Wally - Wallace Bronner - Originator
Wallace "Wally" Bronner was born on March 9, 1927, to Herman and Ella Bronner in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Little brother to older siblings Helen and Arnold, Wally learned to satisfy customers at a young age while clerking in his Aunt Hattie Hubinger's grocery store. He also took an interest in art, and in 1943 at the age of 16, started an after-school sign-painting business in his parents' basement. Wally considered 1945, his high school graduation year, as the official year for the start of his business career.
Wally's sign-painting business expanded to include decorating parade floats and fair booths, and designing window displays. In 1951, while designing window displays for the Jennison Hardware Company in Bay City, Michigan, Wally met several merchants from Clare, Michigan, who were searching for Christmas decorations for their city lampposts. To meet their needs, Wally, along with the assistance of his first full-time staff member, Eddie Beyerlein, designed and produced Christmas panels. That marked the beginning of selling Christmas decorations to communities, shopping centers, and stores.
That year also marked the marriage of Wally to sweetheart Irene Pretzer of Hemlock, Michigan. Wally and Irene had met through the Walther League youth activities of the Lutheran church. And that job designing window displays at Jennison Hardware? Wally landed the account with the help of Irene, who boarded with the Jennisons. Irene was a real asset to Wally's business in other ways, too. Since she was the same size as the standard mannequin, Wally at times dressed the window display mannequins in Irene's clothing.
Wally soon discovered that other cities in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Ontario were also interested in commercial decorations. He held his first decorations exhibit in the spring of 1952 in Frankenmuth's Township Hall, which Wally rented for the event. The showing was so successful that a second was scheduled for the fall of the same year. In 1953 Wally rented a vacated one-room school for his exhibit so it would not have to be taken down and stored between showings.
In 1954 Wally and Irene constructed their first permanent building in the middle of Frankenmuth. Wally's father, a skilled stone mason and contractor for the original building, did much of the construction work personally. Half of the building was dedicated to the sign painting business; the other half served the Christmas decorations interest.
As the Bronner business grew, so did the Bronner family. Wayne was born to Wally and Irene in 1952. Carla arrived in 1955, followed by Randy in 1957 and Maria in 1966.
In 1963, an expansion was added to the original building. Wally and Irene purchased the Frankenmuth Bank Building in 1966 and the former Hubinger Grocery store in 1971, converting them into Bronner's Tannenbaum Shop and Bronner's Bavarian Corner. It became increasingly obvious that consolidation under one roof was inevitable.
In 1977 the growing business was consolidated into one location on a 45-acre tract of land on the south side of Frankenmuth. Memtron Technologies (formerly the sign-painting business) was sold in 1984. A building addition in 1991 nearly doubled the size of BRONNER'S CHRISTmas WONDERLAND. In 2000 an expansion was added to the shipping department. Another major expansion in 2002 brought Bronner's total building size to 5½ football fields.
In January of 1998, Wally and Irene announced the transfer of leadership to the second generation. Wayne was named president and chief executive officer, and Carla and Maria were named vice presidents. Both Wally and Irene continued to be very active in the business and serve on the board. (Wally served as board chairman.)
As grandparents, Wally and Irene were thrilled to experience the involvement of grandsons Dietrich and Garrett (children of Wayne and Lorene) as they assisted part-time in the business during their college years. An additional joy is knowing that three more grandsons - sons of Carla and Bob -are expressing interest in being active in the tri-generation business.
"My hobby of signs, displays, and decorations developed into a full-time business, and I never went to work," Wally said. "Since I never went to work, I don't have to think of retirement, and I'll continue the hobby, God-willing, but only on days that end in 'y'."
Over the years, Wally served actively in his church and community. He served on a number of committees and boards at St. Lorenz Lutheran Church. Wally enjoyed speaking at various conventions, conferences and seminars. He was active on a number of civic councils and committees. City beautification and patriotism were of special interest to Wally. An avid Lions Club member, he even had a leader dog named after him. Wally's favorite charities included the Salvation Army and Saginaw Rescue Mission. Wally passionately promoted the story of "Silent Night," the world's favorite Christmas carol, and the centrality of the Nativity to the Christmas celebration.
On Easter Sunday, March 24, 2008, Wally announced to his staff by letter that "our loving Lord and Savior, the CHRIST of CHRISTmas, is ready to receive me into HIS heavenly kingdom where all believers in the creator God will be with Him forever and ever." Wally's savior, Jesus Christ, welcomed him home to heaven on April 1, 2008. Wally left behind his wife Irene, son Wayne and his wife Lorene, daughter Carla and her husband Bob Spletzer, son Randy, daughter Maria and her husband Christopher Sutorik, and five grandsons: Dietrich and Garrett Bronner; and Ryan, Paul and Greg Spletzer.
Wally loved to share his Christian faith summarized in these 25 words: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16