In June, WBA staff had the privilege of catching up for lunch with WBA Past President Herman Brandenburg, who held several leadership positions within the WBA before becoming president of the association in 1975.  Now 88 years young, Brandenburg shared memories of his time in the industry, the association, and how he’s given back to the community since retirement. 

Growing up on a farm, Brandenburg noticed he “had a knack for fixing up things,” and looked to homebuilding as a more lucrative career than farming.  In 1955, he took the plunge (“a bit of it was just kind of hoping it all worked out”) and began building homes, with one of the first homes he built located in then-Monona Village, coming in at 1,248 square feet with 3 bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen, dining, and living room, and an attached single-car garage.  The cost for house and lot combined? $18,900.

As Brandenburg’s career progressed, he decided to get involved with the Madison Area Builders Association, primarily so he could participate in their Parade of Homes.  However, he soon became interested in the politics of the home building industry, working to secure its future successes in Wisconsin.  

Serving as a vice president for a number of years before becoming President in 1975, Brandenburg recalled traveling around the state to various local meetings, an NAHB convention in Houston where Lyndon B. Johnson spoke, and several lobbying trips to DC during Richard Nixon’s tenure where builders addressed high-interest rates and high Canadian lumber prices (the latter of which he was surprised to discover is a hot-button issue again).

Brandenburg can also be credited with the first WBA “Legislative Day” (now known as the WBA Advocacy Day at the Capitol).  In the June 1975 edition of Badger Builder, Brandenburg wrote of the inaugural event: “I can tell you that it was a fantastic success.  One of the results of the meeting with the legislators is a more visible Wisconsin Builders Association.  Furthermore, our lobbyists were afforded a fix on several key issues as a result of our participation.” 

Following his “retirement” in the early 1990s, Brandenburg became heavily involved in Habitat for Humanity of Dane County, and shared photos of the many homes he helped build in Dane County, Jamaica, and Zambia.  In 2004, he was recognized in the community champion category of the MetLife Foundation Older Volunteers Enrich America Awards, and he continued his work with Habitat until his health and the recent passing of his wife brought about his second retirement within the last year. 

Reflecting on his career and his time spent giving back to the community, Brandenburg stated, “I’ve been one of the luckiest guys that’s ever walked with the people I’ve met and done business with.” We here at the WBA are lucky to know you, Herman!