Friday, March 28, 2008

REX BRENEMAN 1918 - 2008

Today I received word from Iola Breneman that Rex, her beloved husband, has passed away after a long struggle with the consequences of strokes. For those who didn’t know Rex, I’ll say that I’m typing out the obituary here because he represents a “type” of Montanan created by the sequence of Depression and War and also that he was the kind of person who loved “cowboy art” for its own sake.

Rex Eugene Breneman, long-time resident of Coram, passed away on March 14, 2008, at the Brendan House in Kalispell.

Rex was born in Salina, Kansas, on August 21, 1918, to Arthur and Pearl (Richards) Breneman. The youngest of three children, he grew up in the Sand Hills of Nebraska and graduated from the eighth grade. During the Depression, he left home seeking work and opportunity. Rex laughed and claimed he had ridden 40,000 miles on freight trains before he was 21.

In April of 1941 Rex enlisted in the US Army. He first served in Quartermasters as a cook and baker. At the start of WWII he desired to join the US Army Air Corps and applied to enter as a cadet. Having only an eight grade education, Rex was told he could not pass the cadet school entry test. This challenged him to read the dictionary, encyclopedia, almanac, and other books. Rex succeeded in entering the cadet school. Upon graduation he was awarded the rank of first lieutenant, navigator and bombardier. He flew more than 70 missions in the South Pacific and Korea. During this time he was awarded 13 medals, some with oak leaf clusters, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. He never elaborated on any of them.

In October of 1941 he married Rosemary Hanley and they had a daughter, Rexine Rose. This war-time marriage ended in divorce.

Following WWII, Rex settled in the Centennial Valley of Monida, MT., where he worked and trapped at the Sam and Lyz Breneman ranch. This was a special time for him.

During the construction of the Hungry Horse Dam, he moved to Coram and built a service station, “Breneman’s Union,” later called “Coram Truck Stop.” This work was interrupted when, as a reserve officer, Rex was called back to military service for the Korean conflict. After the Korean War, Rex came back to Coram to run his truck stop.

He met and courted Iola Soderstrom of Kalispell. Rex built a home near Coram for Iola and her daughter, Rhonda. Rex and Iola were married on Jan. 23, 1960, in Libby. They worked side-by-side at the Coram station -- catering to loggers, truckers and the local community. In 1968, they sold the business to the Union Oil distributors.

Rex became friends with two artists, Ace Powell and Bob Scriver, which led to his love for western art and western Americana. He enjoyed the challenges of swapping and trading art and land. He was known for his knowledge of art and history and his character of honesty, generosity, dependability and independence. He authored the book, “Ace Powell in Bronze.”

With his passing, Rex took with him a huge library of knowledge. Life for him was a continual education. From the challenge of self-education, enabling him to enter and complete the Army Air Corps Cadet school, Rex realized the rewards of reading. He did not read fiction but was an avid reader of nonfiction and particularly history until his death. He also loved to fly fish, picnic and bird hunt. Rex was always ready for a cribbage game and his skill was a challenge to all opponents.

Our lives are made up of bits and pieces of those around us. Rex was a unique person and many hold special memories of him. He never shied away from hard work and strong opinions. One thing for sure, you could always depend on him to be “Rex.”

Rex was preceded in death by his parents; his brother, Louis Breneman; his brother-in-law Art Johnson; his mother-in-law, Ruth Guinard, and his granddaughter, LeAnna Bunch.

Rex is survived by his beloved wife, partner and constant companion, Iola, of Coram; two daughters, Rexine Howell and husband Bill of Texas and Rhonda Bell and husband John of Oregon; sister Nedra Johnson and family in Nebraska; sister-in-law Pauline Breneman and family in Kansas; five grandchildren, Lawrence Howell, BeLinda Shirley; KaSandra Verett and husband Don of Texas; Jacob Bell and wife Jaime of Colorado; Clinton Bell and wife Christina of Washington; six great-grandchildren: Julia and Jessica Burich; Byron and Jacob Verett; and Zane and Henry Shirley of Texas. He is also survived by sister-in-law Edna Carter, husband Ron and niece Ruth Skaggs of Kalispell; nephew Don Tomfohr, wife Jan and their families in Oregon; and nephew Cory Baker.

There will be no services at this time. The family will gather this summer.

I’m here to say that Rex really was as he is described in the obit above. The Industrial Cowboy Art Cartel auctions everywhere are full of “Rex’s Bull” and “Iola’s gopher,” among the bronzes commissioned by them from Bob Scriver. They also bought many of the big rodeo pieces and bequeathed them to the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. & and will lead you to the Breneman’s nephew’s websites about the Brenemans and their collections.

I sent my biography of Bob Scriver (“Bronze Inside & Out”) to Rex and Iola just in time for him to read it before he died. He said I did a good job and one that needed to be done. From Rex that’s high praise. He was quite a guy.

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