Mr. Gerry Willey opened Fenton Home Furnishings 35 years ago on April 1, 1979, and since then he has grown it into a successful furniture business consisting of four locations, as well as 34 employees, including seven salespeople and ten designers. That makes him the force and the talent behind this impressive establishment, complete with a compelling life story that speaks to his remarkable achievements.
Born July 17th, 1939, Mr. Willey lived on the east side of Flint and came from very humble beginnings. He left high school in the 12th grade to join the Marine Corps in which he served from 1956 to 1959. Mr. Willey opened his Fenton store with only one employee-himself doing all the buying, selling, unloading, and pricing for the original establishment. He had two high school boys come in at 3 PM to help with deliveries. His dad had helped him covert a $400 old blue pickup to a delivery truck by building a wooden box on the top to hold all the customers’ merchandise. He has since come a long way to his present delivery fleet of five trucks.
In fact, the red-carpet delivery service now offered by Fenton Home Furnishings is unique. With each delivery, the customer can have things moved to another location in their home in order to accommodate their new purchase. That is, the professional delivery staff will move old furniture upstairs, downstairs, or even out to the garage of a customer if need be. After each delivery is completed, the client receives a special surprise gift, and a follow-up phone call a couple days later to ensure everything went as expected.
Though most merchandise the store carries is standard for the furniture business, there are also many one-of-a kind items available at each location, thereby making each store unique in its own right. All the stores have the latest in styles and fabrics in furniture as well, with experienced staff at the ready with whom customers can consult. Complimentary home design services are offered at each location to help clients choose the right furniture and accessories to showcase their homes, while custom window treatments and blinds are also available at the Frankenmuth store. “Our customers expect us to take care of them. We offer quality, style, comfort, and design experience. Our customers are informed, well-read and enjoy travel.” In order to consistently meet these customers’ needs, he adds that Fenton Home Furnishings professional staff stay up-to-date on home design shows and magazines to ensure clients see the latest design trends.
Nowadays, Mr. Willey just watches his well-structured business operate, allowing him more time to discover other adventures-including a perhaps not so well-known purchase of the Fenton Hotel from the bank in 1996. He found out quickly enough that he was not cut out for the restaurant business and sold it in 1997-content now to enjoy observing the company he so carefully constructed run successfully. “For the most part, I just sit back and watch,” he laughs, but then he becomes more serious and says, “But I am very proud of my family.” Willey has three children who are involved in the business: Nick, who is the operations manager overseeing the finances; Kristi, who is in charge of advertising, web development, and buying; and Rodney, who is the general manager. At one time, his other two children also worked for the company-Lora, worked in the office, is now the Coordinator of Education for Reverence Home Health Care & Hospice, and Gerry Jr. who once delivered furniture while going to college. He has since earned his law degree and works at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP in NYC.
“God is Good and Life is Good-only in America” is Mr. Willey’s motto. He goes on to explain, “Fenton has been good to me; (the store) has an excellent service department and our reputation has gotten us far. About 85% of our business comes from current customers and referrals. Once we sell someone, we usually have him or her as a customer for life. The reason is we ‘hug’ our customers, and they get special treatment here.”
Recently he had a conversation with his grandson who is 15 years old and a student at Powers Catholic High school. Mr. Willey asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. His grandson replied, “I have no idea.” About that remark Mr. Willey says, “You know what, I’m almost 75 years old and I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I never dreamed I’d sell furniture, but you know… , I enjoy it, I really do.” Ninety-eight percent of the merchandise in the store is American or Michigan-made Mr. Willey explained proudly, adding, “We strive to carry only the best, and we strive to make our customers happy.” And he seems to have succeeded in doing both for a very long and successful time.
Fenton Home Furnishings
1136 North Leroy Street
first thing I noticed about Fenton Farms Golf Club was the large, old
original farmhouse building which sits prominently and majestically
right off Torrey Road in Fenton, Michigan. That same farmhouse has stood
almost 100 years, has known various owners, and has had many different
names over the last century. I have been lucky enough to spend a sunny
morning at the golf course to hear about this
great facility, such as its origins, as well as the exciting changes and
developments in progress, all from current proprietor, Christopher
White, who also moonlights as a film producer, has spent the last decade bringing a new life to this course, which has been in existence as an 18-hole facility since 1939 and was once called Shoreacres Golf Club. Spanning eight decades, the owners and the course’s name have changed several times. It was also called Torrey Pines at one time.
“Even before Shoreacres Golf Club, Fenton Farms had a colorful history dating back to the 1930’s, when farmer Ralph Crane decided to clear some of his farmland to create a few golf holes. He called the new course Long Lake Golf Course because, back then, Lake Fenton was called Long Lake. Local legend and lore tells the story of Ralph’s children splitting up the family property, where his sons wanted the farm land and his daughters being left with the land surrounding Long Lake,” Chris explains. “If you are familiar with Fenton, you might recognize the names of his daughters: Ruth and Margaret (the names of streets around the lake). They also had another street, Crane Cove, which was part of the daughter’s development. Ralph’s son, George, wound up owning the farmland, which included his dad’s Long Lake Country Club, and he added some additional holes to create the first 18-hole course on the property. Personally, I think the daughters got the better end of that deal, with lakefront property going for a premium,” Chris says, chuckling.
Yes, it's true that the course was sold in the early to mid-1960s to a group of investors headed by former Detroit Lions member and TV sit-com star, Alex Karras. It was during this time the Alex Karras Golf Classic was held -- a fund raiser for cystic fibrosis was the intention, but the entire outing was designed to be a pro-am with local sports celebrities. Karras had arranged for Tiny Tim to parachute in from the sky, while the band played “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” Furthermore, musicians were to jump out of the woods and play the Mexican Hat Dance when golfers were putting, while tape players were hidden in the bushes to play sounds of people screaming and cars crashing to also add an element of surprise to the event. (Harpers May 1971)
When Karras and company were finished with the place, they sold what was
left to Walter Burkemo, a PGA touring pro whose career had been
highlighted by his victory in the 1953 PGA Championship. By some
accounts, actor and comedian George Gobel spent a considerable amount of
time at the course during the Burkemo era and may also have had some
ownership interest. It was during this time, is local lore has it, that
Marvin Gaye performed on the back of a hay wagon, and the course was
known then as more of a “Road House” and less as a golf course, due, in
part, to the deteriorating condition of the infrastructure of the course
itself. Apparently unable to turn the tide on the years of neglect,
Burkemo eventually sold the property to
golf architect George Fazio, who reportedly planned major renovations
for Torrey Pines… until he became stricken with illness and died.
Fast-forwarding to 1993, when a
Detroit-based group of investors, Fenton Farms Developments Inc., headed
by retired automotive entrepreneur Jack Bott, acquired the course. This
is when it first became known as Fenton Farms Golf Club.Bott’s
daughters, Diane Rutheford and Kathy White, along with his grandson,
current proprietor, Christopher White, took over operations of the
course in 2002 and have brought in new ideas, new equipment, new
management and rebranded this historic farm course into “The Friendly
Place” -- with an emphasis on customer service.
For the next decade, Chris White, says, they went about “…improving
the course, renovating the clubhouse and changing the focus of the
business plan to become a specialists in golf outings and entertainment
events.” Known for his flair for fun, Chris has brought his experience
as a producer in California to Fenton by enlisting the services of local
bagpipe artists, barbershop quartets, local celebrities and various
DJ’s to ensure each event held there is memorable. Many organizations
come back to Fenton Farms year after year because they know they will be
taken care of and that their guests will remember their experience for
years to come.
The future of Fenton Farms is very
exciting. Chris is excited to launch his “2014 Farm Fresh Menu,” which
is designed to entice the golfers as well as the non-golfing neighbors
and friends of the course. The menu features made- to-order Panini’s, artisan flatbread pizzas, gourmet-themed hot dogs and daily specials.
Leagues are nearly at capacity and Season Pass sales are at a record high. It’s easy to see why though; Season Passes are designed for people who like to golf… a lot. Pass holders receive advance tee times 2 weeks ahead of the general public, free range balls, 10% off all pro shop purchases, and they are welcomed with open arms into the Fenton Farms family. Bill Davis is a season pass holder who last year, during the abundance of apples on the course, asked permission and picked several bushels of them, bringing them back to the course the next day in the form of five home-baked apple pies. And that is just one example out of many on how the season pass holders feel just like family.
Fenton Farms Golf Club
12312 Torrey Road
(810) 629-1212 Golf Shop & Tee Times
(810) 750-6098 Sales, Catering & Events
Anniversaries come and go without much notice, but not when it’s John’s Pizzeria and Cocktail Lounge in Fenton. John’s Pizzeria and Cocktail Lounge employs about 24 people, many of whom have been with the restaurant for over 25 years. Everyone who walks through their doors is made to feel like family, which has contributed to the longevity and popularity of this local family-owned restaurant.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Delio and Sandy for the past five years, and my children have grown up knowing and experiencing what an amazing place and family they are and what a great place they own. Before my kids started kindergarten, Delio would let them come in and “help” during the week while he was setting up the lunch buffet. They also knew where they could get their suckers after their meal, but only if they cleaned their plates.
Delio passed away suddenly in his sleep at the young age of 76, in September of 2013, just a few months short of seeing his restaurants 50th anniversary. Those who knew Delio remember him fondly and always have memories to share about his restaurant, his food, and most importantly about his character. His daughter, Sandy Barletta Zdenek, who operated the restaurant with her father for the past 20 years, has continued to run the business seamlessly since his death, carrying on the tradition of good food, great service and a family atmosphere.
In 1959, there were 29 Italian immigrants who came over by boat from Italy to start new lives in America. Newly married to his bride, Vilma, Delio brought her to America to begin their married life together. Delio worked for a short time with GM in Pennsylvania and then was transferred to Michigan where he got a part time job at the local restaurant owned by another Italian immigrant, the place known as John’s Pizzeria and Cocktail Lounge.
Delio Barletta purchased that restaurant from John, the proprietor, in 1964, and over the next five decades, John’s Pizzeria and Cocktail Lounge witnessed many changes. In the beginning, Vilma, made thousands of meatballs a week for the restaurant, and many other family members and Italian immigrants learned how to open their own restaurants in the area with the help and expertise from Delio.
When asked why he kept the name, John’s Pizzeria & Cocktail Lounge, Barletta would reply, “I bought it, and I never changed the name because business was good.” It became a local inside joke to the employees and those who knew him that if someone came calling, asking for the owner, John, they knew it had to be a solicitor.
The Fenton community quickly adopted Delio and his family into their community, and the area became their home away from home. Delio preferred the small, close-knit community of Fenton, which was a drastic contrast to his hometown, a large tourist city in Italy called Patrica.
The restaurant was known to be the place to “hang out” after local high school football games, and diners fondly remember getting scolded by Delio if they were just loitering and not ordering food. In the early 2000’s, the restaurants popularity prompted expansion of it’s space to create a new dining area and banquet facility, with seating capacity for 120 people.
In 2011, I had the honor of presenting Delio with the Fenton Chamber of Commerce Enterprise Award at the Annual Dinner held on his birthday. I also surprised him by having the entire room sing “Happy Birthday” to him as he walked up to receive the award.
Inspired by support from the community and loyal customers, as well as their wish to continue a family tradition, the father and daughter team chose to expand even further and to offer local area delivery of their famous food right to customers’ homes in 2012.
John’s is still a popular place for hosting weddings, holiday parties, funeral dinners, local charity events and benefits, civil organization meetings, baby showers, bridal showers, first communicant celebrations, and so much more. They also have a large catering business for open houses, family reunions and any event where the host wants to serve the best Italian food in the area. This fall, Sandy and her family are celebrating 50 years of John’s Pizzeria and Cocktail Lounge family tradition in Fenton, Michigan with a celebration of food specials, live music and more.
Lunch Buffet: Monday – Friday, all you can eat for $6.99
Monday & Tuesday: 50% off ALL Pizzas, Any Size
Tuesday: $2 off ALL Pasta Dishes
Wednesday: 50% off Stromboli AND $2 off Fish & Chips or Cod (fried or baked)
Thursday: Kids 5 and Under Eat FREE
Friday: King & Queen Prime Rib
Located at 1492 North Leroy Street, Fenton, Michigan.
As a little girl, you always dreamed of an outdoor wedding. You dreamed you would be walking down the tree-lined steps at your family home on Lake Fenton, or through a fall orchard with the red and gold leaves or even a spring wedding in a park with scented with roses and cherry blossoms. You envision the sun shining down on you during your wedding ceremony. The birds are chirping. A light breeze flows through the air. The guests are smiling at you. It is the PERFECT day.
Many brides and grooms get that perfect day. I wish every single one could. The reality is though, we live in Michigan. They don’t say, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” for nothing. You could have a quick change of weather at any time. I’ve seen the most beautiful day turn into the perfect storm in a matter of minutes.
I have a few rules for outdoor brides and grooms. If you’re going to get married outside in the spring, summer or fall in Michigan, you have to:
1. Deal with whatever happens and be happy with it
2. Be prepared, have a plan B
3. Make sure your guests are comfortable
4. Roll with the punches (also see #1 deal with it!)
I’m not trying to scare anyone, but being prepared is the best way to have an ideal day not only for you, but also for your guests on your wedding day.
Plan A might involve all of your guests in the back yard or in a park under the trees, but a Plan B is a safe idea. Check with local rental companies to see how late you can add a tent. The 10-day forecast is a safe bet as it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Sometimes it’s best to have a back up location. Does the church you’re getting married in have hall? Does the hotel your guests are staying in have an extra room? You typically can’t hold these without plans of using them, but if they are going unused, as your event gets closer, they may be an option.
So, worst case scenario… It’s raining or it’s going to rain and it’s not just a sprinkle- it’s raining cats and dogs. Do your guests have to walk on wet grass? A trip to the store for a bunch of umbrellas for your guests to use to walk to their cars or the bathrooms can be helpful. Will it start getting muddy? As pretty as grass is- it can get really nasty fast. Think about getting some hay or mulch to put down in high traffic areas. Can you order sidewalls for your tent? Sometimes it does rain so hard that a tent can only do so much and if it is blowing, sidewalls can help a little. Have large heaters on hand to turn on in the tent just in case the temperature drops. Not only is it only planning ahead, but also it shows your guests that you care about their comfort.
Trust your gut. If you have a feeling the weather might turn bad, secure a plan B. Because if you do, the saying is, you won’t need it. But if you don’t, you probably will.
You can never depend on the weather. A corporate event I did one October was predicting warm weather ten days prior and then a few days before changed to cold weather. I ended up adding sidewalls to the tent, gas heaters inside and outside, valet parking and purchased many fleece blankets, which I had embroidered with the client’s logo to match the color scheme of the event. I placed the blankets on the lounge furniture and passed them out as gifts so the guests could stay warm. The little extra cost is worth peace of mind and the guests thought the blankets were an amazing take a way from the event.
Oh, You Didn’t Plan for Your Wedding Party to Have 80’s Metal Band Hair?
As you know, it can get windy outdoors in Michigan very quickly. On a lake or in a backyard, wind can wreak havoc on an event. For your hair, use a little extra hairspray. For groomsmen, even if they’re not the product type, have them use a little. It’s better than having your hair sticking up in pictures. Buy some travel bottles of hairspray and hair gel to put in the bathrooms so your guests can use them as well.
Are your place cards secured? Get a plan B for your place cards if they were little cards on a table. Affix them to something! I’ve used figs with pins to secure the place cards as a paperweight. I have also used acrylic frames from the photo booth company to display the names in. This also makes a great keepsake for the guests to frame their photo booth memories in. Make sure your tablecloths are weighted so they’re not blowing up onto to lit candles or centerpieces. Are your napkins going to blow away? Make sure they’re secure as well by using heaving napkin rings or placing the bread and butter plate on top of them. Wind can also make it really hard to hear. Have a microphone for nuptials and speeches even if you think it might be overkill.
Creating at atmosphere in which guests can enjoy themselves is not always an easy task. If your event is in a park, string lights around the trees so there is soft light when the sun sets. If your event is at a farm, have hand painted directional signs showing them the way to the ceremony, reception, restrooms and photo booth. When the guests arrive have a beverage handed to them by an attendant who is available to direct them or answer questions they may have. Don’t have a lot of idle time; you don’t want your guests to remember being bored.
Waiter, There is a Fly in My Soup
Insects can be uninvited guests. Make sure you have citronella candles and a bug zapper. Spray for mosquitoes in advance and also have bug spray on hand.
August can make for days of unbearable heat! Make sure your guests have shade and plenty of bottled water. Make a pitcher of lemonade and ice tea and have that around too. Plan on your programs being doubled as fans during the ceremony. Add a tent and large commercial fans if you don’t already have one. Butter cream frosting can melt! Make sure to tell your baker that you’re going to be outside so they can use fondant on the cake instead. Make sure your guests are facing away from the sun for your ceremony. Or purchase sunglasses for everyone to wear during the ceremony, this can also make a great photograph afterwards! You don’t want them all squinting at you!
You’ll Laugh About This Someday
So, what if the weather isn’t the best? What if it’s not as you dreamed? At the end of the night, you’re still going home with the love of your life. That is what should be most important. Make this your mantra. Say it over and over again when you feel like things aren’t going quite as you planned.
Make the most out of it. Take fun pictures in the snow. Act like you’re blowing away in the wind. If you’re really adventurous - dance in the rain or jump in the lake. Why not, your going to get wet anyway?
Make sure your guests are comfortable. Then, have a glass of wine! You can’t control the weather, but you can be prepared.