The Saint Marks Window – Aimee Belle Brenner

The St. Mark’s window is located in the St. Mark’s Chapel at St. Mark’s.

The window was given in memory of Aimee Belle Thomas Brenner by her son Alan Brenner.

The St. Mark’s window was designed by Haeger Glass Studios, San Jose, cost $3,200 and is 28″ x 72″. It was installed in 1995.

The St. Mark’s window in St. Mark’s Chapel is the newest window at the church and was given in memory of a woman who by all accounts was a larger than life personality. Aimee Bell Thomas Brenner was born in San Francisco in September of 1906, just five months after the great earthquake devastated the city (1910 US Census). Her parents were Edwin J.  and Margaret Belle Smith Thomas. Aimee’s father was an insurance agent with Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance in San Francisco. Her mother, Margaret, was a Stanford graduate and active in helping to found Stanford’s International Center. Her grandmother, Alice Prescott Smith Goodwin, was a well-known and very popular author who wrote swashbuckling historical fiction novels (San Francisco Examiner).

The family lived in Alameda near her Thomas family grandparents (1910 Census Record), then moved to Palo Alto by 1921 when her parents purchased a beautiful home at 365 Lincoln Avenue. This heritage house was especially known for a Japanese garden that the Thomas family installed in the backyard working with Palo Alto City Engineer Robert Duryea (Palo Alto Heritage). The family converted the third floor of the house into bedrooms where international students could stay while visiting Stanford.

Aimee attended Castilleja and then Miss Ransom and Miss Bridges boarding school in Piedmont, California. She was one of the students evacuated from Miss Ransom’s the night the school caught on fire in 1923 (Oakland Tribune).

Students, including Aimee Belle Brenner, line up outside after the fire at Miss Ransome’s school (Oakland Tribune).

Aimee went on to attend Stanford. She was a history major and active in student government and Delta Gamma sorority. She graduated in 1928. In 1930 she was back living with her family at the Lincoln Avenue house and working as a Social Secretary at the Stock Exchange in San Francisco (1930 US Census). That year she became engaged to a fellow Stanford graduate, Ralph Judson Brenner. The couple was married in the fall of 1930 (US Newspapers Marriage Index). The couple settled in Palo Alto, eventually moving to their lifelong home at 527 Seale Avenue (directly across the street from Anna Klay and her family!).

Aimee with her sister, Phoebe, leaving for a trip to the “Orient” in 1926 (San Francisco Examiner)
Aimee Belle Brenner at left in 1928 (Stanford Yearbook), middle at Palo Alto Founder’s Day and right in her later years with one of her trademark hats. Everyone who remembers Aimee, remembers that she always wore different unique hats!

Aimee’s son, Alan Thomas, was born in 1936. Alan was baptized and confirmed at St Mark’s in 1951 (age 15). Aimee was baptized and confirmed at St. Mark’s as an adult in 1952 (St. Mark’s Archives). Those who remember her, describe her as someone who was very involved in many different women’s and social activities at the church. She had a commanding voice and presence and lots of ideas for changes and programs, and had opinions on just about every issue that she was very vocal about sharing. Aimee loved to adopt newcomers to the church and shepherd their involvement in the congregation. A story from the 1979 Consecration of St. Mark’s booklet captures Aimee’s spirit:

“I was thinking about Aimee Belle, who has, as long as I’ve known her, been an almost constant source of story material, and who remains that way today. Just recently, the Missions Committee, one of our standing lay committees, proposed that the parish adopt in sponsorship fashion a Vietnamese family, and the idea was quite promptly and enthusiastically accepted – but not without some rather intense examination of alternatives – the latter approach being Aimee Belle Brenner’s. Aimee Belle put her support behind a movement to help the people of Appalachia, and when Aimee Belle lends her support to something she brings to the contest a wide variety of weaponry, which I know from past experience is fair – but devastating. All of these notwithstanding, the pro-Vietnamese faction won the day. Sometime later I had the opportunity to discuss this event with her and somehow had the bad judgment to use the word ‘lost.’ ‘Lost?’ she said airily. ‘No, I rather think that I changed my focus from an important problem to an immediate one – with a little help from my friends.’ And a week later, after church, it was Aimee Belle who announced in a voice that carried to the farthest corners of the garden where we had gathered that ‘The people of Appalachia were struggling for a better life. The people of Vietnam, on the other hand, were struggling for life itself,’ and then gazed about her with a look that would and did forestall any further discussion of the matter.”

Aimee continued to be active at St. Marks and in her later years and was known for arriving at church in a taxi. She was also active in other sorority, community, and Stanford events and causes until she passed away in 1994 at her family home in Carmel. She is buried in the All Souls Memorial Garden at St. Mark’sand

The St. Mark’s window was given in memory of Aimee by her son Alan. This window is the only one that was designed for St. Mark’s Chapel (the others were all moved from the main sanctuary). It’s also the only window that was not done by Cummings Stained Glass, but instead by Haeger Stained Glass. The following documents show the progression of the window from sketch to completion, along with a link to an interesting narrative by Pat Haeger that describes how she made the window. A lot of people have never really noticed this beautiful window – take a moment to stop by the chapel and take a look.

The original sketch for the window by then Parish Administrator Fiona Barnes (left). The “cartoon” for the window by Pat Haeger (center). The final window (right).


365 Lincoln Avenue; Palo Alto Stanford Heritage; Palo Alto, CA

Brenner, Aimee Bell; Find A Grave

Faculty Save Students; Oakland Tribune; Oakland, CA 01 Jun 1923

College Graduate Will Be the Bride; San Francisco Examiner; San Francisco, CA; 16 Jun 1904

The Consecration of St. Mark’s by Bishop C. Kilmer Myers; St. Mark’s Episcopal Church; Palo Alto, CA 1979

Miss Aimee Belle Thomas; San Francisco Examiner; San Francisco, CA; 28 Mar 1926

St. Mark’s Archives; St. Mark’s Episcopal Church; Palo Alto, CA

Stanford University Yearbook; Stanford University; Stanford, CA; 1928

US Census Records

US Newspapers Marriage Index; The Honolulu Advertiser; Honolulu, HI; 10 Aug 1930

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