If you watched local TV here in Minnesota or Wisconsin anytime in the last 40 years, you probably saw his smiling face, telling you what was on sale that week at Menards. And now, Ray Szmanda-- better known as 'The Menards Guy'-- has passed away at age 91. Ray appeared in weekly commercials for the Wisconsin-based home improvement chain for 27 years, starting way back in 1976, according to this Volume One story.

Szmanda signed on to appear as the weekly Menards spokesperson in radio and TV commercials in a model loosely based on True Value Hardware commercials in the 70's that starred broadcaster Pat Summerall. The story explained that seeing as most of those weekly commercials were shot on-site at various Menards stores, customers were always taken aback when, while shopping at a store where they were filming that week's commercials, they'd hear his familiar phrase, "Save big money at Menards!'

While Menards is based in Eau Claire-- founder John Menards' hometown-- Ray himself was from the central Wisconsin town of Antigo, only about 40 minutes away from my hometown of Wausau. Seeing as I previously worked in both Wausau and Eau Claire, I wasn't unusual to spot Ray, and the Menards TV crew, getting ready to film a shot for whatever was on sale that week in a Menards store near where I happened to be shopping.

I had him call in once to my radio show in Eau Claire right after he retired in 2003, and he was an incredibly nice, down-to-earth guy who loved being known as the 'Menards Guy'. He even carried headshots around with him to hand out and autograph when people asked for them. And even though they haven't used him in commercials in nearly 15 years, it's a little sad to know a part of my childhood has passed away too. RIP, Ray!