‘Justice in the world’

James F. Brobin

Late Mounds View coach honored with foundation

On its website, the James F. Brobin Legacy Foundation displays one of Jim Brobin’s treasured quotes: “There is justice in the world. The University of Minnesota tore down a football stadium to build a swimming pool.”

A longtime biology teacher and swimming coach at Mounds View High School, Brobin got his name displayed in that same university aquatics center when he was inducted into the hall of fame for Minnesota swimming coaches in 1999.  

Having manned the school’s pool and biology classroom for 34 years, Brobin’s larger than life personality and notoriously tough workouts made him a lasting part of MVHS history. After his death in 2017 at the age of 82, former students and family members gathered to create a philanthropic foundation in his honor. 

The non-profit, which officially launched in December 2018, just awarded its first scholarship to a student at St. Cloud State University, Brobin’s alma mater.

The $1,000 award will go annually to someone studying either teaching or the natural sciences at St. Cloud State, selected by the university’s scholarship office. This year, the scholarship went to a rising sophomore studying secondary education. 

Natalie Bonfig, foundation vice chair and Brobin’s daughter, notes that the foundation was looking for students who were working their way through school and needed an extra boost to keep going. 

Brobin had had to work his way through college to earn his teaching degree, and Bonfig said that the work ethic he built as a college student helped make him a successful teacher and coach.

“He was tough, but he was very beloved by his swimmers and students,” she says. “He would get letters from people that took his biology class and they would say they never had a class as tough as his, even in college.”

She also remembers visiting teams’ disbelief when looking at the swim team’s posted workout. Brobin would often have students swim up to five miles during a practice. Still, absolute beginners could find a home on the team.  

“He had a way of reaching every student,” recalls Bonfig. “One of the guys on the [foundation] committee, he had never swam competitively. He started in lane one and wore surfing shorts; everybody made fun of him. He ended up moving all the way up to lane four or five, where the faster swimmers swim, and became a captain.”

Many students also took the habits they learned on the team and practiced them in the classroom. One of the years that the team won the state tournament, five of the swimmers were among the top 10 students in the high school. 

Bonfig also notes that, although her father expected a lot, he looked for the best in his students and gave those who were struggling the opportunity to succeed. 

“He really took care of those kids that might have gotten in trouble, he knew that swimming was the only thing in their life,” she says.

The foundation, created primarily by former students, is a testament to the effect that Brobin had and a way for his legacy to continue to make an impact. In addition to the scholarship program, the organization hopes to provide funding for under-resourced aquatics programs and environmental stewardship, causes near to Brobin’s heart. 

Those wishing to get involved can do so through the foundation’s website, www.brobinlegacy.org, or by reaching out to Natalie Bonfig at natbonfig@yahoo.com.


–Bridget Kranz can be reached at bkranz@lillienews.com or 651-748-7825.

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