Updated: Oct 18, 2018
This is an interview about a man named Robert Marc Braunstein, a man who shares my love for sports and athletes, as well as something that is very important to all those who are lucky enough to have…..a family, to love and be proud of.
It seems like a perfect place to start his story would be with what he learned from his family, his Mom and Dad. “Find a job you love and you’ll be successful.’ My father said.” This is what Robert told me when I asked about his parents. He went on to say that his mother had been a single woman for most of his childhood. She showed him what a strong woman can do.
Robert has two grown kids, Kelly and Daniel, 2 dogs, and has been married for almost 32 years to his wife, Annie. Annie has been a school teacher for many years and she currently teaches at Pinewood School in Los. Aside from those constants that make up his life, Robert has seen many things change in the 51 years he has spent living in Almaden Valley. Acres of houses now stand behind the house he grew up in Rolling Hills, which was at one time was the most southern part of Almaden Valley. The fields on the other side of the fence were stunning, full of plum orchards. The farmer who owned the land would hire fruit pickers who harvested the land. “They’d throw ‘em over the fence and we’d throw em’ back.” Robert said with a smile, enjoying a fond memory. It made me wish I could see the orchards because I’ve only ever known Almaden Valley as it is now, full of houses. “It didn’t last long.” He went on to say. In 1966 the houses began going up and the fields were transformed into what they are now. They are not the only thing that left a fond memory, though.
There was a place, Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor. The way Robert described the place and his experiences there paint a picture of the best first job a teen in the 70’s could ever wish for. As a shy kid, Farrell’s Ice Cream Shop brought him out of his shell. It was classic, when it was somebody’s birthday the staff would pull out all the stops. Free ice cream, singing, clapping, flashing the lights. Some things never change. Of course, it did change eventually, just like the fields. Robert worked there until the place eventually closed and with it went the glory of his first job as a dishwasher. One in which he had to lie about his age to get in the first place when he was 15 ½ as you couldn't be hired until the age of 16.
Besides Farrell’s, Robert grew up as a Boy Scout, playing little league baseball and taking another job delivering makeup to the many little beauty parlors while he lived in Missouri for a time when he was getting his graduate degree. Times were very different in the 70’s and many things happened to shape the Almaden Valley we know now. The schools have changed, along with the demographics of the students studying within them. The quality of those schools has always remained excellent, though, hence why so many people have chosen Almaden Valley as home.
Although he admits that his own high school successes were minimal, Robert has made being a part of a school environment one of his favorite things to do in combination with his other passion, television production. Once he figured it out, what his dad had told him about finding a job he loved, he was hooked. After attending the University of Missouri, he got a job in Laredo, Texas for a year and a half when he had an idea that has become his life's passion. An idea about a high school sports show. A chance to find young, hardworking and aspiring athletes, and help them promote themselves and share their talents with the world.
He said, “Never take no for an answer. When you really want to do something, with zero budget, and one sponsor, in two months we were the highest rated show on Channel 36.” And so 49er’s Cal-High Sports Show was born. And 27 years later, he is still doing it. “Everybody talks about kids being entitled, but with my job, I see a lot of young people that really work hard and are in some tough situations. They have a single mom at home and are just trying to get by.”
As with anywhere, there are always people who don’t have it all. As mentioned earlier, Robert’s parents got divorced when he was young and he lived with his own single mother too. He was lucky enough to have always had support from his father, but he has seen a lot of situations similar to his, and also much worse. He told me about a banquet at Levis’ stadium at the end of the year that is held for sports students and athletes who earn a scholarship. There were two students in particular who had been on the same stage in the same year once that he had found very inspiring. One boy had earned a scholarship from Brentwood, he was blind in one eye and had undergone many surgeries to try to help correct his condition. Regardless of this handicap, he was an amazing football player who gave it his all, and what he was awarded with was well-deserved. The other boy Robert spoke of was a boy who had been born with an enlarged heart and had had a heart transplant done at the age of three. There was a complication, however, that resulted in a blood clot in his spine, it left him paralyzed from the waist down. He survived and went on to play wheelchair basketball. The banquet is about great athletes who are supporting these kids who have in some cases had to overcome so much adversity to achieve their dreams.
I wanted to know what kind of people had inspired him. Immediately his mom and dad were at the top of the list, as well as Pat Tillman. Pat Tillman was an Almaden Valley man, an athlete, a Arizona State football star who played for the the NFL. His story has been covered in the news and media, but I found it a lot more personal coming from Robert as he had known Pat. It was 3 years after the 9/11 attacks when Pat had become very affected by the disaster. He was a philosophical man, adventurous and bold, and when the reality sunk in he left the NFL with his brother to join the army rangers and fight in Afghanistan. However, he wasn’t happy about the way the US was fighting the war and had planned to come home and talk about it, to share his opinions and thoughts on the situation. Six months before his planned return he was killed in an accident.
Though the loss of a star like Pat Tillman is something that leaves a scar on Almaden Valley, in Robert’s opinion, there are still so many things about this wonderful place we call home. “So many things.” He says with a smile, “Number one, it’s beautiful.” The area may have grown in housing numbers, but there are still many things Robert enjoys. “Walking the dogs along the Quicksilver Park trails, Almaden Lake, and the hills. The mines. The people.”
The diversity that has been growing here for so many years does nothing to diminish Almaden Valley's beauty, only to increase it. It’s the people that Robert loves most. The people that make this community so great and inspiring and always giving something back. The 70’s may be long gone but certainly not forgotten. Almaden Valley is just another part of the world that has experienced the same joys and misfortunes that have been felt everywhere. He still remembers the way the world stood still when he was 5 years old and John F. Kennedy was shot. “I remember when that happened. I remember being woken up and being told, ‘they killed the president.’” He still remembers when Bobby Kennedy was killed, and Martin Luther King in 1968. Though sometimes it can be easy to forget that there is a whole other part of the world outside of your little communities sometimes, it’s important to remember. “Every generation has its own turmoil.”
Though Robert feels privileged to have grown up in the area with the wonderful people that live here and the amazing atmosphere it provides, he still just wants to give back. Which is why he is so involved with young student athletes and the community. “If you are good to people, in the long run, it might someday come back to you. Do unto other’s as you would have done to you.” He said when I asked him what kind of advice he might give to someone my age.
Happiness is clearly something Robert has worked for and is very deserving of. We all know that the 70’s were a bit on the crazy side. It was a revolution of sorts and for Robert, whose parent’s were pretty hardcore democratic and part of the movement, it was a time of fluorescent T-shirts, long hair, and classic rock. “Times are different. We’re doing better with racism, sexism and respecting people for who they are now more than when minorities were fighting for equal rights in the 60’s and 70’s,” he said when I asked him about what he’s seen change in his time in Almaden.
“There are still kids in some places that just battle.” He finished. Not everywhere is rainbows and butterflies. There are still many places, some not very far from Almaden Valley, in which things are still hard. Even here, not everyone has a perfect life and a perfect job, living in their perfect house. From talking with Robert and the other people for this project it’s clear that they are thankful for what they have. And they realized that they are more fortunate than many people. Even the little things count, like the field of plum trees that once stood behind the fence of Rolling Hills.