WAUPUN — A lot of furniture has gone through their doors and a lot of flooring has been installed, replaced and replaced again.
And a lot of funerals have been held by one of the few furniture store and funeral businesses still remaining as a complementary enterprise.
Now it’s time to celebrate 50 years in business for Werner-Harmsen, which began when funeral director Mike Werner partnered with Jerry and Ardelle Harmsen, who operated Beau and Belle Furniture.
The furniture store was housed in a building on the south side of East Main Street.
Shortly thereafter, it was moved into a former Red Owl grocery Store at 116 E. Main St.
It has been remodeled and expanded many times since.
The funeral home, built by the Beyers family in 1958, still stands at 201 E. Jefferson St., although it has been remodeled as well.
Over time, the company has added a flooring business and provides blinds, bedding and home décor, in addition to multiple brands of furniture including La-Z-Boy, Hickory Craft, Rowe and Door County Furniture.
Jerry Harmsen retired a couple years after the partnership was established and became an auctioneer and a real estate agent with Waupun Realty. He and Ardelle, known as “Fritz,” operated Marsh Barn Antiques on Highway 49 for a number of years. Jerry passed away in 2012.
Wayne Buteyn joined the team in 1973 and became a partner in 1979. Mike Werner’s son, Jud, grew up working in various roles for the family business and became a partner in 1996. During his lifetime in the business, he has seen remarkable changes in both the funeral and furniture operations.
“Basically everything has changed,” Jud said. “That’s why we have new blood coming in to bring us all up to speed. There’s always the danger that we get comfortable doing things a certain way and don’t bother to keep up with the times. That’s why new partner Tyler Schulz is helping us out so much. That said, there’s a great deal of tradition here that we can pass on to him, which is good for us all.”
Mike Werner is stepping back a bit from the operation these days, providing an opportunity for Schulz, another Waupun native son. Shultz began at Werner-Harmsen in 2012 as a summer furniture delivery driver and flooring installation assistant. He eventually gave up his plan to become a chiropractor and obtained his degree in mortuary science from Worsham College in 2015. He is being named a partner during this anniversary year.
“We’re involved in the community and happy to be a part of it,” Schulz said. “You get a real family feeling here, and we have a connection with our customers. We have good, solid brands of furniture and flooring and we know they’ll last, just as we have in downtown Waupun. We have great customer service, great products and we stand behind what we sell. That’s what makes us the place that people return to, generation after generation.”
According to Schulz, pairing funeral and furniture was common in the days when craftsmen built coffins as well as chairs. Although that has changed over time, Schulz believes the two trades are still very complementary.
“As far as I know, there are only a few of this kind of operation around anymore, but here in Waupun it works out extremely well,” Schulz said. “We love having both businesses because we get to see both sides of people’s lives — living them, ending them and sharing in families’ joys and sorrows. We’re grateful to be a part of both.”
The company employs eight other people.
Through it all, quality and service have been paramount. That and the trusting relationship that the store has maintained with both new and returning clients.
“When you think of your home, you think of the family you share that space with,” Buteyn said. “You think of the memories you made in each room. The couches jumped on. The chairs you rocked your children to sleep in. The tables gathered around for holiday meals. For 50 years, we’ve been able to be a part of those memories by helping families furnish or update their homes. By adding Tyler to our business partnership, we’re going to be able to use his enthusiasm and commitment to customer satisfaction to continue to serve families in this community for decades to come.”
A number of celebratory events are planned, and the public is invited to join in the fun.