Otto Bremer came to Minnesota as a German immigrant in 1886, seeking opportunities for a good life. Over the next decades, he lived the American dream. Speaking limited English at the start, he called the day he was hired in his first job in St. Paul “about the happiest moment in my life.” But looking for greater challenges, he soon moved on to a new job as bookkeeper for the National German American Bank. Over the next 36 years, he worked his way up to become the chairman of the American National Bank and a dedicated community leader involved in civic, financial and corporate life. He partnered with his brother Adolph in the ownership and management of the Jacob Schmidt Brewing Company, served as treasurer of the City of St. Paul for more than a decade and became an advisor to presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Bremer’s financial acumen ultimately made him the largest investor in bank stocks in the Midwest. Many of these investments were in independent rural banks, “countryside banks” as he called them. His commitment to these institutions and to the surrounding communities was unwavering. During the Great Depression, Bremer liquidated many of his personal assets to strengthen these banks and help them ride out hard times. He believed that people could survive and flourish if they had help at critical times.
For all his success, Bremer did not forget the strengths and hardships of the rural and immigrant experience. His concern for those working to make their lives better, coupled with his commitment to the countryside banks, became the cornerstone of the Otto Bremer Trust. In creating OBT, Bremer sought to ensure the perpetuation of the Bremer banks and the ultimate return of his personal wealth to his “family” of communities.
Over the years since 1944, the cities, towns and rural areas Otto Bremer knew have changed, and so has OBT. The number and amount of grants awarded annually have risen exponentially, and grantmaking strategies have evolved to reflect changing needs and opportunities as well as the funds available for support. OBT has provided more than $485 million to Bremer communities since its founding.
Otto Bremer’s history in St. Paul began more than a century and a quarter ago, yet his story is not old. Today, it is replayed daily with an ever-changing cast of characters. His commitment to helping people find opportunities to thrive and participate in their communities lives on through OBT’s investment in, and partnership with, the region’s people and nonprofit organizations.