Lincoln News Messenger owner William J. Brehm Sr. dies after long battle with cancer
William J. Brehm Sr., 89, died Sunday after a long battle with cancer at his home in Poway, Calif.
Brehm, the head of Brehm Communications Inc., owned more than 60 daily, weekly, semiweekly newspapers, shoppers and niche publications in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.
He bought The Lincoln News Messenger in 1994 as part of Gold Country Newspapers. The chain also includes the Auburn Journal, Colfax Record, Folsom Telegraph, El Dorado Hills Telegraph, Granite Bay View, Loomis News, The Placer Herald, Roseville Press Tribune and Wine Country This Week.
“I met Bill Brehm Sr. in 1995 when I was hired at Gold Country Media. He made me feel like family immediately,” said Beth O’Brien, The Lincoln News Messenger general manager. “Over the years, he has been a driving force in my career in newspaper with inspirational stories and fresh ideas. I will miss him very much.”
Local newspapers were the heart and soul of a community, according to Brehm. During his almost 70 years in the business, his company was involved in ownership of more than 100 publications.
In World War II, Brehm served in the Navy Air Corps and attended universities in Missouri, North Dakota and California.
At war’s end, he planned to attend the University of Southern California to earn an engineering degree. However, he took a detour in 1946 and worked as a “printer’s devil” at the Bell-Maywood Industrial Post in Los Angeles.
This is when his passion for newspapers began.
By 1950, he became a publisher in the McGiffin Newspaper Company. In 1960, he became president of the company, which had been owned by his father-in-law, Bill McGiffin. The company was renamed Brehm Communications, Inc. in 1981.
In 1962, Brehm and his wife, Mona, began buying newspapers, starting with the weekly Los Banos Enterprise and the Auburn Journal in 1965.
Brehm remained active in the company the rest of his life, with the help of his wife and three of his children.
Over the years, Brehm was honored with numerous industry awards, including being recognized by his national peers in the Suburban Newspaper Association in 2011 with the Dean S. Lesher Lifetime Achievement Award.
“BCI is over 95 years young and now, as the third and fourth generations are in the business, and as my father and mother removed themselves from the day-to-day operations over the past several years, BCI has continued to stress the importance of good community journalism and the support of local businesses, the cornerstone of each community we serve,” said son Bill Brehm Jr., Brehm Communications president. “With the support of my family members and all employees of BCI, this dedication will continue into the future as part of the legacy of my father, who headed the company for the past 60 years. I know my father is proud of the many employees who have worked for, and dedicated their lives to, the service of their communities through their community newspaper.”
The foundation of a community newspaper is strong local news and commitment to the community, Brehm often said, which was the driving force behind his success. This commitment inspired Brehm and his wife to become major donors to help build and dedicate a family park with soccer fields, baseball fields, a special needs ballpark and facilities. Brehm Park Family Recreation Center was gifted to the town of Yucca Valley this year.
He achieved a lifetime goal of developing and owning a golf course, Hawks Landing in Yucca Valley, which opened last March.
Bill Sr., as he was known by his friends, was well respected for his passion for newspapers, fishing, golf, gardening and family.
In his non-work hours, Brehm loved to work with youth, coaching numerous years of Little League and youth basketball.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Miracle League of the Desert or Shakti Rising at 2404 F St., San Diego, CA 92102.
The Miracle League of the Desert is designed to allow children and adults with special needs to move safely from base to base on an all-abilities baseball field in the Brehm Family Park in Yucca Valley.
Bill and Mona Brehm helped fund the startup of Shakti Rising, which was founded by Bill Sr.’s granddaughter, Shannon Thompson. It is a social change organization, transforming the lives of young women.
Brehm is survived by his wife of 67 years, Mona; children, Tina McDonald (Poway), Bill Brehm Jr. (Poway), Barbara Schuyler (Fallbrook) and Cindy Melland (Yucca Valley); nine grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren; brothers, Loyd Brehm and Del Miller; and sister Dianne Howard.