Remembering Mel Brenner

BRENNER- Melvin Charles ("Mel"), 87, passed away on Thursday, May 30, 2013 surrounded by his loving children. Born in The Bronx, NY to the late Sarah Ellenbogen and Michael Brenner, he spent his early years in Bridgeport, CT before moving to Brooklyn. As a teen, he took great pleasure in serving up the perfect egg cream from behind the soda fountain in his parents' candy store. He was a graduate of James Madison High School.

He obtained the rank of Staff Sgt. in the U.S. Army in World War II with the 87th Infantry Division, 345 Regiment. Seven months of combat in Europe included the Battle of the Bulge, and Siegfreid Line--ending up on the Czech border May 8, 1945. He is a recipient of the Bronze Star. The war experience informed much of the rest of his life, and he worked tirelessly for peace and social justice. Participating in the 87th Infantry Division Association reunions meant a great deal to Mel over the past 10 years, as he was reunited with his lifetime friends. After the war he attended NYU, obtaining an MA in the Social Sciences in 1951. He taught in the NYC school system for nine years.

He had been married to Sandra (Klein) Brenner for just shy of 60 years. They met in NYC and settled in North Massapequa in 1960, where they raised their three daughters. He taught high school social studies throughout his career at Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK, attaining Department Chairman in 1971. While teaching became one of his great passions, he proudly told people that he chose the profession in order to be on the same schedule as his children, thus being an integral part of their childhood. And he was a true champion of his daughters, lovingly supporting their interests and efforts every step of the way. The family embarked on many memorable road trips throughout the U.S.

Mel was a founder and past president of the Farmingdale-Bethpage Historical Society. He was a founder and past president of the New York Civil Liberties Union-Nassau County Chapter, sitting on the Board of Directors for several decades. Always active in local and national politics, he was a candidate for the New York State Assembly in 1970, and a delegate to 1972 Democratic Convention in Miami, FL. He retired in June 1981, which enabled him to pursue his love of travel. This especially included bicycling throughout Europe with different close buddies (which he did on 9 separate occasions; France, Holland, England) resulting in subsequent fascinating, informative, entertaining and always educational professional slide presentations. He and Sandra explored Alaska, Costa Rica, Trinidad, Tobago, Greece, Sicily and Hawaii. They spent many winters in Florida following her retirement in 1991 where they enjoyed kayaking and birding in the quiet of the bay, as well as theater and dining out with friends. He swam competitively in the Senior Olympics there, earning both gold and silver. Mel had many close, lifelong friends.

A physically fit and active man, Mel loved the game of tennis, continuing to play throughout his life. With almost equal enthusiasm he enjoyed fishing, biking, wood carving, gardening (especially planting the green peas each spring) and reading. He was a huge fan of Dixieland jazz, Woody Guthrie and Ella Fitzgerald, a politically astute speaker, and a modern-day Renaissance man. He brought these traits with him in the move to Jeffersons Ferry Retirement Community in South Setauket, where he and Sandy relocated in the summer of 2010. New meaningful friendships developed, and Mel left a remarkable imprint on a great number of people in a short span of time.

Surviving family include his wife, Sandra; daughters Janis Brenner and husband Mitchell Bogard of NYC; Amy Schettini, husband, Frank, and son Daniel, of Long Beach, CA; and Leslie Brenner and children Leigh and Frank Steinman of Portsmouth, NH; brother-in-law, Alan and Mary Ellen Klein of Homewood, IL, and a niece, nephews and cousins. He was predeceased by his sister, Miriam Goldman.

To make a donation in Mel's honor, please select a charity of your choice, or an organization he supported: ACLU's NYCLU Chapter, Southern Poverty Law Center, or the National Museum of the U.S. Army.