On Sunday, April 10, dozens of people came to Kesey Square in downtown Eugene to memorialize a vibrant former member of the Eugene community with Cascadian flags, pine cones and other symbols of his years in activism, civic engagement, advocating for diversity and more.
Leif Brecke, a graduate of the University of Oregon, had moved to Southern Oregon in 2015, but his presence is still felt strongly in Lane County. His April 6 passing was announced on Facebook by his partner, Kay Wilde, who wrote: “My partner, Leif Brecke, passed away earlier today. He was so incredibly well loved and is so very deeply missed.” She continues, “If you know someone suffering from depression, please reach out to them and let them know you’re there for them if they need it.”
Wilde says of Brecke, who was co-parenting her daughter, “I loved exploring ideas with him. Talking about the changes we wanted to see in our communities and how to effect those changes in an equitable way. I’d brainstorm with him on how to push changes through on city commissions I sit on, or how to best approach a sticky civic issue like getting bike lanes put through downtown Medford.”
Brecke had worked for the Resilient Communities Project and at the Cascadian Resilience Network and as a Grange Hall organizer. He had worked in forest defense, was involved with Occupy Eugene and worked with people with disabilities.
Wilde says, “Most of his background and activism centered around community resilience. How can our communities be as strong and resilient as possible? How are we operating within our communities to make it accessible and equitable for all its members?” He also protested at the Nevada Test Sites, she says, and was tear-gassed at the WTO protests in Seattle of 1999.
As secretary of the fraternal organization Bellview Grange in Ashland last year, he endorsed causes such as fighting the liquefied natural gas pipeline, and food and water security, Wilde says.
She says of Brecke, “No matter how much he disagreed with someone, he’d still try to maintain that notion of humanity and connection,” adding, “he was a community builder first and foremost.”
“I feel like he brought so many different communities together,” says Brecke’s friend Silver Mogart, who attended the April 10 memorial. “It was amazing to see the different backgrounds of people at the event yesterday.”
“He was into everything; he knew so much about so many different topics,” Mogart continues. Mogart, who is president of LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), worked with Brecke on a committee at CALC (Community Alliance of Lane County) fighting racism and LGBTQ bias and hate.
“Leif was warm and kind and not just thoughtful,” he says. “He came from a place of love and warmth and trying to bring a change.” Mogart adds, “He had the most amazing laugh, a cross between a chortle, I’ve never heard anything like it.”
Connor Salisbury went to high school with Brecke in Coos Bay and says that even then, Brecke “was always both a champion of defending those who were targeted for abuse of discrimination and the first person in the room to understand when a system or set of rules were rigged to cause harm.”
Dana Jo Cook says Brecke was “a support advocate. He supported me when I first decided to break out of the stay-at-home-mom role over five years ago.” Cook says, “He said my skills would be important to the activist community and he was right.”
Cook cautions that as an activist, “taking time for self care gets thrown out the window because the urgency of the work is so important. That’s the lesson we as an activist community need to remember: Reach out to each other, take a break. We all need each other if we are going to do anything about the issues that affect all of us.”
Wilde says, “He was definitely a radical — but his radicalism was also rooted in love, connection, understanding and growth. He was my best friend, and I know he held that role for many other people as well.”
A GoFundMe account has been created to help give Wilde time to process her partner’s death and can be found at gofundme.com/9yyrsr6c. On the page Wilde supplies the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
Brecke’s obituary , courtesy of his mother, Brenda Brecke, is on our blog here.