John William Otto Brenner
was born on July 11, 1874, at Hustisford, Wisconsin, the son of teacher Karl F.G. Brenner and his wife Barbara, nee Werner. He received his elementary school education at St. Peter’s Lutheran School in Fond du Lac, WI.
After grade school, Brenner attended Northwestern Preparatory School and College in Watertown, WI. He received his BA from there in 1893. From there he attended and graduated from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Wauwatosa, WI in June 1896.
In 1896, Brenner was assigned to the joint parish of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Cudahy, WI and St. John’s Lutheran Church in New Coeln, WI. He served there and also as an elementary school teacher at St. Paul’s Lutheran School until 1908. From 1908 to 1958, Brenner served at St. John’s Lutheran Church (8th & Vliet) in Milwaukee, WI.
On August 19, 1916, Brenner married Miss Anna Raether of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The couple was blessed with two children: one son, John F. and one daughter, Dorothy.
During his ministry Brenner served the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod in a variety of capacities. He served on the Northwestern College Board of Control for 24 years. He served as chairman of the Seminary Building Committee and was a member of its Board of Control for 15 years. He represented the WELS on the Army-Navy Commission of the Synodical Conference during World War I and served on the Committee on State and Federal Legislation. He was the last living co-founder of the Northwestern Lutheran, which came into existence in his parsonage study in 1914, and served on its staff for over forty years. He was also the last living founder of the first Lutheran High School (Milwaukee Lutheran High School – 13th & Vine) in Milwaukee. He assisted in the publication of the Junior Northwestern for 35 years and served on the Northwestern Publishing House Board. He was one of the main proponents for the use of English in WELS worship, publications, education and other areas. Most notably, he served as General President of the Ev. Luth. Joint Synod of Wisconsin and Other States from 1933 to 1953. In June 1958, Brenner retired from the pastoral ministry. Upon his retirement he was made an advisory member of the Committee on Inter-Church Relations, particularly in its dealing with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and an advisory delegate of synod convention.
Brenner lived out his retirement years in Bay City, MI, becoming a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Bay City. On September 30, 1962, John W.O. Brenner left this veil of tears and joined his Savior in the eternal rest at the age of 88. His funeral service was held on October 2, 1962 at St. John’s, Bay City. Rev. Conrad Frey, president of Michigan Lutheran seminary, preached the sermon. His interment took place at Graceland Cemetary in Milwaukee on October 4, 1962. Rev. L. Wiechmann of Milwaukee, WI read the committal service.
Upon Brenner’s death, WELS President Oscar J. Naumann was quoted in Brenner’s 1962 obituary,
“[Brenner was] an uncompromising foe of all that opposed the Word of God, eloquent in his struggle for the purity of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, suspicious—and rightly so—of all theological originality which proposed to know more than God has revealed in his holy Word. Our Synod thankfully made abundant use of his talents, and at this moment we pray that our former president’s unswerving loyalty to God and His Word may remain as a beacon which his beloved Synod may follow.”
Northwestern College President E.E. Kowalke also wrote,
“There were people who neither liked nor admired Pastor Brenner. His direct manner irritated some people. But whether people liked him or not, they all respected him. He was a man and a Christian and a dedicated pastor of the flock of Christ.”
For Further Reading:
- “The John W.O. Brenner Papers” Wisconsin Lutheran Synod Archives (Collection: The John W.O. Brenner Papers)
- Mark E. Braun, “‘He was a man and a Christian,’ The Life and Work of John W.O. Brenner,” WELS Historical Institute Journal V.27 N.1 (April 2009): 15-38 and V.27 N.2 (October 2009): 5-41.
- Richard Schwerin, “A Biography of Pastor John William Otto Brenner,” Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Essay File (http://hdl.handle.net/123456789/3513).
- Lloyd H. Lemke, “First Pastor/First Pastorate: John Brenner’s Years in Cudahy and New Coeln,” Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary Essay File (http://hdl.handle.net/123456789/3020).