Gus (Bruce) Bruneman, long known as the cop who saved SFPAL, passed away at his Santa Rosa home on December 12. He was 81.
Bruneman was named to the SFPAL Hall of Fame at the 50th Anniversary Dinner in October. The honor was bestowed on Bruneman for his work in helping to found SFPAL and ensuring its success.
In 1959, Bruneman co-founded the San Francisco Police Athletic League with a cadre of like-minded officers. As he told the story, SFPAL was not an instant hit. The founders had to work hard to sell the concept to a skeptical police and wary public.
At one point, SFPAL was dangerously low on funds, as well as support. Bruneman and a fellow officer took matters into their own hands. The two police went to the San Francisco Police Credit Union and took out personal loans for $3,000. It was SFPAL’s lifeline.
Today, that would be like asking for a $20,000 loan.
In an interview with SFPAL last fall, Bruneman said he never worried that the fledgling organization wouldn’t fly. “We knew it was going to go. We just had to round up the teams.”
Bruneman was also SFPAL’s second president — a role he never actively sought, but which he admirably discharged. One of his earliest decisions was to sponsor a circus. A circus promoter had approached Bruneman and guaranteed that SFPAL would receive $3,000 for its part in selling tickets and promoting the event.
“That was big money and we were in trouble financially,” he said. The circus was held on a weekend and was popular — and lucrative — enough to become an annual event for many years.
Fellow Hall of Famer and SFPAL co-founder Ray White remembers Bruneman as a “top-flight policeman” and a “champion wherever he was assigned.”
“He was the logical choice to become [SFPAL] president, mainly because of his enthusiasm,” White says. “He was an effective boss, too. That’s what we needed — someone to keep the kettle going.”
White says his friend was dedicated, straightforward and not easily intimidated. This combination made him especially effective when it came to persuading the top police brass to lend their support to SFPAL.
Bruneman was born and raised in San Francisco. He attended St. Brigid Elementary, Galileo High School, San Francisco State, Golden Gate University and USC. He served as a private in the U.S. Army during World War II before joining the S.F. Police Department.
His police work spanned 30 years and ran the gamut. He started out in the SFPD Dog Unit with his dog Tonka, implemented the Tactical Squad Unit, and eventually worked in the bureau of investigations, vice, juvenile, on the streets, and community relations. He was a detective, sergeant, and captain. He retired in 1979 as a commander of patrol, 4th ranking officer. After that, he was chief investigator in the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office until 1990.
Bruneman is survived by his wife Esther of 55 years and his four children Mark, Lorie, Kurt and Erik, along with their spouses Sandee, Karen and Patrice. In addition, he leaves 14 grandchildren — Jennifer, Jana, Jacob, Justin, Beau, Brett, Brooke, Heidi, Anthony, Perry, Tammy, MJ, Maxwell, and Vivian; a great-granddaughter, Dasie, and two faithful dogs, BJ and Hershey.
Bruneman also leaves behind his twin sister Marianne Hanley, nephews John, Matt, Michael, niece Kathleen and brothers-in-law James and Pera Daniels.