Industry Leaders, Staff Laud Founder of Delden Manufacturing, Renner Supply and Garage Door Group. (KANSAS CITY, Mo.) Elmer “Gene” Renner, regarded by many as a “founding father” of the modern garage door industry, passed away May 7, 2016 at the age of 88.
Renner was founder of Delden Manufacturing and Renner Supply, two leading companies in the garage door distribution and retail sectors. He was also a co-founder of the Garage Door Group (GDG), created to make residential raised-panel steel garage doors.
A native of De Soto, Kansas, Renner served in the United States Navy. After his discharge, he attended Baker University. During his time at Baker, he married his wife of 68 years, Freida (then Plummer). A gifted salesman, following college he began a career with Plattsburg Lumber and Hardware in Plattsburg, Missouri and then worked for Sweet Lumber Company for six years. In 1956 Renner and his father, Elmer, joined forces to sell overhead doors as R&R Garage Door. Renner’s wife, Freida, kept the books.
Due to lackluster sales, Renner strongly considered getting out of the business until fate intervened in 1957; a massive tornado struck the Kansas City area, spurring a large uptick in garage door sales. At that point, Renner changed the company name to Renner Supply, selling builders’ hardware and garage doors, installing Ro-Way and Wagner doors.
By 1964, Renner purchased a Lincoln door clamp from Berry Door in Birmingham, Michigan, and created Delden Mfg. Co. with Dick Wright, Harry Link and Elmer Renner as minority partners. Delden is named for Dee Layne, Dennis and Denise, his three children. With the clamp, Delden made an 8×7 wood overhead door for less than $30.
In 1966, Renner and Dick Wright formed Renner-Wright Corporation in St. Louis, making garage doors with a Lincoln door clamp; by 1969 Delden produced fiberglass and aluminum garage doors. Renner later bought out Wright’s share of Renner-Wright and the company became part of Delden.
In 1980, Delden acquired a roll former and began producing its own commercial steel overhead doors. Respected by colleagues and competitors alike, Renner was elected president of the National Association of Garage Door Manufacturers (NAGDM) that year.
The eighties saw Delden open Delden Garage Door of Iowa, and, with Renner as president, Delden, Amarr (Winston-Salem, N.C.), and Ankmar (Denver, Colo.) formed the Garage Door Group (GDG) in Kansas City, Mo. GDG bought Roll-Easy Springs of Kansas City and in 1989 GDG moved to Lawrence, Kan., to a plant built and owned by the Brenner family of Amarr.
In the nineties, Renner presided over transactions that eventually led to Amarr purchasing Delden’s shares of GDG. Buoyed by years of solid growth, Delden built an 84,000 square foot plant in Kansas City, Mo. in 2000. By 2003, he named his daughter, Denise Dahms, president of Delden, though Renner was still a strong voice in the company until his passing.
“The biggest thing he taught me was not to worry about the past,” said Dahms. “The past is the past. Move forward with your plan. You just keep your eyes forward instead of always looking back.”
In 2006, Rick Vinson became co-owner of Delden of Iowa.
“I started as a salesman with Gene. You never had to sign an agreement or contract or anything like that, just a handshake. He came across as a pretty straight shooter. That handshake meant a lot to me,” Vinson said. “Gene was just solid as a rock. He was a true family guy who loved his kids and grandkids and was a wonderful mentor. I can’t say enough good about the guy. A great friend. A great mentor. More like a dad than anything.”
Ken Roehl, vice president of sales at LiftMaster, echoed Vinson’s thoughts, harking back to working with Renner at the beginning of his career.
“He was just a gentle person to a young, up and coming salesperson 25 years ago. Gene was such a kind person,” Roehl said. “A loving husband, father and leader. That was always a very strong point he impressed on me as a young man.”
Renner was a no-nonsense leader of his companies, but he took time to get to know his employees.
“He knew people who worked for him. I remember way back, he expanded the business slowly, and at one time we had 70 people working the shop here in Kansas City,” said Jerry Sullivan, a 31-year veteran of Delden in the track department. “We were building the wood doors and he knew my wife’s name and my children’s names. I was one of 70, yet he knew that about me.”
Richard Brenner, vice chairman of Amarr/Entrematic, fondly remembered Renner’s personality. “Always a gentleman. I never heard Gene badmouth anybody; it was ‘Hey, we’ve got to do something about this.’ ‘Let’s figure something out,'” Brenner said. “That was more the Gene way.”
“The thing I liked, the first time I met Gene and signed all these contracts,” said Jeff Mick, president & CEO of Amarr/Entrematic. “It really touched my heart when he said, ‘Yeah, we signed those contracts. I don’t know why we couldn’t have just shaken hands?’ That’s my first impression of Gene. I know I’m going to miss him.”
Delden controller Joe Shipp noted that respect for Renner ran deep, even beyond his company and the industry.
“Dealing as I do with all the financial areas of the company, Gene has a tremendous rapport with banking institutions,” Shipp said. “You can imagine we worked with several different banks throughout the years, and every banker that I have been aware of working with was at Gene’s funeral.”
Renner’s memorial service spoke volumes about his life and the effect he had on his family, company and community.
“Gene’s funeral was very, very unique, because at the closing of his funeral they played a song,” said Roy Thorn, Delden IT manager. “I had never ever heard this at a funeral before, but the song was Kansas City. That’s quite an epitaph for Gene. He based himself in this area; he included family and friends in the jobs that he brought here. He created a legacy in the fact that Delden and Renner can live on past him.”
Renner is survived by his beloved wife Freida of 68 years; daughter Denise Carol Dahms (Steve); sister JoAnn Chapman; seven grandchildren Dustin Dodson, Brad (Julie) Dodson, Staci Howard, Tammy Laver, Carmen (Michael) Becker, Willy (Tina) Dahms, Steven Zeth Dahms; sixteen great grandchildren and many nieces and nephews. Gene was preceded in death by his daughter Dee Layne Bowman and his son Dennis Renner; his parents Elmer David and Hazel Fern Renner.