Ray Szmanda, for decades the enthusiastic television pitchman for the Menards home improvement chain, has died, his family said Monday.
Szmanda died Sunday at his home in the northeastern Wisconsin city of Antigo, his son said in a posting on Facebook. Szmanda was 91.
"My dad was the 'Menards Guy' on Menards TV commercials for over two decades," Charles Szmanda wrote.
Charles Szmanda said his father embraced the fame that came with being on TV in millions of homes throughout the Midwest and a few other states starting in 1978, touting all kinds of deals from light bulbs to lawn mowers to screen doors.
" 'It's like having a hit record because it says what everybody wants to hear me say,' " the son wrote, referring to the commercials' signature line: "Save Big Money At Menards!"
In an interview with the Associated Press, Ray Szmanda explained the exuberant commercial persona he built under his thick shock of white hair and behind his big eyeglasses: "It was an energy-level thing with the company. They asked me for more energy as we went along. The more energy that I gave, the more popular I became."
His popularity spawned fan websites and brought him a flood of fan mail. He said strangers would often approach and beg him just to "say it." He would oblige with a booming "Save big money!"
"It's the greatest thing that can happen to anybody who enjoys that kind of thing," he said.
Menards, based in Eau Claire, Wis., today has more than 300 stores in 14 states.
Szmanda grew up in Milwaukee and served in the Navy during World War II. He went to school for broadcasting and writing, becoming an announcer for WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee. He also was the host of musical radio shows. But he eventually migrated into announcing for commercials. He was selected for the Menards spot after a simple audition. Soon his commercials were running tens of thousands of times per week.
Szmanda left his job for two years to care for his wife, Maxine, who had colon cancer. She died in 2000. He returned to work on a periodic basis and never formally gave up being the "Menards Guy."
In addition to his son, Charles, he is survived by daughters Jane Szmanda Zeller, Mary Summ, Joan Burmeister, and two other sons, Paul Szmanda and Mark Szmanda; 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
In addition to his wife, he was preceded in death by a son, Dr. Raymond "Jack" Szmanda, Jr.
The funeral mass will be Saturday, May 12, 2018, at 10:30 a.m. at St John Catholic Church in Antigo. Visitation will be 4 to 7 p.m. on Friday at the Bradley Funeral Home and 9 to 10 a.m. on Saturday at the funeral home. A parish wake service will be held at 6:30 p.m. also at the funeral home.