William “Bill” Hagner, who served as the plant mangaer for the Gretsch company when it was located in Booneville, passed away on Aug. 25, in Fort Myers, Fla. He was 96.
Both before and after his time in south Logan County Hagner figured highly in the history of Gretsch, an iconic American manufacturer of musical instruments first established in 1883. The company still makes professional drums and guitars, banjos, and ukuleles today.
Hagner started working at Gretsch on December 1, 1941 — just six days prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Having just finished high school, he answered an ad in the paper for someone to work in Gretsch’s factory at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn. He began as a clerk.
One of Hagar’s early jobs was to prepare the payroll for the factory workers. All jobs were done as “piece work” at the time, and Hagner had to review and approve individual pay slips for each job.
During World War II, American industry turned much of its efforts toward war-related production, and Gretsch was no exception. Speaking of those days in Chet Falzerano’s book Gretsch Drums, The Legacy Of “That Great Gretsch Sound,” Hagner recalled, “We manufactured musical instruments — many of which were for the government — during the day, till 5 p.m. Then I set up a night shift to work till 1 a.m. making wooden parts for gas masks.”
Hagner’s wartime tenure at Gretsch didn’t last long becasues he entered military service in January of 1943. As a member of the Army Air Force, he became a glider pilot — including over the fields of Normandy during the D-Day invasion in 1944. At the end of the war, Hagner returned to work at Gretsch, where he eventually became plant manager in the Brooklyn factory.
In 1967 the Gretsch Company was sold to the Baldwin Piano Company, and operations were moved to Booneville. Hagner remained with Gretsch and had plant manager and sales manager roles during his tenure with Baldwin/Gretsch.
When Baldwin filed bankruptcy — the largest bankruptcy Wall Street had seen up to that point until that dubious distinction was surpassed in 2002 — current president Fred W. Gretsch and his wife, executive VP & CFO Dinah Gretsch, were able to buy the company back in 1984 and return it to family ownership.
In 1985 Fred Gretsch wanted to move drum-making operations out of De Queen, and into Ridgeland, S.C. , where the Gretsch USA drum factory is still located today. Helping in that effort was Hagner.
Hagner was living in Fort Smith, at the time. He offered his services to help team building and in the move of both machinery and inventory. That help proved invaluable in getting the drum-making operation up and running in its new home. Hagner is the only individual in the long history of Gretsch to have held key posts in Brooklyn, Arkansas, and South Carolina. Because Hagner started at Gretsch shortly before Fred Gretsch, Sr. retired, he also had the distinction of being the only employee who had worked for four Gretsch presidents: Fred Sr., Fred Jr., William Walter, and Fred W. Gretsch.
Memorials in honor of Hagner may be made to The Salvation Army to support music programs worldwide.