As structural supervisor for Facilities Management, Tony Brenneman does locksmithing and repairs to doors and buildings. He grew up in Broadway, Virginia, and now lives not far out of town, right beside Zion Mennonite Church. He has played major roles in multiple building and renovation projects at Zion; he and his wife Becky have lived in their house, which in 1941 was moved up the hill by mules to make way for expanding church property, since 1980.
Tony says his experience at EMU is “a little unique.” He has worked at EMU since 2005, including as a volunteer while in recovery from a 2015 fall that resulted in major brain damage. “I’m back further than anybody thought I would ever be,” he said. “I’ve had doctors tell me that I’m a walking miracle.”
My brother, who lives in Georgia, calls me “Big Brock.” One of the neighbor boys called me “Breeze.” I was “Big Breeze,” and my brother was “Little Breeze.” One of the others called me “Brock.” I think that’s because of a baseball player [Lou Brock], because we liked to play baseball. So my brother still calls me “Big Brock,” and I run into people I’ve known as a kid, and haven’t seen them for forty years, and they call me “Breeze” or “Brock.”
Hesston College had a building program called Residential Building Technology. I knew I wanted to be a carpenter, because I like working outside, and they had that building program or I would not have gone. I also wanted to play basketball again, because I was a pretty good basketball player. In high school at EMHS I averaged 20 points a game, and 11 rebounds.
We built a house each year I was in the program at Hesston, and had classes in cabinet work, electrical work, framing and estimating.
I was a project supervisor and head carpenter for 30 years before I came to EMU. I was about 51 years old when the gentleman who had this job retired, and [then-director of Facilities Management] Eldon Kurtz saw me at Virginia Mennonite Conference, and he told me, “You might want to apply for this job.”
In the seventies, the remodeling contractor I worked for had been called to EMU to help finish some renovations right before school started, installing doors in Maplewood. Some 30 years later, I was working here again when we renovated that dorm, and tore everything out.
After his fall, a path back to EMU:
My main entertainments are mountain hiking, camping and bike riding, but four and a half years ago I had a major hiking fall. I fell 61 feet down the mountain, hitting my head. I had major brain surgery. It was three and a half weeks before I could remember anything.
A little over a year after my fall, I started coming here to the office just to re-acquaint myself. I started reading the work orders, and I said, “You know, I think I could do some of these.” I came in here and volunteered one or two days a week for nine months, just reading the work orders, picking out ones I thought I could do, and doing them as a volunteer, just for my mental recovery.
I had about 250 therapy sessions – physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy – but my best therapy sessions were actually coming here, volunteering about a day and a half for nine months. Two years after the fall I started coming back to work full-time. I don’t think that would have happened, if it wasn’t for this volunteering here.
I met my wife, Becky, at Hesston College, and for our honeymoon in 1976 we drove to Alaska, camping in a little tiny pickup truck the whole way. I helped her uncle, who was living up in Fairbanks. I helped him build a house for about six weeks, and we drove back in the fall, camping all the way.
Becky is an SIS database analyst here, and our daughter Sara (married to Steve Halteman) is an IE/accreditation specialist in the Institutional Research department. Our son Mark (married to Sarah Grisso) is a financial advisor at Stern & Heatwole Financial Group here in Harrisonburg, and our son David is a chef in downtown Washington D.C. Sara is an incredible violin player, in high school David was the number one trombone player in the state, and Becky is a very good musician, but I can’t even carry a tune in a bucket.
And finally: Which of the following about Tony is a lie?
- After my fall, it was easier to ride bicycle than to walk. I would ride laps in the Zion Mennonite Church parking lot.
- I ran on a state championship cross-country team two years in a row.
- I’ve hiked the entire Appalachian Trail.