Laura Segura, whose leadership at Monarch Services topped off a lifetime of service to the community in which she grew up, and who was as known for her fierce advocacy as she was for being an athlete, artist, friend and—for a small stretch in the 1990s—an aspiring rapper, died Thursday after a battle with cancer. She was 54.
“Laura really approached all of the work she did and the challenges the community faced in a we-can-do-it, we-can-figure-it-out attitude,” says Pajaro Valley Prevention and Student Assistance CEO Erica Padilla-Chavez. “She was one that always looked at the positive side of things, despite how big a challenge it was. And always was the encouraging voice reminding us that together we can achieve success.”
Segura attended Mintie White Elementary and E.A. Hall Middle schools, and graduated from Watsonville High School in 1985. The only of her six siblings to graduate college, she attended San Jose State University and Harvard Business School, says her sister Klaudia Segura-Splane.
She worked for the cities of San Jose and then Watsonville, where she worked for Head Start and was in charge of the city’s mural project.
She also worked for First 5 Santa Cruz County.
Susan True, who led First 5 before taking her current role as CEO of Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, describes Segura as an “incomparable woman” who, among other things, created a scholarship with her daughters to help Pajaro Valley youth who have faced struggles.
“Laura put her full heart into being a mother, daughter, sister, Tia, friend, colleague, activist, rapper, track star, glamorous presence, dancer, and voice for justice,” True said.
Segura-Splane says that Segura was one of the best female athletes to come out of Watsonville High, and never turned down a game. She also played basketball at Cabrillo College, and ran track at San Jose City College. She also participated in road bicycling, yoga and triathlons.
“She knew how to do everything in sports, and she was good at everything,” Segura-Splane says.
She adds that her sister was born with the innate fighter’s instincts of a “social injustice warrior,” which manifested itself at an early age.
“She was bossy,” she said. “She wanted to help those who were less fortunate than herself, and she wanted to make a difference in the community. She always did the right thing with family, friendsT and people in general.”
Diagnosed with cancer in 2018, Segura initially beat the disease, coming back to lead Monarch Services after several rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a bilateral mastectomy, and then radiation therapy.
But the cancer returned about one month ago, Segura-Splane says.
While her sister was most proud of her activism work, she also was an artist and seamstress who would make gifts for her friends. She also loved dancing and music, and took to the stage as a rapper, with Segura-Splane as a backup dancer.
“She had no fear,” she said. “She was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do when I go up there. I’m going to play it by ear.’ She wasn’t afraid to try anything.”
Segura’s friend Gina Cole, who graduated from WHS with her, describes her as a “force.”
“She was that kind of quiet background force, until she had to be right up in front, and then she was right up in front,” Cole said. “If there was an issue she was passionate about, and affected her clients at Defensa (the former name for Monarch Services) or the community at large, she was right there.”
Monarch Services Co-Executive Director Kalyne Foster Renda, who led the organization with Segura, said she fought from the moment she began her career for anyone who was marginalized or didn’t have a voice.
“There are some people who come into this world as this really bright light, and that’s just who Laura was,” Renda says. “Everywhere she went she was a confident leader. She would walk into a room and the room was filled with her and her presence, and she used her voice for good, and she used those gifts she came into the world with to create a better world for Santa Cruz County.”
Padilla-Chavez says that Segura served as a “compass” to which other nonprofit leaders looked for guidance.
“She reminded all of us that it’s not just about doing good work, it’s about doing the right work,” she said. “And it’s about making sure that all individuals, regardless of where they are in life, have equity and opportunity and an opportunity to really live a dignified life. She was the compass that reminded us of that.
“That’s a voice I am going to do my hardest to bring forward.”
Click here to make a donation to Segura’s scholarship fund.