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First Person: A Life’s Trajectory Changed By A Grand Prize Win

Jackie Robinson Family YMCA executive director Michael Brunker in an undated ...

Credit: Jackie Robinson Family YMCA

Above: Jackie Robinson Family YMCA executive director Michael Brunker in an undated photo.

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Special Feature First Person

KPBS Midday Edition's First Person series tells the stories of average and not-so-average San Diegans in their own words. Their experiences, both universal and deeply personal, offer a unique lens into the news of the day.

Michael Brunker thinks back to his 11th birthday a lot. It was 1963 and Brunker lived with his parents in Detroit. Ernie Harwell, the Detroit Tigers' announcer, was officiating a raffle with a classic Motor City grand prize: his-and-hers cars, a Dodge Dart and Plymouth Fury.

Harwell picked Brunker’s mother’s postcard, leaving the 11-year-old Brunker dreaming of what might happen in just a few years.

“I’m thinking, I might drive one of those cars one day,” Brunker said.

But those dreams were soon dashed. Brunker’s father put the cars up for sale and used the money to put a down payment on a new home in a better neighborhood. Brunker changed schools and said the move changed his life, putting him on a trajectory to eventually coach basketball for the Detroit Pistons and San Diego State University.

“I often wonder, had that postcard been pulled out, had my mother not won those two cars, had she not taken the time to enter the contest, where would our lives be today?” he said. “I often think about that. Many times.”

Brunker is now executive director of the Jackie Robinson Family YMCA, where he’s been for the past 20 years. He recently oversaw a $28 million renovation, significantly updating the building and its equipment.

As part of our First Person series, Brunker shares his story.

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