They say you learn everything you really need to know in kindergarten. Mark Bruener got off to a rough start academically, racking up 47 tardies in Eileen Schermer’s kindergarten class as his mom often reminds him. Bruener explained he used to walk alone five blocks from his house on North I Street to kindergarten at McDermoth.
“If someone was mowing their yard, repairing their roof or watering their flowers, I would stop and be enamored with it and just dilly-dally,” he said.
Bruener learned the importance of being on time thanks to Mrs. Schermer and went on to graduate from Aberdeen High School with a 3.7 GPA. He played some football too, setting records for receptions, reception yardage, tackles for loss and blocked kicks as a Bobcat before becoming a three-year starter at the University of Washington, earning all-Pac-10 honors twice and All-America honors in 1993 before being drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1995.
He joked with the audience at the 16th annual Salvation Army Kettle Klash on Thursday (Nov. 21) that his biggest claim to fame might be going to high school with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic’s younger sister Diana.
“I’m so fortunate that I grew up here. We never cared what car somebody drove or the clothes that were on their back. We always cared about … was that person a good person, was he a person that you could count on. The work ethic that my father instilled in me, I really think it was a catalyst for me to be the person I was and am today,” Bruener said.
Bruener said he used to drive his grandfather’s car in high school, a 1981 Datsun 310 hatchback that had a broken alternator. To get it started, he always had to park on a hill and pop the clutch. After he was drafted by the Steelers, he bought his first new car, a $30,000 Chevy Tahoe. His dad, an accountant, was helping him with the transaction and asked how much it was. When Bruener told him, his dad laughed and said that was the price of the house Mark grew up in.
“Anything I ever wanted, I had to work for. If I ever wanted to go to a football or basketball camp, I always had to earn half the money, so I go knock on Mr. Edwards door and ask him if I could mow his yard. During basketball season, I wanted two pairs of basketball shoes. My dad always made me pay for one pair,” he said.
Bruener said his dad could have paid for his camps and basketball shoes, “but he was trying to instill the value of what hard work is going to do for you.”
“One of the things that I always appreciated about my parents was they never let us know what we didn’t have. The number of times that my parents didn’t exchange Christmas gifts to makes sure all the kids had their Christmas gifts — as a kid, you don’t know that,” he said.
“I thought everyone had a three-bedroom, one bathroom house. I didn’t know what we didn’t have.”
Bruener recalled that timber company owner Werner Mayr used to give out full-size Hershey’s chocolate bars to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. “We used to try to change costumes and go back for seconds, but he never fell for it.”
Bruener, who works as a west-coast scout for the Steelers now, said passing on the small-town values of his parents to his own five children can be a challenge with the influence of social media.
“Finding a way to keep your kids grounded … it doesn’t matter how many friends you have on Facebook, because none of that stuff existed when I was a kid,” he said.
What he tries to pass on is “treating others how you want to be treated and the more you give, the more you receive. I’m a firm believer in that. I’m a firm believer in paying it forward. Just doing something nice for somebody else without expecting anything in return … somewhere down the line, it’s going to come back in a positive way for you,” he said.
Bruener’s son Carson, a Redmond High School three-star linebacker in the 2020 class committed to follow his father’s footsteps and play his college ball at Washington.
“I always tell my sons, you never have to tell anyone how good you are, because if you’re good enough, they’ll know. And they’re going to know your name,” Bruener said.