History | Buzz's Marine

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Buzz's History

Mick Wise and his son Ryan are the second and third generations of the Wise family to own Buzz’s Marine. It was 66 years ago when body shop owner Ralph “Buzz” Wise first started selling marine supplies. At heart, Buzz was a body shop guy, but he left a legacy linked to boats, not cars and trucks. Buzz’s Marine in Kearney was born from the Wise family’s love of lake recreation.

The Wise family was part of a small fraternity of early cabin owners at Johnson Lake. Their first cabin was a converted – and cleaned – chicken coop. The chicken coop lasted about two years, until Buzz’s wife, Thelma, insisted on something else. A new cabin was built, and additions were made over the years. At first, family members fished off the lake bank and enjoyed beachcombing, but it didn’t take Buzz long to figure out that he needed a boat.

There were few boat manufacturers in the Midwest, and no dealers closer than Omaha. So Buzz did what might be expected of a man with body shop expertise. He built a wooden boat in his basement. A 30-horsepower engine was big enough to get the boat up to speeds sufficient to pull family members wearing big, wide, heavy, one-size-fits-all wooden skis.

Buzz’s boat was one of the few on the lake 66 years ago. Soon, other members of the lake fraternity asked him to build boats for them. Each took three to six months to complete. He shifted to selling boats in 1959 after buying three from Paul Larson of Minneapolis. He returned to Kearney with two boats on a trailer and one on the pickup. Within a week, all three were sold. Although he had been selling some marine supplies since 1956, that was the moment when Buzz decided he was in the boat business.

Buzz’s Body Shop initially shared a location with another business on East 25th Street. In the mid- 1960’s, Buzz moved to a building at Railroad Street and Avenue E. The north side was the body shop, which was busy over the winter, and the south side was the marine business, which had a busy summer season. Later, a metal building for boats was added to a property on the east. The marine part of the business kept growing as recreation at Johnson, Sherman and Harlan lakes and at Lake McConaughy became more popular.

Mick Wise graduated from Kearney State College in 1972, completed his active military service and came back to run the marine store in 1974. In 1985, Buzz’s Marine was moved to a new building at 507 Central Ave.

Today, Mick’s son Ryan is vice president and principally involved in day-to-day sales operations. Continuing the family's boating heritage was Chloe Wise, the first member of the crew from the fourth generation. Now her siblings, Parker and Hope Wise help at the dealership. 

The first boats sold by the Wise family were 15-, 16- and 17- footers. In the 1960’s, most engines were 50 horsepower and the “big ones” were 75 or 90 horsepower. By the 1970’s, 115- and 150- horsepower engines were common. Today, boat buyers want 24- to 25-foot boats with hefty 320- to 375-horsepower engines. Today, Buzz’s Marine carries Smoker Craft, Starcraft, Glastron, Four Winns, Barletta, Sylvan, Sunchaster, Crest, ATX and Tigé boats; Mercury, Honda, Yamaha, Volvo and Indmar engines.

People come to Buzz’s Marine from Nebraska, as well as from Kansas, Iowa, Colorado and many other states. Many are second- or third-generation customers and some are third- and fourth-time buyers.

Most businesses talk about service after the sale, but as the oldest marine dealer in Nebraska, Buzz’s puts its experience and knowledge behind every purchase. We provide an instructor to conduct an orientation for anyone who purchases a new or used boat from Buzz’s Marine. By doing so, when you take delivery of your boat, you are not left reading the manual as your only form of boating education. That’s probably why all those folks keep spreading the word about the family atmosphere and customer appreciation that has been going on at Buzz’s since 1956.

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