Nevada County Super Senior: Willard ‘Bill’ Drown has donated to and volunteered with several organizations over the years
Special to The Union
Bill Drown’s Community Service (Partial List)
Nevada County Law Enforcement & Fire Protection Council
Nevada County Fire Safe Council
Nevada County Fish and Wildlife Commission
Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation
Nevada County Sportsmen’s Club
Sierra College Foundation
Beale SFB Honorary Commander
Kare Crisis Nursery
49er Rotary Club
Penn Valley Volunteer Fire Department
BSA Scoutmaster Troop 275
Nevada City Elks Lodge #518
Foothill Theater Company
Grass Valley Lions Club
Hospice of the Foothills
Sons in Retirement
Coalition for a Drug Free Nevada County
Willard “Bill” Drown was born into a wealthy and influential family.
It made him humble.
“My family was very philanthropic and involved in supporting hospitals, political leaders, and law enforcement,” said Drown, who grew up in the Bay Area. “God bless my family members who wrapped their wings around me and sent me in the right direction.
“It was about what we could give. I was taught how to raise money and use it to make things better for worthy organizations,” he added.
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In western Nevada County, Drown has financially supported and/or donated his time and expertise to more than two dozen nonprofit agencies. But what he enjoys most is helping first responders help others.
“My uncle was the police commissioner of San Francisco, and he always told me that first responders need to be taken care of,” said Drown. “They’re putting their lives on the line, and we need to make sure they get the tools they need. That’s been my mission and passion for years.”
In 1999, Drown founded the Nevada County Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Council, which has donated more than $1 million in equipment and training to local first responders.
Drown has since expanded his altruistic work to include other public safety agencies like the Nevada County Fire Safe Council and the Rüdiger Foundation.
Drown has also volunteered with the Grass Valley Police Department for nearly a decade.
“It’s a joy to go in every day and help make an officer’s job a little easier,” said Drown. “Once I walked in and saw a sergeant licking envelopes. I took the 500 envelopes, rounded up volunteers, and we sealed them all. We used sponges, by the way.”
Drown can also be a bit of a prankster. He took a life-sized cardboard cutout of Police Chief Alex Gammelgard eating super-sized donuts and asked downtown merchants to pose with it. Drown took dozens of playful photos and gave them to Gammelgard as a gift.
In 2015, Drown was named Grass Valley Police Department Volunteer of the Year in honor of the more than 1,500 hours he contributed that year.
This Super Senior has been presented with many other awards: National Silver Beaver Award from the Boy Scouts of America, Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation’s Curtis Grimes Perpetual Award, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Meritorious Award, and the Public Safety Commitment Award from the Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Council he founded — an award now called the Bill & Susan Drown Public Safety Commitment Award.
‘The best thing’
Drown said he was a “struggling bachelor” in 1977 when he met Susan Trump.
“I invited her out to Denny’s in the Brunswick Basin, and after dinner we went to a movie,” said Drown. “We took my 1969 baby blue Cadillac with a white interior. I was so smitten, I could hardly talk.”
Drown was a tennis pro for Marks Sports, and was often spotted around town wearing the teeny-tiniest of tennis shorts.
“Every time we went out to dinner, some young woman would come up and ask, ‘Oh Billy, do you still teach tennis?’” said Susan. “And I would reply, ‘No, so get over it.’ And when women finally stopped approaching him, that’s when I agreed to marry him.”
“Meeting and marrying Susan was the best thing that happened to me,” said Drown.
A product of Bay Area boarding schools, Drown had attended cotillions and debutante balls.
“But I didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in my mouth,” laughed Drown. “I made sure I took it out early. I’ve been around too many spoiled people with money.”
Drown turned to another sort of green: the great outdoors.
“I’m an outdoor fishin’ and huntin’ kinda guy,” said Drown, a past president and long-time member of the Nevada County Sportsmen’s Club.
Drown combined his love for the outdoors and law enforcement when he joined the Marin County Sheriff’s Marine Patrol. Later, Drown dabbled in tungsten and gold mining in Nevada.
After moving to Nevada County in 1970, he worked as a security guard, private investigator, process server, and regional manager for the Byers Leafguard Gutters Costco events team.
What Drown saw there infuriated him.
“It would break my heart as I watched young people bring in their older family members and leave them at Costco when it opened,” said Drown. “Then they’d come back at four and pick them up. I got to know some of the elderly and looked out for them. Some were in wheelchairs; others had canes and walkers. It was the epitome of the throw-away society.”
Earlier, when his aunt in San Francisco had developed Alzheimer’s, Bill moved into her San Francisco home to care for her. He and Susan later brought the aunt to Nevada County and cared for her until she passed away.
“The doctors said to send her to a nursing home, but I wouldn’t do it,” said Drown. “You take care of your own.”
Drown, 77, was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Doctors told him chemotherapy and/or radiation would not change Drown’s prognosis, so his plans are simple: go fishing and hunting with friends, and continue to serve his community.
“I am going to continue to do all I can that is important and meaningful,” said Drown. “I’m not going down without a fight.”
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. To suggest someone to be profiled as a Super Senior, contact Lorraine at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com
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