Brent Danneman of Park Marine inside his boating showroom leaning against a new jet ski.

Brent Danneman, at Park Marine’s Dawsonville Highway showroom, has been on and around Lake Lanier since it was created.

Brent Danneman knows Lake Lanier. Growing up in Decatur, he can recall when his family would come to Holiday Marina even as the lake was in its final stages of filling.

“Our boat was right next to (then Holiday Marina owner) Jack Beachem’s,” said Danneman, now senior consultant for Traina Enterprises, which owns Park Marine. “I can remember Jack and my dad taking a dinghy out in front of the marina to trim off the tops of the trees as the lake was being filled. Jack didn’t want any of his customers to get into trouble.”

He remembers when Beachem rented jon boats with outboards in the early days. “People would get them for the weekend, then just abandon them on the shore on Sundays. “We had to go out and pick them up and bring them back to the marina.”

Danneman and Beachem’s son Doug often boated together, usually leaving the dock around 9 a.m., coming in for lunch, then going back out for the rest of the day. “That’s just the way it was; the lake wasn’t crowded. In fact, in the ’60s and early ’70s, there were very few boats on the lake. We’d ski and go tubing all day.”

For Danneman and other families back then, the lake was a respite, a place to come for fun. “At first we spent time at Allatoona, but after a while, Lake Lanier was it for us,” he said. “My parents decided in the late ’50s and early ’60s to start coming to Lanier and from then on Lanier was where we spent our time.”

Danneman joined the US Army before he finished high school, spending eight years during the Vietnam era in the 81st Infantry. Like other soldiers returning home, he experienced jeering, being spit on and ridiculed. “The people hated us then and they weren’t afraid to let us know how they felt,” he said.

“Now when I wear the veteran’s hat that my daughter Jill gave me, I hear, ‘Thanks for your service,’ ‘I appreciate your sacrifice’ and other compliments. These are different times. People have a lot more respect these days.”

When Danneman returned home, he worked for his father’s retail clothing business, traveling across Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina. Then his family purchased Browns Bridge Marine in 1978.

“Dad told me I’d better give up selling women’s clothes and run the marine business. I really didn’t know what I was doing, but it was a good decision. When we had Yamaha, we were one of the largest Yamaha dealers in the US.”

Danneman settled into the boat business as though he was born into it, eventually owning Browns Bridge Marine. He sold the business in the early 1980s to Larry Cooper, and Danneman stayed on as the main salesperson.

He left Browns Bridge in the late ’90s, and his friend Larry Dobson connected Danneman with Doug Traina who had owned Park Marina since 1978. Traina reached out to Danneman in the late ’90s to join his team, running the retail store on Dawsonville Highway.

“I told him I’d give it a year or two, but I ended up staying for 23 years as general manager,” he said.

Danneman and his wife Phyllis have been married 61 years. They have two adult children, son Russ, who’s married to Tanny; they have three adult children. His daughter Jill lives across the street from where Danneman grew up in Decatur. She works in sales and marketing in Atlanta.

He said he’s working toward retirement. In fact, he has been mentoring a replacement – Kevin Allen, who has recently been named director of sales for Park Marine.

“Kevin started out at our Kennesaw location as a boat washer and he’s worked his way up the ladder with us,” Danneman said. “I’m so proud of all he’s done and he’s doing a great job.”

Admittedly, he’s finding it a challenge to fully retire.

“I’ve cut back my hours, but so many people keep asking for me when they’re looking for a boat, need their boat fixed, or have just about any kind of question related to boats and Lake Lanier.”

He’s given his semi-retirement a name. “I call it hanging out, what I’m doing now, but all along it’s been the best career I could ask for,” he said with a smile. “You know, we’re in the business of selling fun, and not many people can say that honestly.

“When I see a man, his wife and kids come in to look at a boat, they’re so excited,” he said. “They’re chasing their dream and we’re all here to help them realize that dream. After all, these days, more and more people are choosing to spend their vacation and recreation time close to home and Lake Lanier’s the perfect place.

“You can go on a vacation somewhere else, but all you’ve got is some photos and a few memories,” he said. “When you own a boat, you can vacation every day, and you’ve got an asset for the long term.”

He sees a bright future for boating and Lake Lanier. “With all the growth in Atlanta and North Georgia, and so many people wanting to spend their leisure and recreational time close to home, Lake Lanier will continue to grow. I can remember when no one wanted to boat north of Browns Bridge, but now you see boats everywhere.”

Danneman looks back on his career and sees a pattern.

“The Lord has blessed me in so many ways, from my surviving a war, starting a business, having an amazing family and having the best career,” he said. “As long as my health is good, I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing.”

Photos: by Alan Hope