Wally Bronner’s Decorative Life

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Originator Wally Bronner’s fledgling sign-painting and decorating business established in 1945 flourished.

His signs and displays in his aunt’s grocery windows attracted the attention of other businesses and industries. Before long, they asked the young artist to prepare displays and signs for them. (“Signtists” and “signologists” were the catchwords that sign painters used to describe their craft.) From the beginning, the business established by the young sign painter was officially named Bronner’ Display and Sign Advertising.

The date, 1945, also marked the centennial year for Frankenmuth (settled one hundred years previously by German colonists including missionaries to the Native Americans). It was a happy coincidence that led Wally to many jobs decorating store windows and parade floats, and painting signs – all in celebration of the centennial. William Mossner was among the first farmers to order a barn sign from Bronner’s Display and Signs in the late 1940s.

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In 1946 business expanded at a rapid rate. The first truck doors lettered by the sign business were ordered by Emil Zuellig for Paul Zuellig & Son, the Birch Run coal business Emil ran with his father Paul.

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The freelance window-display business in the four-county area increased as did the decorating of fair booths. In order to handle the multitude of requests, Wally called on his brother Arnold and sister Helen Bronner Rupprecht to assist him occasionally on a part-time basis. During this busy year (1947), he also hired other part-time help. Roland Gugel assisted in painting sign panels.

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Fair booth decorating team

The original Roth Carpentry Shop (behind Hubinger’s Grocery), served as Wally’s sign-painting shop during the warm months. Display props and decorations were stored in the second story of the grocery store.

When the infant display and sign business grew to the point that Wally could not handle it alone, he hired his first part-time salesman, Waldo Vanek, in 1948. Mr. Vanek’s main assignment was to call on area farmers to solicit name signs for their barns. In 1949 Wally hired a high school student, Edward Beyerlein, to assist him part-time. Eddie eventually became the first full-time staff member for Bronner Display and Sign Advertising. (He retired in 1994 after 46 years with the business. In his retirement, Eddie and his wife Jane handcraft many Nativity scene stables annually for Bronner’s.) As the number of accounts grew, several part-time employees were added. In 1951, neighbor Wally Weiss assisted with the painting of signs and posters in addition to holding another full-time job. Other early helpers were Duane Pommerville and Bruce Bartlett. In the 1950s, the Bronner painting team, including Wally, painted a Master Mix Feeds sign on the top of the 100-ft.-tall Star of the West Milling Company silo in Frankenmuth.

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Wally met sweetheart Irene Pretzer in 1945 through the Walther League youth activities of the Lutheran church. Wally’s first major account for window decorating on a monthly basis was with Jennison Hardware Company of Bay City. The account was the result of an advantageous set of circumstances. Wally’s girlfriend, Irene, attended Bay City Junior College, boarding a the home of G.W. Cooke, president of the hardware company. She was responsible for making the initial contact for Bronner Display and Sign Advertising.

Irene became a teacher in the Frankenmuth school system and began helping Wally make Christmas centerpieces for the Durant Hotel in Flint, the Bancroft Hotel in Saginaw, and the Wenona Hotel in Bay City, as well as Zehnder’s and Fischer’s (in later years, Bavarian Inn) restaurants in Frankenmuth.

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“Wally married Irene Ruth Pretzer, the daughter of William and Anna Pretzer of Hemlock, Michigan, on June 23, 1951. Irene, coincidentally, was the same size as the standard mannequin in store windows, and at times Wally dressed the mannequins in Irene’s clothing.”  This article was excerpted from “Picturesque Story of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland” by Wally Bronner, available in-store and online.

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