September 21, 2019

Hard work and a giving heart

Farmer, businessman Willard Wangler is remembered as community-minded

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WEST BRANCH — Last month the county lost a rock when lifetime resident Willard Wangler died June 12 at the age of 93. He built a name for himself not just through the successful business he created, but through his heavy involvement in the community.

Having grown up on a farm and owning a farm himself, Willard kept close to his roots in the things he later chose to do as a businessman and in his community involvement. But first he had to work his way up starting from scratch.

“One thing we learned is his work ethic,” his daughter Marsha Schnautz said. “If you’re going to do it, do it right. ... We learned to work hard. He would work 24/7 if he was needed. My brothers, sister and I all learned to do what was necessary to get a job done well.”

In 1947, at only age 22, Willard bought his grandfather’s property, which Marsha said had little on it — a small house and no barns, diligently improving it into a dairy farm that would raise several families off its income. Willard started the operations of what now is called Bo-Te Farms, currently owned by his grandsons, with only one cow.

When asked by a family member if farming is what he grew up wanting to do, he replied that he didn’t know anything else to do.

That first year he added two or three cows, also letting his sense of humor show through.

“He named them after his aunts depending on their dispositions,” Marsha said. “He never told his aunts he did this.”

The development of the farm wasn’t a smooth road. She said he borrowed money to build a silo and put it in a bank account, but the bank went bankrupt before he could pay the money back, and he had to borrow the money again to pay for the silo. In 1952 he built a three-stall parlor and paid for it by selling three steers.

In 1965 Willard once again worked to build a successful operation from the ground up, opening Willard’s Equipment in a pole barn on the farm.

“Allis-Chalmers contacted him and it was just an opportunity for him to get in the tractor business,” said his nephew Jerry Wangler, now a part-owner of Willard’s Equipment. “He used them himself. He kind of felt the community needed another tractor dealer.”

Willard balanced the tractor business with farming for a few years, building the dealership’s current location on M-33 in 1968, until 1970 when he sold the farm to his sons Roger and Paul.

Willard did well by the tractor brands he sold, winning several trips over the years. Marsha said he loved these trips, which took him as far as Paris and Japan.

For a quarter-century after selling the farm, Willard remained tied to his roots through the dealership before selling it to his son Ed Wangler, Jerry and employee Doug Parliament.

Jerry said he worked for Willard from an early age.

“He was great, a good leader — kind of demanding but he wanted things done right,” he said.

Jerry said Willard’s Equipment had added brands over time such as Kubota, Ford and New Holland. He said while the long-term future may be uncertain with mergers sometimes necessary in the business, the dealership itself that Willard started would remain in the community for a long, long time.

While Willard created a legacy of worldly success through his hard work, he also persisted throughout his life in leaving a legacy of character. As both a businessman and community member, Willard was known as a giving man.

“He did things for people we had no idea he did,” Marsha said, referring to stories community members told the family after Willard’s death.

“In his work he would do deliveries 9 o’clock at night because someone might need that equipment the next morning in the field,” she said. “He did what he could to help everybody.”

When the Ogemaw County Fair was created, Willard stepped up to serve as an original fair board member.

“He was one of the instrumental people who got the Ogemaw County Agricultural Society going,” said John Bennett, also an original fair board member. “When hotheads would take over, he and Vern Clemens were some of the cooler heads that prevailed. He was a stabilizing force, and helped the society succeed.”

His involvement in the physical preparation of the fairgrounds is a good example of his giving spirit.

“He brought out a skid-steer to use when we were clearing (the land),” fair board member Richard Nelson said. “When we got the piece of property we have now, it was all woods. Willard was one of the people who volunteered to get equipment over there and get all the work done.”

“It was the winter, I didn’t have a cab on my tractor and he let me use his truck to get to the fairgrounds when it was too cold,” Bennett said. “We were getting a lot of equipment for the fair out of Detroit. He let us take his truck down to Detroit to pick up materials.”

Marsha said Willard loved working at the Antique Village, especially putting on the pedal tractor pulls for kids. He did this not only at the fair but at many other events including those in neighboring counties, but eventually cut them down to three events — the Ogemaw County Fair, the Fourth of July festival in Rose City and the Pioneer Power antique tractor show.

“Many people who have attended the Lions Fourth of July Festival will remember Lion Willard and his family doing the kiddie tractor pulls for many years,” a remembrance piece written by the Rose City Lions reads. “He loved being involved in making kids happy.”

New generations of kids visiting the aforementioned events can still experience what Willard loved, as his son Ed continues the tradition.

Willard was involved in a host of other organizations in the community, including the West Branch Co-op and the Farm Bureau. He was a longtime bank board member, a member of the Holy Family Catholic Church and a cemetery sexton.

“He was the type of guy who as far as getting on different committees and boards, he felt like he needed to be a leader in the community, to get things straight,” Jerry said.

One particular area in which he made an impact was the Lions Club, where he served as president for a time and remained active even past age 90.

“Willard served the community as a Lion for 37 years with outstanding Lionism and dedication to his community,” the Lions wrote. “He was active in finding new community members to keep the Lions Club in Rose City a viable organization for the community. ... The Lions motto is ‘We Serve’ and Willard went above and beyond for his community.”

The Lions note that Willard was instrumental in moving the Lions Club cabin to its current location in Rose City Park, using equipment he owned. Willard also helped start and encouraged the continuation of the Lions’ scholarship program, created to help graduates from the Rose City area.

The Lions said Willard was persistent in selling raffle tickets, and Marsha confirmed this.

“People would tell me when they saw him coming, they would always check his pocket to see if raffle tickets were sticking out of it before they decided to stop and visit,” she said. “He was always selling tickets for the Lions or Knights of Columbus.”

While Willard may not have asked for the recognition, over the years the community let him know he was appreciated and loved. Most recently, he was presented with the Lions’ Lifetime Membership Award last December for more than three decades of service. He had also been given the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award, the highest honor in the Lions, among other awards. In 1985 he was West Branch’s Person of the year, in 2010 he and his wife were the king and queen of the fair, and in 2015 he was the grand marshal of the Rose City parade.

Marsha said his community involvement was part of the example he set out to make for his family.

“He was good to us but he also wanted us to do the right things,” she said. “He had certain standards he wanted us to meet, he wanted us to be good people. He tried to do that too, do good to not just family but other people — respect people, help people.”

The good he showed his family is palpable in the memories several family members passed on to Marsha for the Herald.

“I was very lucky to have Willard as my father,” his daughter Roxann Moore wrote. “He loved to ‘teach and coach.’ He wanted to help everyone be the best that they can be. I benefited tremendously from his coaching. I loved him dearly and am so very grateful he was my father and such an inspiration to me and my life.”

“Grandma and grandpa always, always, always made me feel like a significant part of the family,” wrote his great-grandson Matt Dowell, who is now raising his family in Willard’s old home in West Branch. “They used to love when me, Ashley and kids would stop by to visit. ... Every day I look out their window from the house they built and think about the conversations we’ve had and all of the advice he’s given me over the years.”

His sense of humor is remembered as well.

“My sister-in-law remembers him as a prankster,” Marsha said. “He would send her cards unsigned from different places. At first she didn’t know who was sending them. He kept it up after she figured out who was doing it.”

Marsha said he also enjoyed taking Sunday rides checking out farms in the area, and a common memory from all who knew him was his fondness for card-playing.

“My husband Tom said he remembered when my parents would go to his parents’ cabin,” Marsha said. “They would play cards all night. The younger ones would go to bed and they would still be playing cards when they got up in the morning.”

“He played cards right up to the end,” she said. “He had some friends that would come on Wednesdays to play with him. He played the Wednesday before he died. I am sure he is playing cards with his friends now.”

Willard is survived by his children, Roger (Stephanie) Wangler of Prescott, Paul (Jean) Wangler of West Branch, Marsha (Thomas) Schnautz of West Branch, Roxann (James) Moore of St. Petersburg, Fla., and Edward Wangler of West Branch; nine grandchildren; 18 great-grandchildren; 10 great-great-grandchildren; one great-great-great-grandchild; and sister, Marlene (Roy) Wiltse of Rose City.

He was preceded in death by his parents; wife, A. Irvadene Wangler; sister, Viola Neubecker; brothers, Delbert and Burt Wangler; and daughter-in-law, Kathryn Wangler.

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