As I begin the process of blogging my Ahnentafel, first up is the one person about whom I know the most – namely, myself. I was born on September 16th, 1940, at the Northside Hospital in Youngstown, Ohio. A copy of the hospital bill shows that Mom was charged $2 a day for the first two days and $2.50 a day for the next 10 days. Incidentals brought the total hospital bill to $39.92. (What a deal!) I was named Barthel Lee Brenner. “Barthel” was the maiden name of Mom’s maternal grandmother (Emma Lavina [Barthel] Smith). One of Mom’s brothers was named Barthel. Mom has been very clear that I was not named after her brother, but simply because she liked the name (and, of course, because it kept another family name alive). Mom couldn’t remember any particular reason for choosing “Lee” as a middle name except that it was simple and seemed to go with “Barthel.”
At the time of my birth, we lived at 125 E. Ravenwood Street in Youngstown. This was previously the home of Grandma Brenner’s father (George Herman Mieding). I have many fond memories of growing up there – not so much about the house itself, but more about the neighborhood where we kids played – the huge empty lot ball field across the street (since replaced by an elementary school connected with St. Dominic’s Parish); and, of course, the home of my best friend (Wiley Perry) directly across the street and next to the ball field. In 1948 (?), Dad and two partners started up a electro-plating shop in Ashtabula, Ohio (about 60 miles north of Youngstown). At that time we moved north from Youngstown to Ashtabula County. We lived in a rented home across the street from Lake Erie. The home was owned by . They ran the grocery store next to our home. In 1950 we moved into Ashtabula to West 35th Street. Dad’s shop was about a block away and visible from our back yard. Later on, 1956, we moved to 4003 Fargo Drive in Ashtabula Township.
Two years later I graduated from Edgewood High School and then proceeded to Bowling Green State University. I began in a pre-dentistry track (majoring in biology). During my freshman year, while conducting an experiment in a quantitative analysis chemistry lab, Dr. Peggy Hurst came up behind me, observed over my shoulder for a few minutes, and then asked a question that was to change my academic pursuits. “Mr. Brenner,” she asked with her deep, booming bass voice, “Is it really your intention to spend your life with your hands in other people’s mouths?” Without blinking I answered immediately, “No, Dr. Hurst, it is not!” At that point I changed my major to chemistry, intending to become a research chemist.
Throughout my 4 years at Bowling Green I was very involved in The United Christian Fellowship, one of the oldest ecumenical campus ministries in this country. Discussion groups, retreats, mission experiences, and occasional involvement in statewide and national student ministry associations helped share my growing faith. During the middle of my Junior year, a group of us were working at a storefront church that was part of the Cleveland Inner-City Protestant Parish. We stayed at the YMCA. I happened to be rooming with Rev. Gene Davis, our UCF director. That evening he asked another of those life changing questions: “Bart, what are you going to do with your life after you graduate.” Again, without hesitation, I answered “I intend to go to seminary and become a minister.” I startled myself because I had never consciously thought about ministry before. Obviously there had been a deep struggle within that I had not been aware of it until the words tumbled out of my mouth. Many years later I would learn that I could trust my intuitions because they were deeply formed and often rather thoroughly considered.
A UCF retreat also provided occasion for meeting Susan Weaver (she was a freshman; I, a junior). We were put together as bridge partners. Not long after that retreat, Sue invited me to join her, her sister (Judi) and Judi’s boyfriend for a few rounds of bridge on Saturday afternoon. We played at our UCF house. While we were playing bridge, Rev. Will Power, associate director of UCF, asked me if I would be willing to preach the next day at a small Methodist church near Toledo. The minister, who lived in Bowling Green, had contracted laryngitis. His wife had checked everywhere trying to find a substitute. Will Power suggested me. I had never preached before, so the bridge game quickly ended so I could prepare a sermon (whatever that meant). I asked Sue if she would accompany me the next morning. She agreed.
[To Be Continued]