You could call him “Burky” or you could call him “The Van Man.” You could even call him stubborn, according to the Bay City Times in Michigan.
But you could never call Warren E. Burkhardt unenthusiastic about Bay City, or his little piece of it on Washington Avenue, across from City Hall.
Burkhardt, 80, owner for 54 years of Burkhardt RVs, died late Sunday (April 25) at his home in Monitor Township from complications related to diabetes.
According to his family, he remained “Burky” to the end.
“He loved to be called Burky, or Burky the Van Man,” said Connie Rodriguez of Grand Rapids, Mich., one of Burkhardt’s two daughters. “Just before he passed away he told the nurses to call him Burky.”
Burkhardt was born in Bay City and, except for a brief stint as a movie theater manager in Detroit, spent his life near his hometown. He returned in 1950 to co-own a used-car lot with his brother on Broadway, and shortly after that he took sole ownership, said Rodriguez.
In 1960, Burkhardt moved the dealership to 240 Washington Ave. In 1965, he relocated to the former Garber lot at 300 Washington Ave., and switched to selling RVs exclusively, remaining active as a salesman until falling ill this spring.
“Around 1976, he took a motorhome in on trade, and he decided that’s what he wanted to do,” recalled Connie Rodriguez.
Burkhardt had a great deal of civic pride. He ran for mayor in 1971, and although he lost, his love for the city was undiminished.
In 1975, as the nation’s bicentennial approached, he teamed with then-city clerk Walter Wozniak Jr. to begin a fund drive to repair the City Hall clock, which had been inoperable for decades.
“We both were kind of kicking it around, and the consensus was that it was something we could complete to make 1976 memorable,” Wozniak said. Burkhardt made an initial donation, and when all was said and done $18,000 was raised to repair the clock and a carillon system in the City Hall tower.
Better yet, Wozniak said, the clock had a ready-made monitoring system.
“Warren more or less was the custodian of the clock, because if there was anything wrong he’d call from across the street,” said Wozniak, who retired in 1986. “He was a good caretaker.”
“He was the most determined man I ever knew,” Rodriguez said. “He had the strongest will to work, and the strongest will.”
Burkhardt is survived by his wife of nearly 59 years, Bernice, and his two daughters, Rodriguez and Chris Ruff of Clio, Mich.
Funeral services were on Wednesday (April 28).