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August 9, 2022

Watsonville historian Lou Arbanas dies

WATSONVILLE—Watsonville native Lou Arbanas was considered by many to be a living encyclopedia for his knowledge of the history of the Pajaro Valley. A longtime fixture at the Pajaro Valley Historical Association, Arbanas died Nov. 14 after a brief illness. He was 78.

“He was a part of everything at the Pajaro Valley Historical Association,” said Bill Beecher, volunteer historian at PVHA. “I didn’t have a brother and Louis was that brother to me. He loved everything about the Pajaro Valley. The late Jane Borg was his mentor and he just took off from there. You couldn’t slow him down—he was so passionate about the history of this area.”

Beecher said that the advanced computer skills that Arbanas brought to the PVHA transformed their direction.

“His knowledge of computers, digital archiving and photo scanning changed this place and how we began to move forward,” Beecher said. “He moved us into computers so our material could be shared around the world. He curated so much material and gave us direction on how to handle it.” 

Beecher said Arbanas studied at the University of San Francisco and then became a district manager for Safeway stores for decades before retiring.

PVHA board vice president Chuck Allen described Arbanas as “a scholar and a gentleman.”

“I have the deepest respect for Lou and for his vast knowledge of the Pajaro Valley,” said Allen, the Pajaro Valley Chamber’s Man of the Year for 2020. “He was always eager to share his knowledge of so many people—and important people—in this area. He was the epitome of a friend and a valuable stakeholder here at the Pajaro Valley Historical Association.”

PVHA office administrator Jodi Frensley said that Arbanas “was always my back up and I am going to deeply miss that. We had such a nice friendship.” 

Frensley said Arbanas also played a big role in Slavic American Cultural Organization, or SACO. He also maintained regular communications and support with historical documents with museums around Monterey Bay.

Amateur radio buff Clint Ramer of Auto Care Towing in Watsonville said Arbanas was a longtime amateur radio enthusiast. In fact, he played a huge role as a volunteer in 2008, Ramer said, when someone cut a fiber optics cable, disabling communications at Watsonville Community Hospital, among other places.

“Lou stepped in as a member of the Santa Cruz Amateur Radio Club and reestablished radio communications for the Hospital,” Ramer said. “That’s what kind of person he was: There to help.” 

He said Arbanas operated for years as the Monterey County Emergency Coordinator for Amateur Radio.

PVHA volunteer Susan Jacobs said Arbanas’s death came as a shock.

“This was unexpected,” she said. “He was always such a pleasant person to work with.” 

She said he was rushed to a hospital in the Bay Area where he died.

A student of Notre Dame Elementary School and a graduate of Mora High School, Arbanas’s father was born in Croatia while his mother was from Italy, Jacobs said.

“Everyone here would always say ‘I’ll just go ask Lou.’ But those days are over now,” Jacobs said. “That’s going to be tough. Lou did so much for this place; he was so generous.”

Beecher summed up his feelings: “We lost a good friend.”

Tarmo Hannula
Tarmo Hannula has been the lead photographer with The Pajaronian newspaper in Watsonville since 1997. He also reports on a wide range of topics, including police, fire, environment, schools, the arts and events. A fifth generation Californian, Tarmo was born in the Mother Lode of the Sierra (Columbia) and has lived in Santa Cruz County since the late 1970s. He earned a BA from UC Santa Cruz and has traveled to 33 countries.

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