How did you do it? How on earth did you make decades of Houghton students feel special, encouraged and important? How were you able to open your arms and your heart wide enough to fit all of us?
You were so encouraging! You had a way of pointing out the best in us—our gifts and strengths—even if we didn’t see them yet. You SAW us, Bruce—and you BELIEVED in us—gifting us with the confidence to believe in ourselves.
Some of us were shy, and you encouraged us to audition for one of your productions—and you became our champion. Some of us were lonely and afraid of being away from home for the first time, and you and your wife, Kathie, invited us over for Mandalay Chicken, or those pull-apart cinnamon buns that melt in your mouth, or your famous ribbon Jell-O—and we laughed so hard that tears ran down our faces.
How did you manage to remember meaningful details about all of us for years and years after graduation? You came to our weddings. You mourned with us when we lost loved ones. You wrote us encouraging letters, and you wished us happy birthday every year on Facebook. We couldn’t wait to make the trek back to Houghton for Homecoming to visit you—to see your smile and to be engulfed in one of your bear hugs.
And then you got cancer. We watched in real time how “the Joy of the Lord was your strength”—even when you couldn’t do your two favorite things anymore: talk or eat. We came to see you—hoping to cheer you up or encourage you in some way—but we always left you feeling more blessed than when we walked in your door.
You should have seen it, Bruce. The day you passed away—August 22, 2016—Facebook BLEW. UP. You were connected to so many of us, and the news spread rapidly. You were part of our fondest memories at Houghton College, and hundreds of tributes came pouring in—memories and stories about how our lives were changed by knowing you. How you showed us what true hospitality looked like. How you always pointed to Jesus.
We will miss you, dear friend.
Hundreds and hundreds of your students and friends from our time at Houghton College
Bruce is survived by his wife of 51 years, Kathie (Wimer ’64) Brenneman; a son, Brian S. Brenneman ’91 and his wife, Jennifer; a daughter, Suzanne (Brenneman ’90) Beardsley and her husband, Darwin; eight grandchildren; four siblings; many nieces and nephews including Dr. Timothy J. Nichols ’81 and William J. Nichols ‘87; and great-nephew and nieces, Ben Wendell ’09, Emily Wendell ’14 and Amanda Hiers Carl ’11.