Notes From the Dockside: Mr. Warner’s legacyAn icon of northwestern Wisconsin recently passed away and I just found out about it. His name is Ron Warner and he started what is now Warner’s Dock in New Richmond.
By: By Mike Yurk, Hudson Star-Observer
An icon of northwestern Wisconsin recently passed away and I just found out about it. His name is Ron Warner and he started what is now Warner’s Dock in New Richmond.
I have always called him Mr. Warner. When I was a boy my parents insisted that I show respect to my elders. Essentially anyone my parents’ age or older was considered an elder and no matter how old I become they are still my elder. So to me Mr. Warner was always Mr. Warner.
He, like millions of men during World War II, joined the Army and was sent to the European Theater. It was after the war as he was heading home that Warner’s Dock began.
As Mr. Warner told me, the military paid everyone just before they got on the boats for the return trip back to the states. “I can’t believe that they did something that stupid.” he told me. A couple of weeks stuck on a ship with a lot of pent up energy and nothing else to do it was inevitable that the card games would start. When the ship landed on the East Coast Mr. Warner and one other soldier had won all the money onboard ship. They decided not to play each other so they both went home with a pocket full of money.
He had married a lady named Dolores before he left for the Army and their oldest son Marlin was born when he was overseas. Mrs. Warner would become his business partner as well as his wife for the next 62 years until she passed away in 2005. That money he won playing poker on the way home from France was used to help buy a small gas station.
It was both a retail and wholesale gas station where they also repaired cars and sold a few outboard motors. Outboard motors were just a sideline to the other things the business was doing.
“It was different when we first started out, Mr. Warner told me. A lot of people could afford to buy a motor but not a boat in those days he explained. A lot of people rented boats when they went fishing. Also a lot of people were building their own boats, he told me. But a motor was something else. They needed to purchase that. By today’s standards a lot of those motors were small. A lot of them were less than 10 horsepower and had to fit in the trunk of a car.
Anyone who was as good a poker player as Mr. Warner would also be a good businessman. He quickly recognized the value of selling boats. By 1956 he was selling boats and motors starting with Crestliner aluminum boats and Evinrude motors. Warner’s Dock still sells Evinrude. By that time the largest motor on the market was 30 horsepower, he told me.
A year later they began selling Glasspar fiberglass boats which was the first of its kind. In 1972 as Warner’s Dock was celebrating its 25th anniversary they added Alumacraft boats and a year later they added Weeres pontoon boats and a year after that, Johnson outboard motors. By 1991 they also began selling Javelin bass boats that would eventually become Stratos which they still continue to offer today.
Mr. and Mrs. Warner had three sons — Marlin, Gerry and Greg — and by the late 1970s Mr. Warner had semi-retired, turning over the business to his sons. That may have been Mr. and Mrs. Warner’s proudest achievement. Not only had they built a thriving business but turned it over to their children who continued what their parents gave them and expanded the business to what it is today.
“We now have grandchildren working here,” Mr. Warner proudly told me once.
I have bought my last two boats from Warner’s Dock and they have done all my boat, motor and trailer maintenance for the last 15 years. Every time I stopped in I saw Mr. Warner. Although semi-retired he came in to work every day. “He would get here about 9:45,” his son Gerry said. “And then leave about 4:15.” One of his grandsons told me that even when he was in his 80s, Mr. Warner would still help get pontoon boats from the factory.
He had a small desk in their upstairs offices and every time I was in I would look for him and then go up to talk to him. Earlier this spring I dropped the boat off at the Boat Doctor late one afternoon for its spring checkup. I did not see Mr. Warner then so I thought I just got there too late and he had left earlier in the day. A couple of weeks later I picked up the boat and again it was late in the afternoon. He wasn’t there then either. It dawned on me that I haven’t seen him in a while since I seldom drop in during the winter.
A few days later at the Sportsman Show I saw Gerry and asked about his father. He had died in November, Gerry told me. He had a stroke one afternoon at work.
Mr. Warner was part of the generation that had fought to save the world from tyranny which in itself deserves our gratitude. He came home and started a business that embodies the best of the American dream and thrives today after almost 70 years and now for a third generation of his family. What a legacy Mr. Warner left. His family and friends and all of us that came into Warner’s Dock have had our lives enriched because we knew him.
Editor’s Note: The Notes From The Dockside is an exclusive feature appearing in the Hudson Star-Observer on the first and third issues of each month.