Mona Brehm, matriarch of Brehm Communications Inc., parent company of The Lincoln News Messenger, died Oct. 4, leaving a family of relatives and employees remembering her for her heart, her conscience and her courage.
“Mom was a wonderful person, universally loved and full of care for others,” said Bill Brehm Jr, her son and president of BCI.
“She had an infectious smile that made people feel comfortable and welcome. She was always thoughtful of others and worried about doing the right thing every day and with all whom she dealt,” Brehm said. “She was stern when necessary with her kids and provided a guiding moral hand for her family and the company.”
The daughter of McGiffin Newspapers founder W.J. McGiffin, Mona grew up in the news business. She was born in Iowa City, Iowa, and lived in Fort Madison, Iowa, and Kansas City, Missouri, before moving with her family to Beverly Hills when she was 11 years old.
As a young woman, Mona was an avid horsewoman, showing her beloved horse Silky in many competitions and earning countless ribbons and awards.
Mona attended Pomona College and, following graduation in 1946, worked for her father at the Industrial Post in Bell. Working as a bookkeeper for $18.75 a week, she met Bill Brehm, a Navy Air Corps veteran who was laboring as a printer’s devil in the pressroom. Mona and Bill Brehm were married in 1947, and Mona began her life as a homemaker, mother and volunteer.
The family lived in South Gate briefly before moving to Downey, where they made their home for more than 35 years. Mona had a son and three daughters and threw herself into raising them.
She served as publicity chairwoman, secretary, program chairwoman and president of the Gallatin School Parents Club and was in charge of the school library for several years.
When her daughters became involved in the Camp Fire Girls’ Bluebird program, Mona served as a troop leader. When her husband coached their son’s Little League teams, Mona was the scorekeeper and ways and means chair.
Mona’s family recalls her many talents at home, including her skill helping with math homework and her strength. Young Bill brought home a chin-up bar and Mona could not only do more chin-ups than anyone, she could do them with one hand.
“Most kids bragged about their dad’s muscles. I remember bragging about mom’s!” quipped daughter Barbara Schuyler.
By 1971, amidst changes in the family company and the world of newspapers, Mona returned to the business, by then owned by her and her husband. She was the company’s first trainee in the new Compugraphic typesetting machines that were sparking a revolution in the way newspapers were created. Bill Brehm Sr. would later say that he asked Mona to take on the job because she was the only person he trusted absolutely.
The employees always came first to Mona and as a result she created the profit-sharing program in 1973. For more than 40 years, she was the plan administrator, dedicated to making sure the company’s workers could build up savings and security for their future.
Under Mona and Bill’s co-ownership, the company grew, adding newspapers, printing facilities and also a real estate division. Mona helped lead the way, serving as corporate secretary of Brehm Communications’ corporations.
“Over the years, Mona inspired so many and was a driving force behind BCI’s success,” COO Tom Kirk said in announcing her death.
Through it all, Mona was known as the heart of the business, a hostess who put visitors at ease and charmed wherever she went.
“She was the glue that gently held what is referred to as our Brehm newspaper family together and she did this with a smile, a hug and a meaningful comment,” Kevin and Sandra Ashby, a BCI publisher and his wife, wrote.
Mona also made an impact on communities through foundational work on places for children to play and women to heal and grow. She and her husband were major donors in numerous philanthropic endeavors, including partnering with the Basin Wide Foundation on building a family park with soccer and baseball fields, a ballpark for special-needs children and adults and a playground, dubbed Mona’s Playground, at the Brehm Park Family Recreation Center in Yucca Valley. She was also a major donor in Shakti Rising, a foundation her granddaughter Shannon founded to empower women and help them to heal from life’s challenges.
“Her life was a perfect example of how to treat others with compassion and grace and how to strive to do what is right,” daughter Cindy Melland, publisher and president of Hi-Desert Publishing Co., said.
“So many lives have been touched and improved by her heartfelt contributions, both financial and intellectual,” Melland said. “She never demanded center stage but we all knew who held everything together — always. Mom adored her grandchildren and always put her family first. Her cheery hello and warm smile greeted all; she will be missed by many.”
Mona was also an excellent singer and gifted pianist, daughter Schuyler added.
“She played many classical and popular songs (“Moonlight Sonata,” “Phantom of the Opera”) but seldom read music, choosing to play by ear,” she said. “Growing up, we’d ask her to play almost anything. As long as she had heard the song, she could play it.”
As a young girl, Mona was scheduled to play at a piano recital. All the students were required to play the same song but none had seen the sheet music.
“Mom was not confident with her sight-reading skills and was very nervous,” Schuyler said. “Luckily, several students played the song before her so when it was her turn, she played the entire piece beautifully by ear.”
“Mom’s musical prowess was second to none,” daughter Tina McDonald agreed.
Mona loved the beach and often hosted her granddaughters and their mothers on trips to the coast. She loved to read, golf and play card games with family.
Bill Brehm Sr., her husband of more than 67 years, died Oct. 4, 2015. In the year after his death, Mona remained devoted to her family and service projects and deeply interested in the company she helped to build.
“She amazed us with her sharp mind and moxie up until the end,” neighbor Donna Smith wrote.
Mona Brehm is survived by her son, BCI President Bill Brehm Jr., of Poway; daughters, Tina McDonald, of Poway, Barbara Schuyler, of Fallbrook, and Cindy Melland, of Yucca Valley; grandchildren Shannon and Paul Thompson, Bill Brehm III and Carissa Fleshman, Ryan Schuyler and Lindsay Wagner, Monica and Dylan Budd and Eddie Costello; and 12 great-grandchildren.