Mark Retzlaff, long-time owner of local hardware store, dies

NEW ULM – A New Ulm business owner in a four-generation operation known for his friendliness, desire to help others and expertise died Saturday at Oak Hills Living Center.

Mark Retzlaff managed Retzlaff’s Our Own Hardware, which later became Retzlaff’s Ace Hardware for 37 years, from 1965 to 2002.

Retzlaff, who was 85, started working at the family’s hardware store at age 14.

Terry Sveine of the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce said he laid carpet for Retzlaff’s in the mid 1970s. “Mark was a good man to work for,” Sveine said. “He told you what to do and if you did it, he patted you on the back. He was part of a four-generation business, something you don’t find much of anywhere.”

Mark’s son Brad Retzlaff talked about his father. “He had lots of friends and loved to help people,” Brad Retzlaff said. “He enjoyed coming to work each day and liked smoking a cigar at 4 p.m.”

Brad and his brother John Retzlaff continue to manage the store.

“We were very dear friends from the time I moved here. You remember your friends from when you first move to town. He made me feel comfortable and was just a few doors down from our store,” said former New Ulm Mayor Carl Wyczawski. “He was a great hunter and fisherman. He was a gun expert. I appointed him to the Public Utilities Commission and was very pleased with his work.”

The business was started by F. H. Retzlaff as a hardware and John Deere farm implement dealer in 1887 at 21 N. Minnesota St. The business included horse trading and shoeing in the rear of the business.

The business flourished and in 1912, a car dealership was added. In 1917, it joined with other hardware retailers to form the Our Own Hardware cooperative in order to improve their buying power with suppliers.

Mark Retzlaff began working for the family business at age 14. Decades later he continued to serve on the Our Own Hardware board. He also served as a director of Citizens Bank and on the New Ulm Telecom board.

In a Minnesota Public Radio interview in 2004, when Wal-Mart was considering locating in New Ulm, Retzlaff said the reason his business survived for more than a century was its willingness to change, an ability to offer customer service and because of the firm’s loyal customers.

In addition to sons, Brad and John of New Ulm, he is survived by his wife, Betty Retzlaff of New Ulm; and son Dave of Prior Lake.

Retzlaff’s funeral service is 11 a.m. Wednesday, July 16 at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, New Ulm with burial in the church cemetery. Visitation is 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday and 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at Minnesota Valley Funeral Home, South Chapel and at the church, one hour prior to the service.

An obituary is published on page 5A.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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