Former Flathead County Commissioner and fourth-generation Creston farmer and rancher Joe Brenneman died Sunday at Health Center Northwest in Kalispell. He was 60.
Brenneman, a Democrat, was elected county commissioner in 2004, defeating Republican Denise Cofer by just 137 votes. The tight election prompted a recount, with Brenneman prevailing. He served for six years but lost a re-election bid to Republican Pam Holmquist.
At the time Brenneman ran for office in the early 2000s the Flathead Valley was in an explosive growth cycle much like it is now. His concerns about the development pressures facing the valley and a desire to see better cooperation between the county and cities drove his election campaign.
During his years on the commission Brenneman was an advocate for planning and worked to preserve open space and the environment.
“Joe was a very good commissioner, very fiscally responsible,” former Commissioner Dale Lauman said. “We didn’t always agree on land-use issues, but that’s OK. We were good partners.”
Lauman said Brenneman was hugely concerned about preserving the quality of life in the Flathead Valley. He was pragmatic in his approach to county government, keeping an even keel. “He was calm, cool and collected,” Lauman remembered.
“It was fun working with him. I enjoyed him a lot,” he added.
Gary Hall, another former commissioner who served with Brenneman, said they shared parallel upbringings on farms that honed their work ethics.
“We worked hard as kids and brought that to the commission,” Hall said. “I had the highest respect and regard for Joe as an intellectual. He really cared about his job; we both did ...we really did some good work. We didn’t agree on all things, but we respected each other’s opinions. It was an honor to serve with him.”
Hall further said that Brenneman never sought personal praise “or to be liked by everyone.
“He always focused on what was best for the county. It was never about him,” he said.
Brenneman was an active community leader through the decades. He was a longtime firefighter and EMT with the Creston Fire Department. In fact, Brenneman’s father, Clifford Brenneman, was a charter member of the Creston Fire Department when it was founded in 1958, and his uncle Dan Brenneman also served with the department.
“His family has a long legacy of being involved and serving,” Creston Fire Chief Gary Mahugh said. “His boots will be tough to fill, for what he brought to us and his community as a whole.”
Mahugh promoted Brenneman to captain of the volunteer department a number of years ago because he was dependable and trustworthy.
“He was always someone you know had your back,” Mahugh said.
Brenneman’s public service spilled over to many other areas.
He was a former chairman of Flathead Valley Habitat for Humanity, former Kalispell Planning Board member and former member of the Blacktail Ski Patrol.
Brenneman recently had served on the Kalispell School Board for several years.
He also was involved in farm-related associations, serving in the past as a director of the Cenex/Harvest States board and Western Dairy Farmers Promotion Association.
Brenneman closed down his dairy operation in 2013 but continued to farm his land.
Memorial services are pending. Darlington Cremation and Burial Service is caring for the family.