Dr. Waldemar Brehm
Dr. Waldemar Brehm was born July 23, 1923 in Frankfort-Am-Main, Germany. His father passed away when he was only a year old. Six years later, he and his mother immigrated to the United States settling in Fresno, California. Being poor, his mother could not afford to buy her son a pair of pants. His mother made his pants by sewing old drapes. Eventually she re-married and had three girls, giving Dr. Brehm a new family and sisters. While attending high school, he became involved in a number of theatrical productions. He found time between school and his job as a meat cutter to raise pigeons and ride horses.
Following high school, Dr. Brehm was drafted into the armed forces. However, he lacked U.S. citizenship that prevented him from being inducted. After answering a few quick questions, he passed and was sworn in and received his U.S. citizenship. He was proud to serve his country in the U.S. Army. With his background as a butcher, he was assigned as a cook. Later he would find himself setting up Eisenhower’s headquarters in London and assisting with food preparation for the general and his staff. Dr. Brehm found himself teaching other cooks about nutrition and dietary requirements. His talent and love for teaching extended throughout his lifetime. He would recall with a great humor how he captured a German soldier one day. In truth, the soldier handed over his gun in the hopes of finding food and shelter.
Upon returning home, Dr. Brehm opened his own meat market in Fresno. He attended a local USO dance and met his future wife, Caryl Lindsay. After getting married and upon consulting with his wife, he wanted to try one semester of college. He went on to continue his education, sold the market, and graduated from Fresno State. While taking his dental aptitude tests, the Dean of Students told Dr. Brehm that his hands were too large to be a dentist and that he should go back to being a meat cutter. Luckily, he did not take his advice and ironically the Dean later became one of Dr. Brehm’s students.
Dr. Brehm was accepted to dental school at Northwestern University. He had to move his wife and two small boys, Robert and Lindsay, to Oak Park, Illinois. Caryl, a registered nurse, was able to work at a local hospital to assist Walt through dental school. Upon graduation, Dr. Brehm and his family returned to Fresno and opened a small practice on Shields Avenue.
One day he read an ad for Ordont Company in a dental journal. It highlighted the advantages of orthodontics.
He began corresponding with Ordont and sent models as requested. They returned a treatment schedule and a set of bands, brackets and wires. He placed his first set of bands and brackets on his niece, which took nearly 8 hours. He then called Ordont to inquire what he should do next!
Dr. Brehm realized he needed proper orthodontic training. It was at this time that he discovered the International Association for Orthodontics and met its founders, Dr. Leon Pinsker and Dr. Max Schleimmer. Walt began taking many orthodontic courses on diagnosis and treatment planning, Edgewise, and Begg techniques. Incorporating what he learned, his practice grew rapidly. He began to teach Edgewise courses and he eventually became president of the IAO behind its two founders, serving two terms in 1966 and 1967. He worked diligently for 10 years as IAO Executive Director. One of Dr. Brehm’s greatest contributions is that he was instrumental in the early development, direction, and success of the IAO.
Later, Dr. Brehm completed a two-year preceptorship to become an orthodontist. In 1972, Dr. Brehm took a class from Dr. Lawrence Andrews on the straight wire technique. His course had a dramatic impact on him, and he found that he had faster and better results with this technique. In 1973, Dr. Brehm started teaching straight wire technique for the IAO. When the IAO moved its headquarters to Chicago, Dr. Brehm remained in Fresno and started his own teaching facility, Straight Wire Seminars.
As an orthodontist and teacher, Dr. Brehm never stopped learning. He attended courses by Drs. Roth, Ricketts, Begg, Tweed, Kessling, Rocke and others. He dedicated himself to learn and expand his knowledge so that he could offer the best treatment for his patients and offer the best orthodontic education to all the doctors he taught. He truly believed that, “In all human affairs there are efforts, and there are results, and the strength of effort is the measure of the results.”
Dr. Brehm consulted with ‘A’ Company to assist in advancing orthodontic education to the general practitioner. Until his death, he taught thousands of doctors across the U.S. and around the world. He was known for his boundless energy and his desire to help his course participants to the end. His dream was to help every student become the best orthodontic practitioner. He was well known for his quick humor and quick puns as well as the long tedious hours bending wires late into the evening with his students. Some may have complained of bleeding fingers, but in the end they became proficient orthodontic practitioners.
Dr. Brehm treasured the work he did with Ortho Organizers. He helped to develop innovative orthodontic products such as preformed utility arch wires, the Nitanium Palatal Expander2, Twin-Force Bite Corrector and many others. It also gave him the opportunity to work and travel with his youngest son, Lindsay. They shared a common interest in orthodontic products as well as a desire to offer quality orthodontic education to general and pediatric dentists.
Following a courageous battle with cancer, Dr. Waldemar Brehm died on August 6, 2004. A eulogy for a man of his accomplishments is challenging and humbling. It is difficult, until one realizes that the word ‘eulogy’ means a good word, and good words were all that were heard as people around the world were told of his death. As in life, so it was in death, that he was surrounded by his loving family. Dr. Brehm’s family was gracious enough to share some of these kind thoughts from others:
“. . . your father was a great man and all of us in the field of GP Orthodontics owe him a great debt.”
“ . . . you have so much to be proud of with regards to your father. He was loving, generous, hard working and so very well respected in the field of orthodontics. May his character, leadership, ideals, passion for life and of course, his sense of humor live on in you and your children. Thank you for sharing your guiding light with us.”
“. . . Walt was a great guy. I always enjoyed talking to him about orthodontics, as well as cracking some really great jokes together. They don’t make them like your Dad anymore. He was admired and loved by so many around the world.”
“Dr. Brehm was a highly respected teacher and clinician, not only in America, but worldwide. I was always impressed with his passion for teaching and his dedication to advancing knowledge within our speciality.”
“Dr. Brehm was a great man, a proud father, a tremendous teacher and a natural-born leader. I feel so lucky to have known this wonderful man, who I was proud to call my friend.”
“Dr. Brehm was a lovely man, a true gentleman, whose manner was endearing to all of those who were privileged to know him.”
“Dr. Brehm was instrumental in having general dentists and pedodontists taught first hand by Dr. Andrews . . . . Without Walt many of us would not have had access to this respected orthodontic technique.”
“Dr. Brehm was truly a giant in the field of orthodontics. He was always willing to share his knowledge with others and did it in a humble and kind way. I am grateful for all that he has taught me and for the example that he has set.”
While orthodontics was Dr. Brehm’s successful career and teaching was his passion, he so enjoyed the time he spent with his family. He was always there to cheer for his grandchildren at sporting events and to listen proudly at piano recitals and band performances. He loved taking to the road with Caryl on many motor-home excursions all over the U.S. and Canada. He loved to go fishing and to be out sailing with his oldest son, Robert. He loved to read, to laugh, to eat and to just sit on the deck of their beachfront condo and watch the waves and the dolphins play.
They say that having a place to go is home. Having someone to love is family. Having something to do that you love is rare, but having all of these is truly a blessing. Dr. Brehm was a talented, dedicated and blessed man. Many will miss him, but to live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die.
The IAO has established the Waldemar Brehm Scholarship Fund through a generous gift by Ortho Organizers, Inc. This scholarship will offer financial aid to dentists from developing countries to attend continuing education courses at IAO annual meetings. Those wishing to contribute to this fund in memory of Dr. Brehm can make a donation to:
IAO/Waldemar Brehm Scholarship
750 N. Lincoln Memorial Drive, #422
Milwaukee, WI 53202 USA