WASECA — When Wayne “Bumps” Brown came back to Waseca from World War II, he wanted to do just one thing: start a company.
With single-minded determination, abiding optimism and a gift for sales, he quickly grew Brown Printing into one of the largest printing businesses in the nation.
“They were well into millions of dollars in revenue before Bumps even hired his first salesman. He was a fabulous salesman. He did it all,” said Brown’s longtime friend Pete Madel of Waseca.
“His employees just worshiped him,” Madel said. “I’ve never seen devotion like that ever. He had something special.”
Brown died Monday at his home in Indian Wells, Calif. He was 88.
Known by one and all as “Bumps,” Brown was the son of Waseca newspaper publisher Donald Brown. He was an All State football star at Waseca High School and a fighter pilot in World War II.
Bumps, in partnership with his dad and two brothers, started Brown Printing in 1949 as the printing department of the Waseca Journal and Herald.
The company had one catalog customer — Herters Inc., a Waseca hunting and fishing supplier that sent catalogs worldwide.
Eight years later, Bumps became sole owner of Brown Printing. Today it is the largest employer in Waseca and the fourth largest web offset printer in the country.
Brown believed the printing business world would be dominated by web offset printing. In 1959, with little cash, he convinced a New Jersey manufacturing into selling him a press with a small down payment.
Only one person at Brown Printing had even seen an offset press before and no one was brought in to show the crew how to use it. During the company’s 50th anniversary celebration in 2007, Brown said he trusted his employees would master it.
“I made a decision that we had good people, although only one of them had ever seen a press like this, and we were going to learn to run it without any outside help. Not only did they learn how to run it, I have always thought they were then and they are now, the best in the country — if not the world.”
By the late ’60s, Brown Printing had about 350 employees and four presses, printing catalogs and magazines. “The company was growing faster than he could handle,” Madel said.
Brown sold the plant to Minneapolis-based Bemis Corp. in 1969 but stayed on with Brown Printing.
“When he sold it, part of the deal was that (Bemis) could not move it out of Waseca. He was that devoted to his hometown and the people who worked for him,” Madel said.
By the late 1970s, Brown Printing’s growth was faster than Bemis could finance.
Bumps helped put together a deal in which Brown Printing was sold to German printing giant Gruner & Jahr in 1979.
The company has in recent years invested heavily in major expansions and upgrades at the Waseca plant.
Times and dates are still pending for Brown’s funeral. Kinder-Dennis Home for Funerals in Waseca is handling arrangements.