Portions of this tribute to Wayne Frederick Kuchenmeister were first published on the web site of the company he founded, K/E Electric Supply Corp.
Wayne Frederick Kuchenmeister was born June 6, 1935 in New Haven, Michigan. Wayne’s grandfather Albert Kuchenmeister owned a farm in New Haven, where Wayne’s father Frederick Albert Kuchenmeister was born.
Wayne grew up on Lakeworth Street, Roseville, Michigan just south of 14-Mile Road and Gratiot. The family homestead was a fairly large two-story colonial with three bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs. The main floor had an expansive living room, dining room, kitchen off the back and an office for Fred’s business. There was a large unattached three car garage out back, with a driveway that encircled the home. Fred’s office had two entrances, one each from the living room and dining room. Grandchildren remember playing hide-n-seek by using grandpa’s office as a strategic location. Technically, the grandchildren weren’t supposed to be in grandpa’s office. Though Fred was always a large man, standing six foot one inch and often weighing in over 300 lbs., his desk was an ordinary sized cherry wood, with a glass protective top. The desk was moved to Fred’s retirement home on Seville, in Clinton Township in 1968. Shortly after Fred’s death in 1981, Wayne’s oldest son Rock received the desk and uses it to this day (2016)
The family church was Zion United Church of Christ, dating back to the 1860s. This is the only church Wayne was ever a member of from, his birth until the month he turned 70 years of age. A national vote held by the council of the United Church of Christ went against Wayne’s personal beliefs and he left the church “cold turkey” on the day of the vote.
In the 1960s, Wayne also quit a four pack a day Winston cigarette habit, “cold turkey”.
Wayne had a younger brother Norman and a much younger sister Carol Lee. His mother (Dorothy Gloria Ballard) was a French Catholic, who’s family attended St. Peter Catholic Church in Mount Clemens, directly across the street from the predominately German Zion Church. This marriage was not the first, nor the last, time that a Protestant German male married a French Catholic female in Mount Clemens.
Before Wayne’s birth, his parents delivered a child named Kenny, who did not survive.
Wayne’s father (Fred) was an auto-parts wholesaler. Essentially, Wayne’s father worked from a panel van, parked at his home each night. In the morning, Fred would drive south down Gratiot Avenue towards Detroit, Michigan. Fred would stop at various auto-parts manufacturers, including namely Champion Spark Plug to purchase inventory for his business. Fred would then drive north on Gratiot past the county seat of Mount Clemens, then onto New Haven and New Baltimore to sell his goods to various independent gas station owners.
During the war years of WWII, Wayne was too young to be a soldier and his father too old. Fred continued his business, with limited supplies due to rationing. The family did as well as any and always had a work automobile.
In 1941, Wayne’s father Fred and two of Wayne’s three uncles purchased a lake front lot at Parrot’s Pointe on Mullet Lake, near Indian River, Michigan. The lot included a running artesian well, enough field stone for the foundation and all of the necessary knotty pine lumber required to build the family a cabin. The seller of the property was also a builder, who the three brothers contracted to complete the project.
Between 1942 and 1960, the three brothers shared the cabin by rotating one summer month each year. One family got June, one July and the third August. The next year they rotated months and so on. For the rest of the year, whomever showed up at the cabin was welcome to stay.
Wayne learned the art of fishing at the cabin and also embraced deer hunting, a sport his father enjoyed too. In the late 1950s the brothers purchased the two adjacent lots and built cabins for each of the brothers. Wayne’s uncle Louis kept the original cabin until August 1978, when he sold it to Wayne and his brother Norman. Ten years later Wayne bought his brother’s share. The cabin remained in the family well after his death and the death of this bride (Barbara).
Wayne graduated eighth grade from “Greater Gratiot Schools”, formerly located where an “on ramp” from Gratiot Avenue to Interstate I-94 now exists.
Childhood friend Robert (Bob) Allard fondly remembered the fun he had with his friend Wayne. One time during recess, Wayne took all the stones and sticks he could find and dammed up a creek behind the school. About fifteen minutes later water began running up under the back door of the school and they had to cancel classes for the rest of the day.
In High School, Wayne wasn’t particularly an athlete, though he did play first base in middle school. Wayne topped out at five foot eight inches tall, a full five inches shorter than his dad, Fred. Wayne successfully finished his Boys Scouts of America challenges, ultimately earning his Eagle Scout status. Wayne also earned a varsity letter from Mount Clemens High School for stage production, working on several plays with the school players. In high school, Wayne would meet a lifelong friend, Dean Williams. Dean would become the Michigan State Police Post Captain of Cheyboygan, Michigan (a town close to Wayne’s Parrot’s Pointe cabin).
Wayne purchased and drove his dream car, a 1947 Chrysler Town and Country Convertible, which he owned on his HS graduation day. He would forever be a “convertible man”, owning at least one convertible at all times from 1965 until his death. In the early 1970s, Wayne purchased a similar 1947 Chrysler Town and Country Convertible, restoring the vehicle to near original condition. Son, Randall Frederick Kuchenmeister owns that car to this day (2016).
Of other note, Wayne was a prankster and also loved “pies” of any flavor. Among his first jobs were stocking shelves for Priehs Department Store (Mount Clemens) and S.S. Kresge. He pumped gas and did lube jobs at a gas station near the corner of 14-mile and Groesbeck Hwy., where he met a lifelong friend, Clarence (Mac) McPeek.
Wayne was an enterprising young man who began working at an early age. In 1954 Wayne met the girl of his dreams, Barbara Faye Belcher. After a whirlwind romance, Wayne and Faye tied the knot on February 12, 1955. While on their honeymoon, Wayne lost his job to a nephew of the gas station owner. He quickly found work at Bundy Tubing.
Early in 1956, Wayne was laid off from Bundy Tubing. Since, Wayne and Faye were expecting their first child, Wayne decided he’d rather be gainfully employed than go on unemployment. It didn’t take Wayne long to find his next job as truck driver for Mill & Howard Wholesale of Mount Clemens. Wayne was to start his new job on May 8th, but Faye had other plans. Cheryl, their first child was born on that day and Wayne was given the day off to spend with his family. At work the next day, Wayne began to show his enthusiasm and was soon promoted to counter salesman.
Most of Wayne’s family sold auto-parts in the area and were very surprised to now have an “electrical expert” in the family. Wayne liked his job and the people he worked with. This was the business he would build his life around.
With the experience he gained as an electrical parts salesman, Wayne was hired as warehouse manager for the Arnold Young Company, an electrical parts sales agency. It was during this period, on November 10, 1960, that Faye gave birth to their first son, Rock. By this time Wayne had moved to outside sales, where he could make more money. For the next two years Wayne traveled Michigan selling to the electrical industry. Faye and the children often spent the day driving around Michigan with Wayne, packing lunches and eating in public parks.
In 1957, Wayne and Faye worked with contractor Frank Hader to build their first home. For several years they transported bottle water to the Leona Drive residence, until they could afford to have a well dug by hand at the home.
Meanwhile, Wayne’s father tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to join the auto-parts business. However, Wayne now had the electrical wholesale business in his sights and Mill & Howard Wholesale had already closed their business in Mount Clemens. Wayne recognized the potential of the local electrical market and began to search for a building. On September 9th of 1962, Faye gave birth to a third child, Randall.
For the new business, Wayne believed a working partner would be helpful and what better a partner could he have than his own brother, Norman? The partnership began on October 18, 1962 with a loan from Wayne’s father, as “Kuchenmeister Electric Supply”.
Originally a feed storage shed, their first building was formerly part of the “Mount Clemens Farmers (Wm. Fluemer) Mill” properties. The first business slogan was “Service”, which later became “Who serves you faster? Kuchenmeister”. Offering fast service was only part of the effort which helped the business thrive. Hard work, long hours and family cooperation tied together the successful electrical wholesale business for more than 25 years.
After twenty-six years, Wayne and Norman decided it was time to divide their business and prepare for the next generation of Kuchenmeister’s, in the electrical supply business. After months of planning, the split of the business was conducted over a normal weekend, with both new businesses opening October 31, 1988. Many trading partners of Kuchenmeister Electric thought the split was crazy, but both businesses continued to prosper years after the split. As his part of the division, Wayne formed the K/E Electric Supply Corporation and continued to managed the business, while turning the reins over to his children.
For several years, Wayne liked to tell people he was retired, but anyone who knew him will tell you a different story. Most of the year you could still find Wayne wearing many different hats and the occasional “green coat” around K/E Electric Supply. Counter sales, warehouse manager, public relations director, story teller and “specific problem solver” are titles that Wayne Kuchenmeister earned. His favorite title was “Coordinator”.
Wayne was a man who looked forward to each morning. He enjoyed the other employees and often sided with them against the “new management”. His children loved this, of course.
More than forty years in the electrical industry provided a rich life for Wayne and his family. Many friendships developed and various opportunities to serve the community, while earning a living. Along the way, Wayne had always been a true friend to the industry, promoting a strong independent company that is fair to its customers, employees and vendors.
Wayne Kuchenmeister never really retired from the Electrical Industry. Rather than retire, he pulled a “classic Wayne” and entered a meeting of the new management saying… “I really don’t want to retire. I think I’ll just QUIT”.
Wayne and Barbara Faye lived a full life well into their 70s.
On March 5, 2010 Barbara Faye lost her husband Wayne, the love of her life after fifty-five years of marriage. And finally, on July 21, 2015 Barbara Faye passed away, as a result of complications caused by cancer.
Wayne and Barbara Faye were well respected in their community and contributed quietly to many causes.