History of Gay and Lesbian Life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin - People - Bios

Joe Brehm


September 22, 1942
April 3, 2016
Primary Involvements:

Bar manager/ owner
Community Activist





Joseph Thomas Brehm ("Joe" to everyone) was the owner and manager of This Is It bar for almost his entire life. The bar was opened by his mother June Brehm in 1968, who owned it and maintained a presence for most of her life. While not opened as a "gay bar", the bar was friendly to all customers, and became a mecca for gay men when another nearby gay bar closed.

Over the years, Joe kept the bar exciting, and maintained a loyal following of old-timers as well as always attracting new blood. For most of the bar's life known as an LGBT bar, the bar continued to be busy on evenings when other bars' business lagged, in part because it was the only gay bar in the immediate downtown area (and thus easy for visitors staying in downtown hotels to get to) but also because of Joe's presence and warmth with all his customers. Joe recognized the the LGBT community was his main source of business, but he always kept an open door and welcomed the community at large, which made his bar popular to the general business community in the surrounding area as well.

Joe was also very community aware and a true activist. He was close friends with Terry Boughner and Jerry Johnson when they produced the Wisconsin Light newspaper, helping them computerize and use new technnology for typesetting, layout, email, etc. Joe was also often the first in line to support community causes, hosting fundraising events for the Cream City Foundation, AIDS, and other worthy causes.

Joe's mother, June, passed away early in 2010, after which Joe controlled ownership of the bar. He continued to maintain a daily presence in managing the bar, and could be found in the bar early each day- until a diagnosis of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a progressive neurodegenerative disease, began to restrict his mobility.

Late in 2015, Joe's health went into decline. In mid-March 2016, Joe received a letter from U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin recognizing his and his mother's vision and dedication. Then, March 31, 2016 was proclaimed "Joe Brehm Day" by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Joe passed away peacefully late in the afternoon on Sunday, April 3, 2016. He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Karen, daughters Jessica and Sarah, two grandchildren, one sister, and other family. A Celebration of Life was held at 'This Is It' bar on Sunday, April 10, and hundreds of customers, plus friends and family, attended to share memories of Joe.


Recollections: The following are recollections of others who have been kind enough to submit their personal memories to the webmaster. You are welcome to do the same!

      I go wayyyyyyyyyyy back.......and Joe gave me more musical advice and help than anyone I know. Every CD I ever recorded was on that jukebox. Music knowledge supreme, and a contribution to the community way beyond just owning a bar. No modern internet machine could ever replace the music that he had on that "box," and June would have had our Easter eggs today. Thanks, Joe.
                                      -- Jerry G.

      I went in for a drink once and he took my picture and put it on this endless loop on a TV in the corner. I wasnt a regular...wasnt a cute young guy to draw people in. He is just a gracious Owner who appreciates every customer. Practically unheard of today. Well deserved honors.
                                      -- Steven S.

      Though he would never have thought he deserved this kind of recognition, his mother of course not him though cause he is just being himself. There lies the absolute reason Joe Brehm deserves this and so much more because it was always about others. I'm proud to consider you a friend and wonderful human being. Love ya Joe Brehm.
                                      -- Steph H.

Mayor's Proclamation of Joe Brehm Day
March 31, 2016
Joe's wife accepts Mayor's Proclamation
U.S. Senator Baldwin Letter
March 2016
MKE OnLine article, 2006


Joe Brehm, May 2004

Biographical panel (PDF) created for
PrideFest 2016 History Exhibit

Credits: initial page creation by Don Schwamb;
Last updated: May-2016.