Come meet Zuri, Fred, Ethel and Jeannie Brown, the Zebra Lady With an Indomitable Spirit
On July 29, 2015, Jeannie suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage and subsequent stroke during routine surgery. Jeannie has extensive brain trauma due to this bleed and will require many months of care and rehabilitation. Please support the Brown family as they help Jeannie heal by contributing to the “Brown Family Charitable Fund” at any America First Credit Union, or making a donation at youcaring.com/zebralady If you ever have taken a stroll on the Porter Rockwell Trail, on the east side of Draper, there are several landmarks you will notice; the bridge at 1300 east, an imposing, rusting dinosaur sculpture near Deer Hollow Park, and of course the zebra house at the crossroads of Boulter Street and the abandoned railroad tracks. For the past 20 years, Jeannie and Jim Brown and their two sons Cody and Nathan have lived at the “zebra house” and made it their own. It is a quirky and charming historic pioneer house and a veritable animal rescue. Affectionately known as the “Zebra Lady,” Jeannie is as dynamic and interesting as the house she lives in. The zebra house and Jeannie are one of the many charming gems in the city of Draper.
The first thing I asked Brown when I sat down with her was why in the world she had a zebra in her back yard. “I bought him to break to ride, but he never grew!” This was an unexpected answer. It is odd enough to own a zebra, but to acquire a zebra with the intent to domesticate it and ride it took me by surprise. However, the more I talked to Brown, the more I realized that it is not at all surprising for her. Jeannie Brown is a person who is not afraid to try things and clearly loves life. It really shows when you walk past her eccentric house. The front is colorful, ornamented, and full of beautiful flowers and majestic ash trees. In the back is a large animal yard, home to horses, two emus, a menagerie of birds and the beloved zebra named Zuri. Zuri is Swahili and means very handsome. The zebra is very handsome and according to Brown, a bit of a stinker. She explained that he just never grew big enough to support a rider, which is probably why there are tons of zebras in Africa and they have never been very useful for human beings. Their feet are too small to support riders and they just don’t get big enough, like a horse. I asked her why she thought she was the one who would be able to finally ride a zebra and in a blunt, matter-of-fact tone she quickly replied, “Because I can do anything I want. All it takes is time and patience.” Yep, I knew I was going to like this lady a lot.
The zebra is not the only unique denizen at the Brown compound. You can also see her two emus, Fred and Ethel. She acquired these two large birds when they were newborns and said they were a riot to raise up. Originally in the market for an ostrich a few years ago, she settled for the emus when she learned that they were friendlier than cantankerous ostriches.
If you stop by to say hello to Zuri, Fred, or Ethel, make sure to notice Millie the pig in the front of the house or the beautiful peacocks or Ruby, the African Grey Parrot that really talks. The Browns also own a large assortment of chickens including Polish chickens, who have the most hilarious crest of feathers atop their heads, like an unkempt 70s afro after a long night at the disco. In the spring, the Brown’s will sell their excess eggs, but the chickens are getting older and are not as fruitful as they once were. However, by the fall, Jeannie expects the new batch of birds to start producing eggs again.
Originally from New Baltimore, Michigan, Jeannie Brown, an unabashed animal lover, has lived in Draper for many decades. She has been married to Draper native Jim Brown for 18 years and they have two adopted sons, Nathan (16) and Cody (12). She has had the privilege of rescuing a plethora of dogs, cats, horses, llamas, alpacas, chickens, etc. If an animal needs rescue, Brown is always willing to help. The zebra lady attracts animals and people. That is how she became a mom. Her children just came to her through adoption. She never thought she would have children, but even though motherhood has taken her down an unanticipated road, she will unequivocally tell you that her boys have been her greatest blessing.
So the next time you are on the Porter Rockwell Trail by bike or on foot, make sure to stop by and say hello to Zuri, Fred, Ethel and the Brown’s. It is just another reason to love the city of Draper.