More detail on this person: A Tribute to the Life of Steve Brownell As told by his daughter, Amy: Husband, father, grandfather. U.S. Army veteran, firefighter, outdoorsman, teacher, cancer survivor, and friend. In his 70 years on Earth, Steve Brownell lived a rich, full life of dedication to his family and community. He passed away on Nov. 19, 2016 due to complications from his longtime battle with Parkinson's disease caused by Agent Orange exposure. To those who knew him, Steve was an inspirational man who gave much and loved even more. To them, "Pops" fought the good fight and will survive forever in their hearts. Steve's story began in 1946 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The oldest child to Donald and Lorraine Brownell and brother to Leslie, he enjoyed the rural simplicity of the time. He loved to tell us how, as a young boy, his grandmother would send him with a large bag of popcorn and a jug of 7-UP to the local movie theater by way of the bus. There, he would stay all day, hopping from one movie to another, enjoying classic Westerns. As a child, Steve survived polio, the first of many life-changing events, each one shaping him and making him stronger. Dad's family moved west to Long Beach, Calif. where he quickly embraced the So Cal life. He threw a mean Little League pitch, became an enthusiastic Boy Scout and a nature lover. He enjoyed camping and hiking and started a relationship with the outdoors, and community service, that would last his entire life. As a teen, Steve loved to dance. He danced on Wink Martindale's show "Wink's Dance Party" from Santa Monica's Pacific Ocean Park. (He loved dancing so much, he would later chaperone many of my school dances, which I forgave him for.) On a blind date, my dad met Shirley Kinz and it was truly love at first sight. Within just two weeks, the couple was engaged! With the Vietnam War looming in the background, Steve was drafted into the Army. He attended Officer's Candidate School followed by Flight School. He trained to become a helicopter pilot and at age 22, Steve was sent to Vietnam. He flew scouting and rescue missions in a LOH helicopter. He was awarded many medals, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. Steve's intelligence, dexterity and quick thinking contributed to his survival_ he came home with his sense of humor still in tact. In San Diego, Steve began his career as a firefighter for the city of La Mesa. He embraced the role of protector and first responder, going on to serve for 29 years with the fire department, retiring as Division Fire Chief. I arrived in 1970 and my brother, Greg, followed in 1974. Dad was an extremely hands-on parent. He loved volunteering at our schools. We always looked forward to Halloween when he would roll "the world's largest pumpkin" into our classrooms in a wheelbarrow. He sewed our Halloween costumes and he coached our soccer and Little League teams. He taught us the importance of being a team player and a good sport. (Well, he was once tossed out of a game with a red card, but only because he was defending my brother!) Dad was a soccer enthusiast and played in an adult soccer league for years. My dad was a huge influence during my Camp Fire Girl days. We camped, canoed down the Colorado River and played in the Cuyamacas. Dad hiked whenever he had the chance and only stopped summiting Cowles Mtn. when it became too physically difficult. Dad could make or fix anything. Anything MacGyver could do, dad could do better. He built skateboard ramps with Greg and the two fixed bikes and cars side-by-side. He taught us constantly. During our frequent family vacations to Big Bear Lake, he'd show us how to bait a hook, to properly gut a fish, to construct a S'more and to build a roaring campfire. He was brave in more ways than one. One summer he enthusiastically piled us all into the family car and set off on a cross-country expedition to show us the history of Washington, D.C. - along with other "important" sites like the largest ball of mud. Dad had many hidden talents. He excelled at gardening, gift wrapping, yo-yoing and could jump through his leg. He loved antics and jokes. He made all the floral arrangements for my wedding. He had excellent taste in music and could make a mean `mix 8-track tape'. He introduced us to The Beatles, Stevie Nicks, The Stones, The Beach Boys, The Eagles and CCR. Dad was a true Southern Californian and he was known far and wide for his signature look, shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. He was proud of the fact he wore shorts to Yosemite in the middle of winter, never claiming to be cold. He would ask me, "Can I wear shorts to this event? Or do I need my dressy shorts?" Of course it was the same pair. When his grandchildren were born, Dad relished his new position as grandfather. "Pops" loved to spoil Lucy and Luke with merry-go-round rides, everything in the dessert category, anything served on a silver platter, by inventing games, putting on puppet shows, attending their school performances and showering them with affection. One of his greatest regrets about getting ill was that he wouldn't be able to do as much with his grandchildren. He adored them and they adored him back. Throughout his life, Dad advocated for the vulnerable and the disabled and spoke up for human rights. He would not tolerate bigotry or apathy, and he instilled in us the importance of empathy, a good education and manners. He always inspired his family and friends to serve. We were taught the value of volunteerism and what it means to truly `help' someone in need. Dad taught fire science classes at Miramar and Grossmont colleges. He loved working with young adults and helping them on their life path. For more than 50 years, my parents enjoyed their life together. They especially loved the holidays, strolling through the garden section at Home Depot together, planning activities to do with their grandchildren and traveling until his illness made it too difficult. When he was diagnosed with Parkinsons, he fought bravely with the support of his family, but more importantly my mom, who for the last 3 years was his caretaker. They truly honored each other in sickness and health. My mom holding his hand as he left us. My brother, Bret, Kelly and I were, and always will be, inspired by the love and respect they shared. We are grateful for the incredible care and compassion of Dr. Steven La Fond who gave our dad dignity and empathy in his final days, a fitting tribute to a man who spent his life helping others. Steve leaves behind his beloved wife of 50 years, Shirley; his daughter, Amy, devoted son-in-law, Bret Conover; his son, Greg, loving daughter-in-law, Kelly; his grandchildren, Lucy and Luke; his sister, Leslie, and brother-in-law, Tony Craft; his nephew, Steven; sister-in-law, Ginny, and brother-in-law, Bob Winslow; and nieces Cindy and Cheryl. He also leaves behind many close friends, community members, neighbors and a brotherhood of firefighters.
This information was last updated 01/27/2020
Please send additions or corrections to: HQ@vhpa.org VHPA Headquarters
Return to the Helicopter Pilot DAT name list
Return to VHPA web site
Date posted on this site: 09/05/2022
Copyright © 1998 - 2022 Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association