Bill Bruns hauls a matted and framed photo of the Boeing 787 rollout that was signed by his coworkers for him upon his retirement from Boeing. (Dan Bates/The Herald)

Boeing’s been ‘a good place to go’ for Lake Stevens family

LAKE STEVENS — On Boeing’s 100th birthday Friday, William “Bill” Bruns won’t be blowing out candles or eating cake. He’ll be at Safeco Field, where friends, family and M’s fans will cheer him on. The Boeing retiree is scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the Mariners-Houston Astros game.

The aerospace giant has a fitting representative in Bruns, 73, who was a customer quality support manager when he retired in 1998. When he hurls that pitch, Bruns will be the exemplar of his family’s long history with the Boeing Co.

“It’s kind of an honor. We have five generations who have worked for Boeing,” Bruns said.

He was with the company 33 years, and is Boeing by blood and by marriage.

His wife, Stella Bruns, 72, worked as a Boeing test equipment manager. During her 30-year career, she had up-close views of extraordinary planes and high-profile passengers, among them Air Force One and President Bill Clinton.

Bill Bruns’ job was working with airplane buyers from all over the world. “In essence, I was there to support customers,” he said. “I assisted them with contracts and inspecting the airplanes. I became their eyes and ears. I can’t name a country I haven’t dealt with.”

The couple retired together Sept. 30, 1998, the 30th anniversary of the day Boeing rolled out the first 747 at its Everett plant. At their home near Lake Cassidy on Tuesday, they shared memorabilia, including a framed photo from that roll-out day — Sept. 30, 1968. It was signed by Bill Bruns’ crew for his retirement. He and his wife are among people pictured on the ground near that first “Jumbo Jet.”

Bruns has tried adding up all the years worked at Boeing by his family. But with a son, grandsons and others still employed by the company, the arithmetic is a work in progress. The sum is way beyond 200 years.

His family’s Boeing heritage began with his paternal grandfather, George J. Bruns, who hired on in 1939 or 1940 and spent 18 years with the company. Bill Bruns’ grandfather worked at the company’s Plant 1 in Seattle and Plant 2 near Boeing Field. Describing his granddad as “old-school German,” Bruns said he heard more about Boeing from his father, Theodore H. Bruns.

His dad worked 44 years for Boeing starting in 1941. Theodore Bruns was a hydraulic mechanic whose career included work on the X-20 Dyna-Soar defense system and the supersonic transport (SST) program, and at the Boeing Tulalip Test Site. Bruns said engine tests for the 747 were conducted at the Tulalip site, which was located off 116th Street west of where I-5 is today.

Bill Bruns said his father commuted from his home in Everett’s Beverly Park area to Boeing in Seattle, all on Highway 99 before the interstate was built.

The couple’s son, Gerald “Jerry” Bruns, still works for Boeing after 30 years with the company. He repairs the exteriors of airplanes at the Everett plant. Bill Bruns’ late brother, Larry Bruns, was a quality manager who was with the company 43 years. He died in 2009.

One of the couple’s grandsons, Jonathan Bruns, has been with the company about eight years. He is now in France on a Boeing assignment. Other relatives also work at Boeing.

The Brunses have a memorabilia collection that includes hats from many airlines. “We had customers from every corner of the world,” Bill Bruns said. They opened a storage box to show caps with the logos of Air Canada, British Airways, Thai Airways, American Airlines, United Airlines, UTA of France, All Nippon Airways, the Chinese carrier CAAC, and many more.

The hats brought back memories. Stella Bruns recalled customers from China inviting them to an elaborate dinner at an apartment near the Boeing plant. Some airline representatives stayed in Everett as their planes were being built. “I ate cold jellyfish,” she said.

They took a trip to Europe that began with a delivery flight to Amsterdam for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.

“And who did you go party with?” Stella Bruns asked her husband, who remembered meeting Sir Richard Branson, the charismatic founder of Virgin Atlantic airlines. “He had a go-cart course, and I came back black and blue,” Bill Bruns said.

Stella Bruns described Air Force One, the presidential 747 that has two kitchens, a surgery room, conference room and a bedroom up front with a shower for the chief executive.

They said several so-called “doomsday” E-4B planes were built in Everett. “They can launch missiles from North Dakota,” Bill Bruns said.

Their collectible photos include one of a plane Boeing built for Saudi Arabia’s royal family. The posh interior includes a “Mecca indicator.”

Bill Bruns once met Sammy Davis Jr. while working at Boeing, and his wife saw Britain’s Prince Andrew at the Everett plant.

“I had a little plaque in my office that said, ‘Customer satisfaction Rule 1: The customer is always right. Rule 2, refer to Rule 1,’ ” Bill Bruns said.

They retired in their mid-50s after the Boeing-McDonnell Douglas merger, which was approved in 1997. Both said the company’s culture changed with the merger. They preferred the old days at Boeing.

“People talk about the Boeing family, and it was a family,” Bill Bruns said. “It was a good place to go.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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