Schools & Education

Former sheriff establishing college fund in wake of tragic loss

Former San Benito County Sheriff Curtis Hill works with university to start a college fund for local student after hearing about the tragic death of Mark Vodanovich.
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Early in the morning of Feb. 17, Hollister resident Mark Vodanovich got ready for work. He heard the terrible wind storms blowing outside, so he made sure to tell his two children and his wife that he loved them, and to stay safe. Later that morning, Vodanovich, a 54-year-old ranch manger, was killed when a tree fell on his truck in Gilroy. Vodanovich leaves behind his wife, Georgina, his daughter, Mia, and his son, Alex.

Vodanovich had been working at C & F Farms in Gilroy for about four years. There, he managed the shop, equipment, schedules, and other all-around managerial duties. In a phone interview with BenitoLink, C&F owner Mike Chuck recalled that Vodanovich was the sort of guy who “rolled up his sleeves. He went in there, and fixed the problem for you… Just a super good guy.”

Before they were co-workers, Chuck and Vodanovich were lifelong friends. Chuck was Vodanovich’s best man at his wedding. “Our folks were friends,” said Chuck. Both fathers were of Yugoslavian descent, which connected the two families. “[Our parents] grew up in neighboring towns and were friends before Mark and I were born.”  

As adults, Vodanovich stayed involved with his community through sports, which he encouraged Chuck to play. Vodanovich did a lot of volunteering work with softball teams, and was a Babe Ruth league baseball coach. He was an accomplished athlete at Sunnyvale High School, where he played football, baseball and basketball. Chuck also knows how much Vodanovich loved his family. “He took such pride in them,” Chuck said.

Curtis Hill, former San Benito County Sheriff, knows the Vodanovich family through his son, Kevin, who is Mia’s good friend. Kevin and Mia met as freshmen at San Benito High School. When Hill heard that Mia lost her father, he was shocked, and immediately thought about what that meant for the Vodanovich family. Hill told BenitoLink, “My wife and I looked at each other and went 'Is Mia going to be able to finish her education? How’s she going to do this?'” 

Vodanovich was the family’s breadwinner. He was “working all the time and providing for those kids,” says Hill. Alex Vodanovich, 16, is a freshman at SBHS. Mia, 22, was the first person in her family to earn a bachelors degree, and is now supporting herself as a preschool teacher while also a graduate student at Notre Dame de Namur University (NDNU), where she studies English literature. 

It’s a busy schedule for an industrious young woman, but Mia loves her work. She teaches at Kindercourt Academy in San Carlos. The job, she says, “helps me keep busy, and helps me keep my mind off of things.” After finishing her master's work, Mia plans to teach at colleges and universities.

To help out the family, Hill, who is now retired, worked with the university to set up the San Benito County Expendable Scholarship Fund. Hill set a personal fundraising goal of $50,000, which he hopes will cover Mia’s expenses while she finishes school. Donations are tax-deductible, and Mia will be the first recipient of the money raised. Any money that is left over will stay in the fund, to be used for other deserving students from San Benito County who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. 

“I have so much gratitude and so much love just knowing that [the Hill family] is on my side in the hardest time of my life,” said Mia.

Donate to the Scholarship Fund by visiting NDNU’s Giving page. Then click “Make a Gift.” Under “Designation,” select “Other” and type in, “San Benito County Expendable Scholarship Fund.” Donations are also accepted via phone by calling NDNU at (650) 508-4161, or send a check to:

Notre Dame de Namur University

1500 Ralston Avenue

Belmont, CA 94002

Attn: San Benito County Expendable Scholarship Fund

jessicacaimi

Jessica is a writer from Los Angeles, California. After studying Literature and Film Theory at Harvard, she traveled the world as a journalist. To date, Jessica has visited more than 40 countries and written about international civil rights, subversive art and music, Chilean wine, and everything in between. Jessica is also a skilled content strategist and has lent her storytelling expertise to leading tech companies in Silicon Valley. Find her on Twitter @JessicaCaimi