America's Handyman: 'People trusted him'
Even as Glenn Haege battled serious health problems earlier this summer, the beloved Detroit News columnist and nationally syndicated radio show host known as “America’s Master Handyman” vowed to get back to his listeners and readers.
They needed him, he told his longtime executive producer Rob David.
“And I need them,” he told David.
Haege spent 33 years doling out do-it-yourself home improvement advice to listeners of his radio show and more than 20 years writing a Detroit News column called “The Handyman.” He gave trusted tips on everything from waterproofing basements to maximizing storage. The Macomb Township resident died Monday after a brief battle with cancer. He was 70.
“Glenn empowered people with his columns, showing them how they could do many things themselves,” said former Detroit News Homestyle editor Judy Diebolt.
Born on Aug. 27, 1947, Haege moved from Oak Park to Warren as a child. He attended Northern Michigan University and got his start at Sherwin-Williams and later Aco Hardware before making his way to radio. His weekly “The Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) was syndicated in more than 135 markets nationwide. Advice-seekers would call the show, and Haege would wait patiently for DIYers to finish describing their issues.
“He kind of reminded me of a prehistoric Angie’s List,” said former Detroit News Features editor Kelly Kolhagen, who recruited Haege to write his Homestyle column 22 years ago. “He had a Rolodex with 100 miles of cards. He knew all the contractors in town.”
David, his producer, said Haege prided himself on knowing what products were best for consumers and how to help them save money. David estimates Haege answered 85,000 questions during his career. While many of the questions were the same, the answers were different over the years.
“He loved knowing things,” David said. “… He saw his role as a consumer information person. He’d say, ‘The most important tool in your toolbox is your checkbook.’”
David first met Haege when he was doing a radio interview for Aco Hardware, now Great Lakes Ace Hardware, in the early 1980s on WXYT-AM 1270.
“He was really good and I went to the manager of the radio station and said, ‘We should get this guy on the radio,’” remembers David, an account executive at the station at the time.
They did and listeners responded, calling into Haege’s show whenever he was on, David said.
“People trusted him,” he said.
Readers felt the same way about his column. “It was information that people could immediately put to use,” Kolhagen said.
Haege’s fans mourned his death Monday. Many said it felt like they knew Haege personally because of his show and column.
“I listened to Glenn all the way back to 1983 when I just turned 13,” said Greg Donahoe of Warren. “He was a staple on our family radio every Saturday.”
Donahoe said he’ll always remember Haege’s advice that “water always wins” when it comes to correctly water-proofing your basement.
“I learned a lot from listening to him over the years,” Donahoe said.
Mark VandenBerg, president of Great Lakes Ace Hardware, called Haege “a wealth of information.” When Haege recommended certain products, the retailer would label them in their stores as recommendedby “America’s Master Handyman.” That carried weight with customers, and sales would go up.
It “speaks to the influence and trust people had in Glenn,” VandenBerg said. “He was a breath of fresh air in our digital age with his personal touch of answering listeners’ questions on his radio show, and he will be greatly missed.”
Even high-profile Metro Detroiters took — and trusted — Haege’s advice. David recalled a customer who visited a local hardware store in Birmingham years ago and asked for products that Haege recommended on his show. The customer turned out to be Lee Iacocca, the former chairman of Chrysler.
In 1999, Haege testified before Congress about a proposed bill that would affect toilet sizes. Haege thought the toilets weren’t engineered correctly and would cost people money. He urged his listeners to send a piece of toilet paper to lawmakers about the bill. Roughly 10,000 sheets of toilet paper came in, David said.
But Haege’s advice wasn’t just about toilets or wet basements. He gave great cleaning advice, too, said Diebolt, the former Homestyle editor. His holiday emergency kit for spilled wine, cigarette burns and other party disasters was “a huge hit,” she said.
Off the air, Haege’s personality was very much like it was on air, David said. He was down-to-earth and humble. He never endorsed products; he only recommended them.
“The guy that you heard on the radio — the friendly, nice guy — was the same in person,” David said. “He always had time for people to come by and ask him a question.”
Haegewas inducted into the Michigan Broadcasting Hall of Fame in 2011. He also received the “Best Broadcast Report” from the National Association of Real Estate Editors and Talkers magazine.
Over the years, Haege also wrote 11 home improvement books, including “Fix it Fast and Easy,” and shared articles on his website, masterhandyman.com.
Haege is survived by his wife, Barbara; children Eric and Heather; six grandchildren; his mother, Marion; sister, Sharon; and brother, Robert. A funeral visitation is planned for 12-8 p.m. Sunday at the E.J. Mandziuk & Son Funeral Home, 3801 18 Mile Road in Sterling Heights. It is open to the public.