In Your Community Q&A: Charlie Graham, Frankenmuth City Manager

Frankenmuth, Michigan is a city of about 4,800 people. The city is known for its festive Christmas atmosphere. Consumers Energy provides gas and electricity to the city. With Christmas coming this week, we thought this would be a great time to talk to Frankenmuth City Manager Charlie Graham.

How long have you been city manager in Frankenmuth?

I’ve been city manager here for 31 years. My first day on the job was October 1, 1979, and that was exactly 20 years after the Village of Frankenmuth became the City of Frankenmuth. My 30-year anniversary coincided with the city’s 50-year anniversary which we celebrated last year along with many of our friends and neighbors throughout Saginaw County and surrounding communities. My tenure as city manager in Frankenmuth has been very rewarding. Moving here from Pueblo, Colorado with my wife, Ann, in 1979 was one of the best decisions of my life.

Tell me a little about the history of Frankenmuth.

The Community was settled in 1845 by Lutheran missionaries from the Franken (Franconian) area in Germany (an area in the northern part of modern day Bavaria). The German word “Muth” means courage, so the city name Frankenmuth means “courage of the Franconians”.  The Frankenmuth area remained a magnet for other Germans from the same region who came to this area and established the nearby communities of Frankentrost, Frankentlust, and Frankenhilf (now Richville). The German migration to these four colonies was initiated as a mission to spread Christianity to the Chippewa tribe.

Frankenmuth is a city of about 4,800 residents and is located in the southeast quadrant of Frankenmuth Township. It became a village in 1904 and a city on October 1, 1959. It is about 3 square miles in area and is wholly surrounded by Frankenmuth Township with whom we have enjoyed a great relationship over the years. We have cost sharing agreements for police protection, fire fighting service and code enforcement, and we have an agreement whereby we share space in the same municipal building. The township offices are upstairs right above my office.  Also, we collaborated years ago to create an urban growth boundary around the city within the township for land use planning purposes. This allows interested property owners to follow an established process to annex and develop their property as part of the city. And, it enables the township to pursue its policy of farmland preservation and to protect its valuable rural landscape.

Frankenmuth is known for its festivals and festive Christmas atmosphere.  Tell me about tourism in Frankenmuth.

Well, as you said, we are a very popular tourist attraction in the state. In fact, each year we are visited by 2 to 3 million tourists from around the area, the state, the nation and the world.  Frankenmuth is one of the top tourist attractions in Michigan.

Of course, anyone who comes here has to enjoy — at least once — the marvelous chicken dinners served by our two large restaurants: Zehnder’s and Bavarian Inn. Hundreds of thousands of tourists share a meal here every year and enjoy the shopping inside. But, as you can see, there are plenty of wonderful shops in Frankenmuth where you can browse and shop and just enjoy the day. There are also many other great places to eat and share an adult beverage with your friends. One of our other premier attractions is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland.  Wally Bronner, one of the icons of this city, died in 2008, but his name and reputation lives on, and the theme of keeping “Christ” in Christmas continues as a very high priority for the entire Bronner Family.

Christmas is certainly one of the top draws in this city. But we also offer many other festivals throughout the year.  The list is long but some of the tourist favorites are:  Snow Fest, World Expo of Beer, Dog Bowl, Regional Hot Air Balloon Championships, Bavarian Festival, Summer Music Festival, Auto Fest, Snow Fest and Oktoberfest. There are lots of things to do in Frankenmuth!

If you’ve never spent time in Frankenmuth, there is no better time than now to visit. But if you can’t make it this Christmas, you are welcome anytime of the year.

What about Frankenmuth as a community?

Interestingly, the work and family ethic that prevailed when Frankenmuth was a small, German migrant community is still very strong today. We are a conservative, hard-working city that cares for its families, its community and its neighbors. That has not changed in all the years. We have strong Christian values that have similarly remained part of the fabric of this community since its inception when it was a mission post to the Chippewa Indians.

We are proud of our community. But what we are especially proud of our schools. The Frankenmuth school system is one of the top school systems in the state. Many families choose to live in Frankenmuth to take advantage of our outstanding school system. Frankenmuth is also blessed with some other strong businesses including Frankenmuth Mutual Insurance, Star of the West Milling Company, Memtron Technologies and Air Advantage. 

A great deal more information is available at the Frankenmuth Chamber of Commerce web site, www.frankenmuth.org and the City of Frankenmuth web site, www.frankenmuthcity.com.

Anything else you’d like to say before we conclude our discussion?

Thank you for this chance to talk with you about Frankenmuth. We are a family-friendly community of hospitality. Please let your friends, neighbors and customers know that they are always welcome to the community of Frankenmuth. We welcome you to come for a visit, to come and live here and to come and establish a business here.