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'Hardware guy' Al Bretz dies

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Perham's "hardware man" Al Bretz, the patriarch of one of the longest-operating downtown Perham businesses, died last weekend at age 94.

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Bretz moved from his hometown of Wadena to purchase the Perham store in 1961, and kept right on working almost right up to his death.

Though son Jim was the day-to-day man who carried on the family tradition at Bretz Our Own Hardware in recent years, Al still continued to work a few hours most days.

It will be a rare occasion Thursday and Friday, as Brertz Hardware will be closed for business for Al's funeral. The store will close its doors at 3 p.m. Thursday, and will be closed all day on Friday.

Al Bretz will be long remembered by his fellow downtown business owners for his annual Christmas jaunt around town. Virtually every holiday season since 1961, Bretz would don his red and white Santa hat and distribute candy canes all around downtown.

"The first year, I just wanted to let everybody know I was in town," said Bretz in a 2006 interview. Some were confused as he "Ho, ho, ho'ed" his way into the businesses.

But over the span of 45 years, the annual Al Bretz Christmas Eve "tour" has become part of the fabric of the community.

Bretz's fondness for Christmas may have much to do with the snow-less, joy-less holidays he experienced more than 60 years ago.

"I remember one Christmas day pouring cement on a rainy day in New Guinea," recalled Bretz, who spent most of his World War II duty with an Army Engineer unit in the southeast Pacific.

Rising to the rank of sergeant, Bretz went from Melbourne, Australia, to Port Moresby, New Guinea, where he supervised a squadron building bridges, roads and docks.

It was hot, jungle duty for Bretz's Army crew. There was probably a 75 degree difference on the thermometer from Christmas Eve 1943 in New Guinea and his nearly 50 years of Christmas "tours" in Perham.

Two of Bretz's World War II experiences have particular historic significance. "I was privileged to stand Honor Guard for General Douglas MacArthur after his escape from the Philippine Islands," wrote Bretz in a veterans publication. MacArthur was the U.S. commander of the entire Pacific Theatre.

After two-and-a-half years overseas, he served as a drill instructor for a period, and then received sealed, top secret orders to report for duty at a desolate base with the unlikely name "Manhattan District," in Los Alamos, New Mexico--where the atomic bomb was created that ended the war with Japan.

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