Hilliard Northwest News

Former students orchestrate vocal tribute to mentor

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For more than two decades, Ken Brenneman directed and mentored numerous high school choir students.

About 100 of those former students gathered July 24 at his bedside to sing May the Lord Bless You and Keep You and the Easter Anthem, two compositions Brenneman taught every member he directed in the symphonic or senior choirs at Hilliard High School.

Brenneman, 71, has cancer and is receiving hospice care at his home.

Choir alumni organized a group visit via social media and overflowed into adjacent rooms of the residence.

"We love all of you (and) I just finished telling Ken how wonderful it is for us to know what kind of legacy he is leaving," said Ken's wife, Robin, before leading the students into the house to sing.

Ken was a teacher at Hilliard High School from 1970 to 1994 and taught eight years at Elyria prior to that, for a total of 30 years in public education.

Robin, meanwhile, taught English, speech and theater from 1975 to 2005 at Hilliard High School and, later, Davidson High School.

Together, Ken and Robin also led productions of the Hilliard Arts Council: Ken directed the music and Robin directed the stage.

"We've had a lot of kids and this is truly amazing," Robin said.

Among the students who came to sing was Kathleen (Watson) Chrysler, a 1987 graduate of Hilliard High School whose husband, Tom Chrysler, also is an alumnus and a one-time member of the senior choir.

"We wanted Ken to know how much we appreciated, and still do, how he touched our lives," Kathleen Chrysler said. "I can't think of two people who have influenced the lives of more students than these two have."

Greg Kembitzky, a regular cast member of Hilliard Arts Council productions, credits Ken Brenneman with "helping me to discover my voice."

"He prodded me to join choir," said Kembitzky, a 1983 graduate of Hilliard High School.

Other students who were unable to attend the July 24 gathering arranged to visit on July 26 and performed May the Lord Bless You and Keep You.

On July 24, Ken spoke briefly after the students' performances and thanked his former students for their show of love and support.

Earlier the same day, Robin attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the Hilliard Civic and Cultural Arts Center, a project the Brennemans have supported for several years.

The Hilliard Arts Council will be one of three tenants in the new building on Center Street. The $480,000 first phase of the project is expected to be completed in about one year.

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