Wallace (Wally) John Bronner was born in Frankenmuth on March 9, 1927 to Herman and Ella (Hubinger) Bronner. He attended the local grade school and graduated from Arthur Hill High School in 1945. He then went to the Business Institute of Saginaw. Wally earned money by painting signs after school in his basement.
Some of Wally’s favorite childhood memories were the German traditions of his family. One was a paper nativity scene which Wally recreated for his mother in a hand-painted frame. The family belonged to the St. Lorenz Lutheran Church where he helped decorate for Christmas. He learned his customer skills working in the Hubinger family grocery.
During World War II he used his talent for painting and window trimming by decorating and displaying pictures of soldiers in the grocery windows. He began working full time turning out signs and displays for windows for local Frankenmuth businesses.
Wally met his wife Irene (Pretzer) while working on the “Saginaw Valley Zone Walther League Field Day” at the St. Lorenz Churchgrove. They had a common bond through music, youth work, church committment and the Walther League.
In 1951, he created Christmas window decorations and decorations for the businesses in Frankenmuth and surrounding areas. The business was so successful that he and Irene moved into a rented building and the Christmas business took up most of the room, eventually filling three buildings.
With help from his father in 1954, he moved into a new building. In 1966 he bought an old bank building and named it Bronner’s Tannenbaum Shop. He transformed the Hubinger family grocery location into the Bronner’s Bavarian Corner.
In 1977, Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland moved into the present building on a 45 acre lot. In 1991 the business grew to the size of five football fields with over 50,000 decorations and 350 Christmas trees, many made by artisans all over the world. Near the main building is a Silent Night Memorial Chapel, an exact replica of the little Austrian church where “Silent Night” was first sung in 1818.
Three of Wally and Irene’s children and their spouses are involved in the operation of Bronner’s. Their grandchildren are now working at the store. On the walls of the store are pictures of Wally and Irene greeting customers and celebrities from all over the world. Wally said that having his children working with him was like, “Father’s Day every day.” He felt it was an opportunity for them to all get to know each other better.
Wally Bronner never forgot his religious background. His personal motto was, “Enjoy CHRISTmas, It’s HIS birthday; Enjoy Life, It’s HIS way!” He loved to greet customers and was still in the store at age 90 wearing his red jacket and at age 80 worked a ten hour day.
Asked about retirement he said, “Retirement is for people who had to go to work. I started with a hobby 55 years ago, enjoyed it, and never went to work. Who would want to retire from a hobby? I’ll stay with my hobby, but only on days that end in ‘y.” Wally traveled to 47 states, Mexico and Canada. He loved appearing at over 250 banquets and functions a year as a song leader and lecturing on business and church subjects. One of his hobbies was photography and he took pictures all his life.
He and Irene founded the Wallace and Irene Bronner Family Charitable Foundation contributing to many causes in Frankenmuth and the Great Lakes Bay Region and funding the Bronner Performing Arts Theatre. Bronner’s raised money for the Ronald McDonald House and the Salvation Army by having silent auctions.
Wally received many awards including the 2005 Michigan Retailer of the Year, Outstanding Achievement from the Michigan Tourist Bureau and Outstanding Alumnus Awards from Arthur Hill High School. He was named Honoured Member of Who’s Who in U. S. Executives and the first ever Golden Santa for creativity at the 1986 Nuremberg Trade Show. AAA named Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland an “AAA Travel Treasure.”
Wally and Irene were married for over 50 years and celebrated their 80thbirthdays with family and employees of Bronner’s who they considered family.
Wally Bronner died on April 1, 2008 and was inducted into the Saginaw Hall of Fame in 2017.
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