’s parent firm. 

The privately held Stater Bros. has stayed independent for most of its history, turning down offers to merge or be acquired by other chains, according to Supermarket News. 

In a 2011 interview with the trade publication, Brown, then Stater Bros.’ chief executive, said he never found a company or investment group where he “felt comfortable putting the future of the Stater Bros. family in their hands.”

"I care a lot about these people,” he said. “They know it, I know it and even the customers know it, and that's why we call ourselves the Stater Bros. family.”

Throughout his career, Brown remained devoted to his hometown. In 2008, he moved its headquarters from Colton back to San Bernardino, spurning offers from Los Angeles and Riverside Counties. other cities and states.

In an interview with the Times in 2004, Brown said that “being able to keep the Stater Bros. family at home was something that was on our minds, although we had to make the best business decision for the company."

His dedication to San Bernardino also showed in the philanthropic causes he supported.

Brown created the nonprofit Stater Bros. Charities in 2008, and also was a founder of the Boys and Girls Club of San Bernardino, according to Stater Bros. Brown was the founding chairman of Children’s Fund of San Bernardino, a charity that helps at-risk youth.

“His legacy will live on in the hearts of the 1.4 million children we have been able to serve since he created us,” said Stacy Iverson, president and CEO of Children’s Fund. 

Brown also donated $10 million to California State University San Bernardino, which named its business and public administration school after him.

A Navy veteran, Brown also received awards recognizing his support of volunteer services for veterans and their families.

“Jack was probably the last of the great local charitable heroes that could always be called on,” Morris said. “It comes back down to this love of community, love of place.”

Morris first met Brown when the two were young men in their early 20s, working on the railroad to make money for college. Brown first studied business administration at San Bernardino Valley College in the late 1950s before attending San Jose State University and UCLA. 

Brown is survived by his wife, Debbie; daughters J. Kathleen Smith, Cara Hoffman and Melissa Koss; and seven grandchildren.

samantha.masunaga@latimes.com

For more business news, follow me @smasunaga

 


UPDATES:

3:20 p.m.: This article was updated to include more details about Brown’s philanthropic efforts and his impact at Stater Bros.

This article was originally published at 11:40 a.m.

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