A legend in the CHRISTmas display world passes

FRANKENMUTH, Mich.  APRIL 1st 2009– Wally Bronner, whose Christmas retail empire (BRONNER’S CHRISTmas Wonderland)made Frankenmuth one of Michigan’s most popular tourist destinations but who strove to keep the focus on the Nativity and Christian tradition, has died. He was 81.

Bronner’s death was confirmed Wednesday by Kim Cederberg, owner of Cederberg Funeral Home of Frankenmuth, which is handling funeral arrangements. He provided no other details.

The Saginaw News reported that Bronner died Tuesday. His relatives notified employees of Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland last week that he had inoperable cancer. Shoppers from all over the country have come for years to Bronner’s to take in what is touted as the world’s largest Christmas store.

"You want to know the truth?" he asked a Detroit Free Press reporter in 2004. "The truth is no decorations are needed at all at Christmas. What’s really needed at Christmas is that we decorate our hearts.

"We get so busy with all of our preparations that we forget that this is such an important time of year to stop and take time to reflect on our lives, our faith, our world.

"What matters most to me? Helping people to decorate their hearts with peace and love."

Wallace "Wally" Bronner was born in Frankenmuth on March 9, 1927, the youngest of Herman and Ella Bronner’s three children. He started a sign-painting business in his parents’ basement in 1943 and expanded it to include decorating parade floats and fair booths and designing window displays.

In 1951, Bronner met several merchants from Clare who were looking for Christmas decorations for lampposts in their city. Aided by his first full-time employee, Eddie Beyerlein, Bronner designed and produced Christmas panels for them. He married Irene Pretzer of Hemlock the same year.

Bronner learned that other cities in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Ontario also were interested in commercial decorations. He held his first decorations exhibit in the spring of 1952 in Frankenmuth’s Township Hall. Two years later, he and his wife constructed their first permanent building in the middle of Frankenmuth — half of it dedicated to the sign painting business, the other half accommodating the Christmas decorations.
The store offered decorations for cities and shopping centers as well as gifts and trims for the home in religious, traditional and toyland themes. Another building was acquired in 1966 and a third in 1971.

He was laid to rest on Monday.  God bless Irene and the family during this difficult time

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