Erath County Day turned into Bruner Automotive Family Day on March 1 as the Stephenville business was honored by the Texas Historical Commission on the steps of the state Capitol with the Texas Treasure Business Award.
The timing was deliberate. Although the Bruner family knew of the award late last year, March 1 was chosen as the date to receive it since many Stephenville and Erath County officials would already be in Austin for Erath County Day, as designated by the state Legislature. “We just kind of piggy-backed on that,” said Greg Bruner, president of Bruner Automotive Family and great-grandson of the founder, Charlie Bruner.
The award was presented by Mark Wolfe, executive director of the Texas Historical Commission. A certificate gave the history of the dealership, but probably the most important words to the Bruner family concerned the company ethic: “Overarching principles of living the Golden Rule and cultivating an environment of trust have been consistent guiding philosophies,” the certificate stated.
No doubt, the generations of Bruners who got the business up and running were smiling from on high. Greg Bruner started working in the parts department of the dealership when he was in eighth grade, hanging fan belts and other parts on the wall and sweeping up. Getting a driver’s license in high school earned him a big jump in responsibilities. “I got promoted to go wash cars,” he joked.
While earning a business degree with a concentration in accounting at Baylor University, Bruner worked summers and school vacations at the family business. But it wasn’t until the past 20 years or so that he got interested in the history of the business and all the significant eras it had spanned.
Charlie Bruner and his son, Vernon, established a full-service gas station in the early 1920s in Kerens, located in Navarro County. Vernon added automobile sales after Charlie’s death. It became the first of many dealerships to be known as Bruner Chevrolet.
Today, Bruner Automotive Family includes locations in Stephenville and Early. The Stephenville dealership carries vehicles made by Chevrolet, GMC, Chrysler, Dodge, Ram, Jeep, and Fiat. The Early dealership carries Chevrolet, GMC, and Toyota vehicles.
The significance of the family business really struck Greg Bruner in 2015 when he received a 25-year plaque from Chevrolet. He knew that his grandfather’s 25-year plaque and his father’s 25-year plaque were hanging on a wall of the dealership. “And now I have a 25-year plaque,” he said, realizing the significance of his family’s legacy.
The continuous involvement of family – three sets of father-son relationships – over a span of 75 years is a unique business heritage in this day of rapid turnover of ownership in most automotive dealerships.
From the 1996 Excellence in Family Business Awards program, McMurry University Family Business Center
His father, the late Dwain Bruner, was the first to open a dealership in Stephenville. Dwain and Robert Bruner were the grandsons of the founder, Charlie Bruner. When their father, Vernon, was approached by Chevrolet regarding Dwain purchasing his own dealership, Dwain moved to Wolfe City and then, in 1969, to Stephenville, where he purchased his second Chevrolet dealership. Dwain Bruner died in 2021 at age 90.
The honor from the Texas Historical Commission was the third family-based award for the Bruner dealership. In 1996, the McMurry University Family Business Center awarded the dealership one of its Excellence in Family Business Awards. In 2011 Baylor University’s Institute for Family Business honored the dealership with its Large Family Business of the Year Award.
Greg Bruner credits Julie Smith, manager of Stephenville’s Main Street Program, for the latest recognition from the Texas Historical Commission (THC). Stephenville was the only city in Texas selected in 2020 (the year of COVID) for inclusion in the Main Street Program, which operates under the umbrella of the historical commission. During Smith’s first Zoom meeting with the THC, she learned about the Texas Treasure Business Awards.
The program was created in 2005 to pay tribute to the state’s well-established businesses and their historical contributions to the state. A blurb on the historical commission website explains why the awards were created: “By acknowledging local businesses while they are still in operation, we honor them as places of living history and are able to record their stories and ensure their legacy for generations to come.”
When Smith first heard about the program, she immediately thought of the Bruner Automotive Family and started researching what paperwork was needed, including the application form. Smith was more than happy to do the legwork since her family had a long association with the Bruners. She, like others in Stephenville, appreciate what the family and the business have done for the community. “It’s so nice to recognize our legacy businesses in town,” she said.
For Greg Bruner, receiving the recognition from the Texas Historical Commission was humbling. He appreciates the dealership’s history, which covers significant eras and changes in the automobile industry. And, he appreciates the loyal customers and loyal employees who make the business possible.
He recalled talking to his dad once about the Bruner dealership’s history in Stephenville. His dad said he just took it one day at a time, not thinking about the years and decades that were accumulating. Now, Greg Bruner is doing the same thing.
“Here we are 50-plus years later,” he said, “and still rolling.”