Renner loved firefighting, helping out
Gruff and uncompromising on the outside, loyal and caring on the inside: That’s how friends and colleagues described the late Clarence “Jack” Renner, who passed away Aug. 17 at the Frazee Care Center.
Renner was employed by Lakes Publishing — as Detroit Lakes Newspapers used to be called — from 1951 to 1983, spending much of that time as manager of the commercial printing department.
“He was head of commercial printing when I started here in 1981,” said Jim Bruflodt, who now heads up the commercial printing department for Forum Communications Printing, as the Detroit Lakes plant is now called.
“I worked with him until 1983,” Bruflodt added, noting that he had been acquainted with the Renner family prior to his employment with the company, as he had gone to school with Jack’s daughter Eileen (who was one year behind him at DLHS).
“It was like working with my dad,” Bruflodt said of his years of working with Renner. “He had a grumpy persona sometimes, but he was very honest. You knew where you stood with him. Deep down, he was a teddy bear.”
Though he “liked to have a good time,” Bruflodt added, “he also knew when it was time to buckle down.
“I always considered Jack and Ron Fasteen (Renner’s successor as head of commercial printing) as my mentors,” Bruflodt continued.
“He led by example… he never asked anyone in the department to do anything he wouldn’t do, or hadn’t done himself. He knew what it took to get our printing projects to press.”
Bruflodt also noted that Renner was “an employees’ boss,” a sentiment that was echoed by retired pressman Chuck Reynolds, who worked with Renner from 1966 until the day he left in 1983.
“I worked with him in commercial printing, and he was my boss for most of that time,” Reynolds said. “Jack was tough to work for, but he was also very fair, and he stuck up for his employees … if you were a good worker, he went out of his way for you.”
Reynolds recalled one night when he’d worked a 13-hour day in the shop, running the printing press.
“About 9 p.m., there was a knock on the door, and it was Jack with a 12-pack of Grain Belt,” Reynolds said. “It was his gift for me to take home, just out of appreciation that I’d stayed and put in all those extra hours.”
“He used to enjoy his Grain Belt beer,” said Marv Gregerson, who got to know Renner during his tenure with the Detroit Lakes Fire Department, where Renner remained quite active even after his retirement.
“He was retired by the time I joined the fire department, but he was a dedicated, long-time volunteer firefighter,” Gregerson added, noting that Renner was responsible for rehabilitating the old 1927 American LaFrance fire truck that the department still uses as a parade unit.
“That truck was his pride and joy,” Gregerson said. “He was very enthusiastic about getting it up and going and keeping it maintained, because of the history of it.”
“At one time, they had talked about getting rid of that truck, but he was very adamant about keeping it,” added Tom Mack, who was both a friend and firefighting colleague of Renner’s during his years of volunteering with the department.
“He also made a wooden replica of that truck that’s on display at the fire hall,” Mack added.
“It took him over five years to make that (replica),” Gregerson said. “He was very meticulous, very true to detail.”
Both Gregerson and Mack recalled how much Renner enjoyed the annual fire department campouts at Long Lake.
“We thought we would do something different as a group, and a bunch of us enjoyed camping,” Mack said. “Both of us were at the first campout the fire department had, and it’s still going on today.”
“He enjoyed the fire department campouts, and the camaraderie of getting together with the guys at the fire station,” said Gregerson. “He could be boisterous, and voiced his opinion pretty strongly, but his intentions were always good.”
“He’d come off as being gruff, but inside he was just one really nice guy,” Mack said. “Once I got to know him, I had so much fun with him.”
Mack said he often went camping with Jack, and sometimes their wives would come along too.
“We went to different firemen’s conventions together, and when we hosted them in Detroit Lakes, he was heavily involved with those. I also curled with him at the Lakes Curling Club for quite a few years.”
Renner was also a past Northwest Water Carnival admiral, Rotarian and past president of the Eagles Club.
Another of Renner’s former employees at Lakes Publishing, Curt Olson, also referred to Renner’s gruff persona, and the fact that it didn’t accurately reflect his true nature.
“He could be tough and ornery when he had to be, but he was also a teddy bear,” Olson said. “He was also very knowledgeable.”
Olson said Renner had been the one to hire him when he first came to work for Lakes Publishing back in 1967.
“My wife and I were living with our family in Alexandria, and I answered an ad at Lakes Publishing,” Olson said. “They were looking for a printer, and Jack came down to Alexandria to interview me.”
Olson was originally hired to work at the Valley Times in Moorhead, but a few days after he gave his notice at Alexandria, “Jack gave me a call and said (publisher) John Meyer had decided to close the Moorhead plant. My heart dropped.”
Fortunately, Jack also wanted to know if Olson was interested in coming to work at the Detroit Lakes printing plant. Olson said yes, and his first day on the job, he walked into the plant and found that his former college classmate — and one-time roommate — was also working there.
“I figured it must be a good place to work,” Olson said.
That former college roommate was Bob Jenson, who is now the production manager for Detroit Lakes Newspapers.
“I started here in 1964,” Jenson said. “Jack was my boss at times; he was in charge of commercial printing, and we did both commercial and newsprint.
“He was a good boss,” Jenson said of Renner. “He was good at taking care of his employees.”
Jenson recalled several employee retreats and picnics where Renner was in charge of coordinating the event.
“Jack was always good at keeping things organized,” he said. “There was always good food — and good beer. He made sure we had everything we needed.”
“Jack was very dedicated, but he had a real good sense of humor,” Olson said. “You could pull practical jokes (on fellow employees), so long as it didn’t harm anyone. He always wanted to know how your kids were doing. He was a good mentor … I hated to see him go.”
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.