Steve (’67) and Marge Brenneke
Steve Brenneke (’67) gets it. Without scholarships, a Gonzaga education wouldn’t be a reality for some students, himself included.
“The only way I was able to do anything was because people gave me scholarships,” said Brenneke. “I’m not sure what I’d have done without them — I certainly wouldn’t be here!”
In the years since his time as a Gonzaga pre-med student, Brenneke went on to be an orthopedic surgeon, husband, father, pilot and scholarship supporter. “Career, family and marital success — it all started with the people who helped me when I was young and didn’t have resources,” he said.
Brenneke’s relationship with Gonzaga began even before he was born. His mother Patricia grew up in a house that stood where Cataldo Hall is located today. There, her family ran a boarding house for GU students. As a child, Patricia scampered around campus at the heels of such notorious Zags as Bing Crosby, and was considered a sort of honorary mascot. She went on to a career in nursing and played an influential role in her son’s decision to come to Gonzaga and pursue a medical career.
“My mother was the coolest,” declared Brenneke. “When my parents asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I first said ‘engineering,’ but my Dad was an engineer; he spent three hours during a drive from where I was at Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon, to Spokane trying to convince me to do anything but engineering. Mom was a highly qualified nurse and the reason I got into med school.”
Once admitted to Gonzaga, in addition to his scholarship, Brenneke took on a work-study position as a resident assistant (R.A.) to help fund his education. Then, in 1966, when the opportunity arose for one student to go to Florence in the R.A. role, Brenneke jumped at the chance.
“Not everybody could afford to go,” he explained, “and they had to take one R.A., so I made my pitch to Fr. Bischoff and he selected me. It was a very special opportunity.”
That year abroad, Brenneke studied, worked and played in Florence. As a self-described “unsophisticated twenty-year-old kid from the northwest,” it was an eye-opening experience that has a profound impact on Brenneke, still today.
“Every weekend was a three-day weekend,” he recalled fondly of his travels around Europe and the Middle East. “Seeing all those places in person gave me a frame of reference you can only get by being there. Now, I can actually read about them and consider both sides. Florence was the most memorable year of my life — those places just rub off on you.”
Today, the Brennekes are committed to helping others. They rescue greyhound dogs and provide opportunities for students at both his wife Marge’s alma mater, Kettering College, and at Gonzaga through scholarships. The Brennekes started two scholarships at GU — one for helping pre-med students and another to help students experience Gonzaga-in-Florence — with proceeds from an IRA. They have also made plans to add to these through a gift in their will.