Friends and acquaintances of Wayne Gensmer always had the same question for the man with a great smile and the confidence to back it up. “How many businesses did you start?” The answer was a lot.
From the old Henry’s Hamburger joint that he built into a 32-franchise chain to a cosmetic painting business to becoming one of the original investors in the Bearpath Golf and Country Club in Eden Prairie, Gensmer parlayed his ingenuity and creativity into starting up innovative enterprises.
“He had tremendous drive and work ethic,” said his wife, Barbara. “He was a great salesman.”
Gensmer, 89, died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Sunday at his home in Edina.
He lettered in basketball and baseball at Minneapolis South High School, graduating in 1944. He then headed to the Navy, where he was a storekeeper on the island of Guam during World War II. When he returned to Minnesota, he attended tech school and became the youngest salesman for General Foods and McGarvey Coffee.
In the 1960s, he bought into Henry’s Hamburgers and ran the home of the 10-cent hamburger with locations in Minnesota and Wisconsin until McDonald’s took over the market.
Next up was Senty Enameling, a firm he founded and which grew to employ more than 200 people. The company painted service units for Boeing, computer parts for IBM and Control Data and detailed lawn mower blades for Bloomington-based Toro.
An avid hunter and dog lover, Gensmer founded American Boarding Kennels in Burnsville, a relatively new concept in the mid-1970s. “He knew dogs needed a place to call home away from home when their owners were not present,” Barbara said.
With his son Scott, he opened one of the first invisible-fence dealerships in the Twin Cities. He owned the Yorker condominiums in Edina and in the early 1990s teamed up with another son, Brian, and was one of the original investors and owners of Bearpath, the 18-hole course off Lake Riley designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus.
It was not all work and no play. Gensmer had a lifelong love for sports, and it was through athletics that he earned the nickname “Guba.” The name was Swedish for “old man.” Even though he was fast, he earned the name because he looked like an old man while running, said son Scott of Eden Prairie.
Wayne Gensmer played semipro basketball with the Newburg Studios, a team that played preliminary games ahead of the old Minneapolis Lakers games.
He played “a mean third base” in a national fast-pitch softball league from 1956 to 1960. And he was quite proud of a city bowling championship he won in 1971, the family said.
He was a Little League coach in Edina in the 1960s and served as president of the Edina Junior League Baseball. He was a charter member of the Braemar Golf Club in Edina and once held the course record with a 3-under-par 69. He was also a charter member of the Decathlon Club in Bloomington, a Minnesota Vikings season-ticket holder and longtime member of Mount Zion Lutheran Church.
“His athletic and business accomplishments were dwarfed by his love and commitment to his family and friends, and his willingness to always help out,” Scott Gensmer said.
Besides his wife and sons, Wayne is survived by a stepdaughter, Katrina Gerry of Excelsior; two stepsons, Earl Radke of Fort Dodge, Iowa, and Greg Radke of White Plains, N.Y., eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Services have been held.