Water in Their Blood

A family’s move to California produces 18 lifeguards over two generations.

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  • Written by
    Amber Klinck

In 1967, Liz and Jan Brouwer moved from Holland to California. Actually they moved from Holland to Canada, back to Holland, then to New York, back to Holland once more and then to California. Had this series of moves ended somewhere other than the sunny West Coast, we would have a completely different story.

It was Liz and Jan’s decision to raise their family by the beach that later contributed to each one of their five children becoming Los Angeles lifeguards. It set the stage for four of those children to meet, fall in love with and marry lifeguards. And it eventually led to 13 grandchildren, nine of whom (so far) have chosen to become lifeguards.

Growing up immersed in the SoCal lifestyle, all five of Liz and Jan’s children—Marjan, Joyce, Pattie, Ronne and Ricky—gravitated to the water at an early age. They either learned to swim at the Venice High School pool or the Santa Monica YMCA, and all shared an affinity for the ocean. But it was more than just the allure of working near water that drew the siblings to lifeguarding.

“Liz has one primary focus: You have to be in school or working,” says Steven Contarsy, describing his mother-in-law’s motivation to keep her family active with their studies and careers. During World War II, “they came from a country that had been occupied,” he explains. “Being able to choose your profession is a gift.”

For the Brouwer siblings, lifeguarding complemented their educational and professional aspirations. It kept them busy and working during the summer and allowed them to be an integral part of the SoCal way of life they knew and loved. 

By the time Liz and Jan’s 13 grandchildren were born, lifeguarding had become a family vocation. “I truly feel it comes down to the interaction between the families,” says Steven. “Everyone had similar interests.” Perhaps it was those similar interests that attracted the Brouwer siblings to other lifeguards.

The eldest of the Brouwer siblings, Marjan married her high school sweetheart, Mike Barnes. Both are LA City Lifeguards. The couple has three children: Kelci, a LACO Ocean Lifeguard, and Caitlin and Cori, who are both pool lifeguards in Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

Joyce Brouwer, a LA City Lifeguard, met Steven Contarsy, a LACO Ocean Lifeguard, in 1977. When asked if it was an instant love connection, Steve laughs and says, “For me, yes; it was her smile. For her, probably not.” The two married in 1987 and have three boys: Tyler and Toby, both LACO Ocean Lifeguards, and Dayne, a Long Beach Lifeguard.

Ronne Brouwer, a LACO Ocean Lifeguard and the youngest daughter of Liz and Jan, married retired LACO Lifeguard Captain, Jim Makuta. The couple has three children: Kailey and Ryan, who are both LACO Ocean Lifeguards, and Kira, who just finished ninth out of 229 applicants participating in the LACO Ocean Lifeguard Tryouts. 

Ricky, the only boy and the youngest of the Brouwer siblings, married Nathalie and both are LACO Ocean Lifeguards. The pair has four children: Shane, Kian, Sydney and Chase. 

Pattie Brouwer sadly died at age 31. She was also a LACO Lifeguard. 

Whether it was happenstance, a deep love of the water or the appeal of spending summers at the beach, 18 lifeguards have come from this one incredible family. “I never got into lifeguarding for an adventure,” says Steven, now a tenured professor and the head coach of men’s and women’s swimming and diving at Santa Monica College. “It was a lifestyle for me.” 
Whatever the reason, these men and women are drawn to the water … it’s in their blood.

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