Eric F. Wieneke thought big and performed big; he was a great Saginawian by any measure.
More than any other man from either city, he was responsible for the present Saginaw-Midland water pipeline to Whitestone Point in Lake Huron which came into being in 1948. More than most of his contemporaries, he thought a fine source of pure water a growth requisite for Saginaw, Midland and their environs. The Lake Huron water supply source, an undertaking greater than either community ever had ventured, had its other proponents among officials and civic leaders of the two cities. But it was Wieneke who provided the boldness, persistent push and determination which inspired others to get in and push and plan with him.
Wieneke also was one of the founders—and a forthright and stalwart one—of Saginaw’s council-manager form of government. As a member of the 1935 charter commission, he helped write standards for the council-manager form of government here. He was elected to serve on the first city council under the new charter and served 16 years on the city council, two as mayor. He schooled himself in every phase of city government, was a frequent visitor at City Hall, and consulted the city manager and department heads frequently. When he came to city council meetings, his part in discussions never was vague. He had made it his business to know whereof he spoke. As a councilman, he talked much to the point and was impatient with verbosity in others. He was not above a vigorous verbal skirmish with another member of the council when friction developed.
When he mixed it up a little with somebody he thought wasn’t using good judgment or doing a job right, this candor was characteristic of him. He used the same candor in praise by telling somebody he’d done a fine stroke of business for the city or county.
During World War II he was Saginaw’s civil defense director. State officials thought his civil defense organization one of the best in the state.
Many times he was honored for public service. In 1949 he received the Saginaw Arnold Boutell Award for distinguished community service. In 1951 he was presented the Greater Saginaw Chamber of Commerce achievement scroll for the same reason. It was the first such presentation made by the Chamber. In 1967, the Fordney Club, in which he long had been an active leader, honored him for the same reason. He was honored as a pioneer of the Saginaw YMCA. He joined the Y in 1926 and was one of eight men who reorganized the Y. He was named president in 1927 and served on the board more than 40 years.
In business he was one of Michigan’s leading automobile dealers and a respected spokesman. In 1967 the Saginaw New Car Dealers Association presented him with a plaque of appreciation for his long membership and progressiveness. This was not long after he retired after nearly 50 years as a dealer here for Ford Motor Company, which also had honored him for allegiance and performance. For most of his adult life, Wieneke was a dominant figure in the west side’s business section and in its social life. His ability and civic contributions also were recognized and admired on the east side in a time when east side-west side rivalries were keen and sometimes bitter.
Wieneke was born February 4, 1891, in Detroit. He attended public schools there until he was 14. When he left school at that age, he already had the ambition to make the automobile business his life’s work. His first job was as an errand boy in the office of the former Packard Motor Company in Detroit. He found prospects for promotion in that capacity less than alluring. A little short of his 15th birthday, young Eric Wieneke, energetic, quick-striding and confident as they came, applied for a production job in the Packard plant. He underwent an intensive course of training, served as an apprentice in the tool making shop, and was promoted to the position of “trouble shooter” in the tool department. At the age of 19 he was promoted to assistant foreman in Packard’s accessories division. Within six months he was made foreman of the department and had 240 men under his supervision. Wieneke still was under 21 when he was made general foreman of Packard’s production division with its five departments.
While he continued his responsible position, he went to school nights at the Detroit Business College. He spent five years working in the daytime and studying into the late night hours. In 1917 Wieneke was made assistant superintendent of Packard’s airplane motor division. Not long after that, the superintendent became ill and Wieneke took over. The demands for increased production of the efficient Liberty aircraft engines became increasingly greater. Wieneke set a record by having his department build 900 engines in a month. The greatest previous output had been 525 engines.
After the war, when he was transferred to Packard’s motor truck division, he became determined to go into business for himself. In quitting the manufacturing game, Wieneke decided he would enter the selling end of the automotive industry. At that time, Henry Ford controlled the small car market. After five attempts to obtain a Ford agency, Wieneke was offered his choice of operating one in Saginaw or Toledo. He chose Saginaw and that became a memorable stroke to this city’s advantage. Besides his Ford dealership, Wieneke had for years been owner-operator of the Eastern Transit Company which trucked new Ford cars to dealerships. He also was a director of Valley National Bank.
In 1969, he resigned as a member of the Saginaw-Midland Board of Water Commissioners. He had been chairman since it was organized in 1946.
Wieneke and his wife, the former Nellie E. Dench of Detroit, had three children. Eric F. Wieneke died in Saginaw in 1970 when he was 79.