Our late originator, Wally Bronner, didn’t set out to build The World’s Largest Christmas Store. He loved art and began his career as a sign painter and window trimmer. One request from the business community in Clare, Michigan, turned the direction of the young business to Christmas decorations. But art was the start …
Wally Bronner, was born into the Herman and Ella Bronner family March 9, 1927. They were living in a little white house on the corner of School and Haas Streets in Frankenmuth at that time. Big brother Arnold and big sister Helen welcomed baby brother Wally to the family.
Wally was interested in art and decorating from an early age.
“I was fortunate to grow up in a large, extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, who all had important roles in my childhood. One of my favorite gathering spots for Pa’s brothers and sisters was a greenhouse and floral shop in Frankenmuth. Pa’s sister, my ‘Tante’ (Aunt) Emma Bronner Ranke, and her husband, ‘Onkel’ (Uncle) Herman, owned it. During our cold Michigan winters, the greenhouse had to be carefully monitored. In the frosty evenings, the boiler had to be well-stocked with coal. The hot-water pipes that warmed the greenhouse needed checking through the night. My Uncle John was the night engineer.
The greenhouse drew the Bronner siblings into its cozy warmth. On the evenings when Ma was at her monthly card club or involved with a church meeting, Pa took me with him to the greenhouse. We sat around with the aunts, uncles and cousins, munching cookies. I noticed that Tante Emma and my cousin Elsie were busily creating beautiful things for the florist shop. They tied colorful bows and stockpiled them for use in making arrangements. They also dipped the tips of pine cones in white paint so they would be ready for festive Christmas wreaths and decorations. I felt very honored when I was allowed to apply white paint and help decorate greenery. Little did I know that this experience was the start of my life’s work.”*
Wally’s mother Ella encouraged him to help decorate their home for Christmas. Wally framed a paper Nativity scene for display above his parents’ mantel when he was only 12 years old. This piece, along with his first watercolor, a winter scene entered in an art show sponsored by Leonard Zehnder at Zehnder’s Restaurant in the late 1940s, are now on display in Bronner’s program center.
*excerpted from “Sharing Joy,” an autobiography by Wally Bronner