At age 38 while still raising four children, Doris Brenner decided she wanted to be a teacher. Over the next seven years she went to school part time, working to earn her bachelor's degree and then her master's in education from Hofstra University.
At 45, she fulfilled her dream and became a humanities teacher at Farmingdale High School, where she taught from 1969 to 1991. She was known there as a caring teacher who had a rapport with her students.
"She was somebody the kids felt comfortable going to with their problems, whether it was breaking up with their girlfriend or boyfriend, or deciding what college to go to," George Brenner, 60, recalled of his mother, who died Saturday at 86 of complications from heart disease.
“She was a wonderful person. She was like a second mom to me,” said Mary Rutkowski, now a theater teacher in Boston, and one of Brenner’s students at the high school in 1978. “I had a lot going on at home [at the time]. She was a tremendous listener.”
“She’d been a mother. She was very smart about young people, and trying to help a young person empower herself,” said Rutkowski, who recalled lobbying Brenner to take the class on a trip to Washington, D.C. Brennner challenged Rutkowski to make the arrangements, raise the money and find chaperones for the trip.
Doris Brenner grew up in Accord, N.Y., and later lived in Manhattan's West Village and Brooklyn's Borough Park, where she graduated at 15 from Erasmus High School. In 1944 at age 18, she married Harold Brenner. A couple of years later, she was attending nursing school at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, when she dropped out because she was pregnant with her first child, Ellie.
Brenner and her husband moved to Levittown and then to East Meadow before moving to the San Fernando Valley in California in 1961. They moved back to East Meadow in 1962, where she lived until her death.
While still in California, she decided to go back to school. George Brenner recalled. "Mom always wanted to have a career. She always kept that on the side burner. She was always a very strong woman. She was very determined," he said. "She'd run home to cook dinner, and in the morning she'd get us off to school and run off to school herself."
She wanted to teach, George Brenner said, because “seeing us going through school inspired her to be a teacher because she saw the impact teachers had on our lives.”
She and her husband traveled to South America and Europe. In the early 1970s she was part of a teaching exchange program in China.
After retiring, Doris Brenner helped organize the RotaCare free medical clinic in Uniondale to help serve people who couldn't get health care.
Her son Dave Brenner, 54, said Doris had “big plans for being a nurse. It’s interesting how she came back around and got into medical stuff to help people. She always had a thing for that, helping people, just like she saw teaching as helping people.”
Brenner is survived by her husband; daughters Ellie of Concord and Carrie of Boston; sons George of Easton, Conn., and Dave of Huntington Station; one grandson and one great-granddaughter.