Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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July 9, 2014

On rumble seats and recalls

Kerens — Just as his granddad and dad before him and more recently his own son, Dwain Bruner has risked much on fair play, business ethics and hard work — as well as occasional blind hog luck.

It was surprising, though, that one of his first problems in business would involve theology.

Some 45 years ago when he purchased the Stephenville Chevrolet dealership, he’d counted on the mechanic who’d been pivotal to his success in Wolfe City joining him there.

Bruner was crushed with the mechanic’s decision to “stay put.”

He cited “theological differences” — not with Bruner, but with the Lutheran Church.

“I hate to disappoint you,” he explained, “The wife and I made sure they have a Lutheran Church in Stephenville. They do, but it’s the wrong synod.”

Dwain’s dad, Vernon Decatur Bruner, joined his father in a 1923 service station/repair business in Kerens. There weren’t that many cars to service then, so in 1928, they started selling Star automobiles.

Soon, they sold Chevrolets, and Old Vern missed “car show day” for the ’31 models. Back then, dealerships nationwide planned much “whoop-de-do.” They covered show windows for several days, removing the window coverings on the same day to reveal the new models.

Vernon helped with the preliminaries, but on Nov. 14, 1930 — “car show day” — he wasn’t in the showroom. Instead, he was in the waiting room near the delivery room of a Corsicana hospital, awaiting the birth of the first of four sons.

So, Dwain grew up the car business.

During the summer of his 12th year, it was his daily “duty” to signal “high noon” to the thousand or so residents. He’d listen for the radio announcement: “It’s 12 o’clock.” Then, he’d race outside to blow the whistle hooked up to the air compressor that was used mostly to lift the grease rack.

Interestingly, the youth took piano to please his mother, and enrolled for typing as a freshman, thanks to the superintendent’s intervention in a class typically offered for juniors and seniors.

With World War II raging, motorists were required to have certificates of need to buy new tires. Kerens’ only option for the inspection was at the dealership, and no one there could type.

As a freshman, Dwain “whipped out” the typed documents, rewarded 25 cents for each. Soon, he also was earning extra money as pianist for weddings and funerals.

He bought savings bonds that later helped him scrape together money for his first dealership.

After finishing high school, he majored in accounting, played in the Baylor marching band and studied organ with the prof he’d met a few years earlier during installation of his church’s pipe organ.

Following discharge from the US Navy, he and Carolyn — his wife of 57 years — lived for seven years in Wolfe City. In Stephenville, where son Greg and daughter Gwyn were reared, he’s been a member of the church choir, often serving as organist and pianist for weddings, funerals and programs.

The Bruners also have long been at the forefront of the community’s educational, civic and business projects.

Now, they’ve expanded to include a Brown County dealership serving Brownwood, Early and other communities. Greg is president of the all-new dealership.

“Greg has a vision for continuing a business that’s been going since 1923,” said Dwain, who remains active at the Stephenville location.

The elder Bruner foresees additional family help soon, since grandson Kyle (Greg’s son) is completing a BU master’s degree in business, eager to start the family’s fifth generation in the family business. And other grandchildren — Courtney, Megan and Amanda — could wind up in it as well.

At the dedication, reps from eight car manufacturers spoke of unique business services, including Wi-Fi in waiting areas, new auto features and cutting edge technology.

“All the new stuff is dizzying,” Dwain said. “Dad bragged about rumble seats on the ’31 model, the six-cylinder engine and best gas mileage at 20 MPH.”

I asked him to recall his most memorable sale. “First, don’t say ‘recall,’” he joked. “I guess it was after my first day in Wolfe City. I made a joyous long distance phone call to my folks back in Kerens, telling them I’d sold A CAR!”

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