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Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce honors business legends
The Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce held its 125th annual meeting Wednesday.
At the meeting, the Chamber inducted four new members into its Business Hall of Fame.
Inducted were the late William F. Gerdes Sr. of Michelmann Steel, The late Bernie Willer of Sandy’s/Hardee’s, Andy Nickelson of Dame and Hurdle Jewelers and Gus Traeder of Traeder's TNT Yamaha.
Traeder says he's honored to be in such great company.
“I just feel really honored to get this, i’m humbled by it,” Traeder said. “I’m just lucky to be here to get it when I’m living. There’s 34 of us guys who got this and only ten are living so I’m a rare breed.”
William Frederick Gerdes, Sr.
William Frederick Gerdes, Sr. was not the first president of Michelmann Steel Construction Company, but his success in changing the company product line in the early 1900s reestablished purpose for the then-struggling company and significantly impacted many commercial structures in the Quincy area.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri on July 7, 1873, Gerdes married Clara Michelmann in 1899 and became president of the Michelmann Boiler Company in 1923. Under his direction, Michelmann became the primary steel fabricator and erector in the tri-state area, contributing to what is now Quincy Junior High School, the former Illinois State Bank Building, and the Western Catholic Union building, among many others. In addition, Michelmann Steel and Gerdes played a significant role in the construction of Quincy Memorial Bridge in 1928.
Gerdes was active in the American Institute of Steel Construction, Western Society of Engineers, Central Fabricators Association and Business Executives of America. He served on the Quincy school board and on the board of directors for Central Illinois Public Service Company and Mercantile Bank. He helped to start the Michelmann Foundation, and he headed many fundraising drives for various causes.
Gerdes died on March 7, 1952.
L.A. “Andy” Nickelson
Andy Nickelson is a rare gem for our business community.
Born Sept. 1, 1934, near Pana, Illinois, Nickelson joined Ken Dame and Dick Hurdle’s family jewelry business in 1964. In 1980, Nickelson and his family purchased the store from its founders.
Throughout his career, Nickelson worked tirelessly with downtown Quincy organizations, the City of Quincy and the Great River Economic Development Foundation to ensure that everything possible was being done to attract businesses and shoppers to the downtown area. He was active in the Quincy Jaycees, Uptown Quincy Inc., the Quincy Area Chamber of Commerce, the United Way of Adams County, and many other organizations. He served on the Adams County Fair Board for seven years, was one of the co-founders of the Dogwood Festival, and at one time he owned the Miss Quincy Pageant.
Nickelson’s greatest gift to his community came in 1994 with the opening of the Maine Center at 535 Maine. The two-story structure offers nearly 30,000 square feet of retail and office space and houses anchor stores Joseph A. Banks and Dame, Hurdle & Company Jewelry Store. The project has been a major boost for the downtown area.
Nickelson and his wife, Jeanie, now reside in Florida, where he is active with the local SCORE Chapter and his church.
Gus Traeder’s career in sales is legendary.
Born Aug. 9, 1925, on a farm in Rome, WI, Traeder went to work for Montgomery Ward in 1947 and was offered the job as manager of the Montgomery Ward Farm Store at 927 Maine in Quincy when he was only 24 years old. Within two years, the business became the number one farm store in the nation.
In 1958, through a store promotion, Traeder was introduced to the go-kart, and his life changed forever. When Montgomery Ward decided the karts didn’t fit in with its other products, Traeder built TNT Kartways to sell and race the small vehicles. In 1960 and ABC Wide World of Sports televised the National Championships from TNT in 1966. Traeder’s Grand Prix of Karting, which started as a unique activity for the Dogwood Festival, ran for 30 years. Traeder has been elected to the Racing Hall of Fame in Talladega, AL and is the inaugural member of the Vintage Racing Hall of Fame.
Traeder’s TNT also became one of the largest volume motorcycle dealerships in the Midwest and the company helped develop the Yamaha golf car. Traeder served as an officer on the Board of Directors with both the Illinois and Missouri Dealer Associations.
Traeder and his wife, Fern, live in Quincy and winter in Florida.
Born in 1909, Bernard H. “Bernie” Willer, former owner and president of Quincy Hardees Restaurants, graduated from Quincy College Academy in 1930. After serving a three-year stint as a US Navy radar operator during World War II, he entered into the dairy business with his brother. When the dairy produced too much milk, Willer opened a soft-serve ice cream shop called “Bernie’s.”
In 1958, Willer and his future business partner, Tom Daly, bought the first Sandy’s franchise in the nation and opened a Quincy Sandy’s in June 1959 at 2914 Broadway. Willer and Daly would own more than 10 area Sandy’s in 1973 when that restaurant chain merged with Hardee’s. By the time Willer retired in 1982, the company had grown to 15 stores, and the area was populated with young employees who knew the value of hard work.
Willer loved sports. He was a founding member of the Mart Heinan Club in 1952, and the Willers have been inducted into the CYO, QND and QU Sports Halls of Fame. The Willers also helped make possible the development of indoor soccer and volleyball facilities at the Oakley-Lindsay Center. They donated the money to put new lights at QU Stadium and bring the Quincy Gems to town in 1996.
The Willers donated money for Willer Hall on the QU campus. They received honorary doctor of laws degrees from the school, and Willer received the Distinguished Alumni Service Award and the Alumnus of the Year award in 1985.
The Willers were also longtime supporters of the Boy Scouts of America, and they received the Distinguished Citizen Award from the Mississippi Valley Council in 1998. Willer’s served for 20 years on both the Quincy Housing Authority and Quincy Plan Commission.
Willer died on Sept. 30, 1999, at the age of 90.
The Business Hall of Fame was started in 2006 to celebrate the rich history and accomplishments of the Quincy area business community. The event is open to the public. Cost is $20 per person and includes lunch. Reservations are required by Jan. 11 and can be made by calling 222-7980.