MARQUETTE, MI – Musician and educator, Jeffrey Allen Bruning, has been a quiet and consistent influence in the lives of the hundreds of people he has made music for and with during his close career. 40 years as an accompanist, mentor and teacher of voice and piano. During his lifetime, he earned a reputation as an exceptional musician and professionalism, a smart, witty sense of humor, perfectly timed eye-rolls, and an unexpected kindness that seemed to come when you had the chance. Not needed anymore. Students and colleagues have said that his dedication, consistency, thoughtfulness, rare but poignant compliments, sarcasm, and a sense that he always had your back are some of the things they will miss most about him.
Jeffrey died at the age of 60 on Tuesday August 9, ending a recent battle with cancer.
Prior to his diagnosis, Jeff was actively working as an accompanist for the Marquette Choral Society, the Northern Michigan University Arts Chorale and University Choir, and the Marquette Senior High School Choral Program. He has been active in the Forest Roberts Theatre, Superior Arts Youth Theater and Lake Superior Theatre. He was organist for the United Presbyterian Church in Ishpeming. He has prepared backing vocals for performances with the Marquette Symphony Orchestra, the Michigan Opera Theater and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He played organ and piano for over a decade at Saint-Pierre Cathedral in Marquette, a position that brought him to Marquette. Jeff gave private piano and voice lessons from his home studio in Marquette, and he became a beloved member of the music community. He gave back by donating his talents to community events and giving free tuition to students who could not afford to pay.
Jeff was born in Sault Ste. Marie on April 25, 1962 and grew up in Cedarville. Naturally, he was an accomplished musician during his time at Les Cheneaux Community Schools, but he also played a bit of community youth hockey and junior varsity basketball before turning his full attention to music and academics. He was inducted into the National Honor Society. He achieved top charts performing on tenor saxophone at the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Solo and Ensemble festivals. He was one of 11 Upper Peninsula students selected to perform with the United States Navy Band in 1976, and he also earned a spot on America’s Youth in Concert Tour by placing second in the All-Upper Peninsula Honors Band competition. . The tour saw Jeff perform at Carnegie Hall in New York and internationally in London, Paris, Geneva, Innsbruck, Venice, Florence and Rome. Jeff attended Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp for at least two summers before graduating from Cedarville High School in 1980.
The piano became Jeff’s signature instrument, but he was equally adept at making the pipe organs sing at St. Peter’s and United Presbyterian. He earned a master’s degree in piano performance from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. In college he twice won a Chopin recital competition, and while at Central he also met her husband, Richard Omlor, over a small dinner party in a garage converted into a two-bedroom apartment. “When I walked in, he was sitting on the floor having dinner, and I said, that’s him.” said Rick. From then on, they spent the next 39 years together.
Jeff’s first job was helping his family run Bruning’s standard station in Hessel, and later he worked at the Merry Mouse/Café le Chat at Grosse Pointe Farms. He worked for a decade as an accompanist and assistant director for a school choir program in Grosse Pointe before moving to Marquette.
Throughout his life, Jeff maintained the love and enjoyment of his family and friends, spending time in the garden at home, and always a passion and deep appreciation for good music. His enjoyment of nature and gardening began with his life in the Cheneaux Islands region where he grew up. He enjoyed canoeing and hiking in the woods. His musical talents brightened up family celebrations with his playing, while his family sang with him. Jeff’s siblings have fond memories of spending time with him during holidays and summer vacations in Les Cheneaux – dock time, walks, swimming, camping and boating.
Jeff is survived by his husband, Richard Omlor, of Marquette; siblings and their spouses, Denise “Kim” Horn from Rogers City, Pamela and Tim Swope from Albion, Gretchen and George Chapel from Grosse Pointe Woods, and Richard Bruning and Amy Polk from Cedarville; several nieces and nephews and their families, Jami and Kaiti Horn, David and Dennis Malkowski, Thomas and Luke Swope, Jon Chapel and Rita O’Farrell; as well as several important friends, including Mary Hoback, Erin Colwitz, Sheila Grazulis, Byron Beerbower, Jan Brodersen and Peggy Frazier. He is also survived by his aunts, Pat Smith and Bette Smith, and his uncles, Richard B. and Wayne Smith.
He was predeceased by his sister, Lesa Hester, his father, Ronald Bruning, and his mother, Rita Bruning.
To continue his legacy of bringing music education to all students, regardless of economic status, a memorial fund honoring Jeff is being established for music students at Marquette High School. Memorial donations may be sent to: Marquette Area Public Schools Education Foundation, PO Box 714, Marquette, MI 49855. Please write in the memo: Jeffrey A. Bruning Scholarship Fund.
Alternatively, memorial donations could be made to the Les Cheneaux Cultural and Educational Enrichment Fund at the Community Foundation, PO Box 249, Cedarville, MI 49719.
A rally in memory of Jeff will be held in Marquette on Friday, August 26, beginning at 4:30 p.m. at the Lake Superior Theater, 270 North Lakeshore Boulevard, Marquette, MI 49855.
Fassbender Swanson Hansen Funeral and Cremation Services serves the family, where condolences can be expressed online at fassbenderswansonhansen.com.