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Remembering Our Founder, Elmer “Gene” Renner

From left: Willy Dahms, Gene Renner, Denise Dahms, and Brad Dodson. KC Delden Christmas party, 2014.

“The past is the past. Move forward with your plan. You just keep your eyes forward instead of always looking back.”

Those wise words were spoken by our founder Elmer “Gene” Renner, to his daughter, Denise Dahms, our president. We hope Gene would understand that we’d like to take a moment to look back at the past to the beloved husband, father, grandfather and leader we lost in May at the age of 88.

We spoke with numerous family members, employees and colleagues, asking what they remembered most about Gene. One thing was soon very clear: he made his mark not only as a leader in the garage door industry, but also as a man who surrounded himself with a loving, loyal family at home and at work.

Gene founded Delden Manufacturing and Renner Supply, which became two of the 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 DeSoto, Kansas, Gene 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 Gene and his father, Elmer, joined forces to sell overhead doors as R&R Garage Door. Freida kept the books.

Due to lackluster sales, he 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, Gene changed the company name to Renner Supply, selling builders’ hardware and garage doors, installing Ro-Way and Wagner doors.

By 1964, Gene 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.

Frieda recalls that from the beginning, Gene was a studious entrepreneur. “When he was first starting his business,” she said. “He’d be up at three o’clock in the morning at the kitchen table figuring.”

Normally just on some kind of scratch card,” added his daughter, Denise.

I don’t know. He did that quite a bit to begin with. Sometimes he would come back to bed, but sometimes he would just stay up, too,” Frieda said, smiling at the memory.

In 1966, Gene 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. Gene 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, Gene was elected president of the National Association of Garage Door Manufacturers (NAGDM) that year. Gene, earnest to express himself and represent the organization well, took public speaking courses.

The eighties saw Delden open Delden Garage Door of Iowa, and, with Gene as president, Delden, Amarr (Winston-Salem, NC), and Ankmar (Denver, CO) 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, KS, to a plant built and owned by the Brenner family of Amarr.

In the nineties, he 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, at the time serving as general manager, president of Delden, though Gene was still a strong voice in the company until his passing.

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 Gene at the beginning of his career.

“He was just a gentle person to a young, up and coming salesperson twenty-five 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.”

Gene 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 Gene’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.”

A shrewd businessman, Gene knew a good investment when he saw it.He also knew to step away from things,” said Dustin Dodson, Gene’s grandson.

“You always knew the conversation was over and you weren’t going to change Gene’s mind when he said ‘well, at any rate…,’ says grandson Brad Dodson, Delden marketing and promotions manager.

Gene would often invest in his competitors, also, as a means of keeping track of what they were up to.

“Some competitors…he invested in their stocks,” Denise said. “He said ‘that’s one way to be able to see what they do because they send newsletters.'”

However, Gene was not a “cut-throat” competitor. “I would say ‘friendly competitor’ was more his line,” Denise said.

“Gene told me ‘there’s nothing wrong with some good competition,’ said grandson William (Willy) Dahms, Renner Supply sales representative, ‘don’t be afraid of good competition, it keeps you doing things correctly.’”

He didn’t take things personally; business was business,” Dustin added. “Or if he did, he moved on pretty quickly. He was a businessman and he just treated people with respect.”

“[He] would say ‘All you do is buy the garage door and then sell it for more money,’ said Willy, ‘it’s not that hard. It doesn’t have to be very complicated.’” “I think what he was trying to get at is that that’s the whole idea, you don’t have to make it so complicated and get so freaked out, you buy, then sell for more money.”

“[He] liked making deals,” said Denise. “We went through a period of about seven years, while I’m going to guess once every six months, he would come in and he had something–buy a company, or he would say he worked out a consignment of inventory or ‘we’re going to open this place up.’” “He’d do the deal and he would go, ‘Here, now you take the rest of it.’” “I’m like, well…,” she said, chuckling.

Gene was perhaps a little “old school” in some ways, but he rolled with the times and adapted quickly to circumstance. Denise confessed she was surprised when he eventually asked her to take a leadership role in the company.

“He was kind of a man’s man. I mean that’s why I was surprised that…I think he probably was surprised at himself that he made me general manager.”

Growing up, he never was like, ‘OK, this is what you’re going to do.'” she said. “It was more like, ‘You’re going to grow up, get married, stay at home, do that kind of stuff.’ It didn’t turn out that way.”

In that vein, though he didn’t specifically ask for advice, when his wife Frieda offered it, Gene was receptive. “Yes, I gave him my advice,” she said, adding he never had a problem with her offering it.

One time he said (of an idea), ‘Well, your mother thought of it,'” Denise said.

Gene did things his way, in business and even on the golf course.

“We played many a golf game together,” Frieda said, laughing. “He used to tickle me. He’d have a bad shot, and he’d say, ‘Let me go hit again, and then I’ll be out of your way,’ and maybe go way ahead of me and hit. ‘Get out of my way.'”

Gene had amusing quirks at the office, also. He had a habit of ending a business meeting by raising a newspaper to eye level, and wasn’t averse to turning down his hearing aid if he had heard enough from someone.

Gene and Frieda had a winter home in sunny Arizona. He enjoyed “poking” people a bit from there about the weather, especially in cold Kansas City winters. “He’d ask us ‘What’s the weather like up there?’ and he knew, he’d read the newspaper,” said Joe Shipp, Delden controller.

Gene was also fond of talking about sports. “He definitely didn’t run out of conversation about your favorite team when he wanted to talk about sports,” Dustin said. “That’s one thing a lot of employees said was that he would remember. I think it’s the hallmark of what a great salesman he was in the beginning of his career, throughout his career, was that he remembered things about each person.”

I remember Brad talking to Gene when he first got interested in baseball,” Frieda said. “I remember him telling Brad things that happened a long time ago that he was interested in.”

Frieda said that Gene knew how to relax after a long day. “Gene always liked a martini. I used to enjoy seeing him take the first sip of that martini when he’d drink one every night because there would be such bliss. He’d sip and his face would break out,” she said, beaming.

Gene wasn’t one to sit around much, even in retirement. Even near the end of his life, when told he should “move around a bit” by his chiropractor, Gene suggested the family go to TopGolf that night. Though he didn’t swing a club that evening, he wanted to keep moving and enjoying time with his family.

When asked to name a single aspect of Gene that informs the way she leads the company now, Denise quickly responded, He always taught me to think tough and to be fair,” she said. “Fair is the word that I think of. The only thing that he has told me directly was, ‘Delden’s first. In all your decision‑making make Delden’s best interest first.'”

“He told me something similar,” said Brad. “I had a few conversations with him when I thought it could be the last time I was going to see him. One time in particular, I was trying to get every last bit I could. He said that it would benefit me to do things that helped the company. The whole point of that, that’s going to benefit me in the long run if I do things that would help the company.”

He was tough but fair, even on employees who happened to be family.

“I remember asking him if I could get some money,” said Brad. “[Gene] said, ‘Well, we could sure use some help out in the warehouse.’ He taught us at a very early age that there weren’t going to be free rides. He tried to instill that work ethic.”

“He had a lot of sayings we called Geneisms,” said Phil Goff, Delden sales manager. “Like ‘one on his feet is worth two in the seat.’”

More “Geneisms” to mention a few include; ‘The garage door business is never as bad as it seems in February or as good as it seems in October,’ ‘Figures don’t lie but liars figure’ and ‘The answer to any objection you get is “yes but…”’

He was also notoriously serious about punctuality, as Brad learned early in his career working at Delden.

“I was at a business conference in Las Vegas and he’d tell me, ‘All right, you know we’re leaving at nine for the airport.’ That morning he calls me up, and says it’s nine o’clock. I said ‘Oh Gene, I overslept. I’ll be down if you can just wait fifteen minutes.’ He says ‘No, no, you can find your own way to the airport. If you can’t be on time for the boss, I don’t know what to tell you. You pay your own damn way to the airport.'”

“Of course, I didn’t get reimbursed for the taxi,” Brad added, chuckling. “When I got to the airport, and of course, he’s laughing about it, I asked him if he was going to tell grandma and he said, ‘Yeah, I probably will.'”

“I asked if grandma would be mad at me and he said, ‘Well she’ll probably get mad at me for leaving you,'” Brad said. “That was a big point where I made a turnaround after a lot of stuff–that finally cemented in my head.”

“One thing about him is he always gave everyone a second chance,” Dustin said. “If you straightened up, you think you can do something, then let’s do it.”

He definitely believed in you–that’s where that second chance comes in, or the third chance,” Brad said. “He believed in people. You’d tell him that you’re ready to roll, and that you had shaped up.”

Described as “being fair to a fault” with staff and customers, he nonetheless knew to the penny what was happening with his enterprises.

“You know how many times I used to come over to his house and he’d be sleeping in a chair with the balance sheet?” Dustin said.

Delden controller Joe Shipp noted that respect for Gene ran deep, even beyond his company and the industry.

“Dealing as I do with all the financial areas of the company, Gene had 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.”

“Gene treated everyone like family,” said Sales Manager Phil Goff, who has worked for Delden for decades since Gene hired him after he graduated high school.

Gene’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.”

Now, we will continue to move forward, guided by the memory and many lessons our beloved Gene taught us.


Gene 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.

3 thoughts on “Remembering Our Founder, Elmer “Gene” Renner

  1. While this account is wonderful, I’d like to add the my dad, Donald Dropps, managed a Delden Warehouse in Phoenix, AZ from 1984-1991. Mr. Renner then sold the Arizona portion to Amarr.

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