Palm Desert, Calif. — The word “pioneer” is often used to describe people who played roles in the early development of an industry. When it comes to the equipment rental industry, probably no single individual embodies the word pioneer more than Bill Grasse, who died July 18 in Palm Desert, Calif., a few weeks before his 91st birthday.
Grasse's father, Palmer Grasse, founded Acme Rents in Burbank, Calif., in the 1930s and later sold it to his sons, Bill, Bob, Don and daughter Peggy in the early 1950s. The Grasses grew the businesses into a major southern California rental company before selling it to Ira Mendelsohn in 1987. Bill Grasse remained with Acme for years, serving as “goodwill ambassador” and advising Mendelsohn's management team in operations and acquisitions.
Grasse played a major role in the founding of RER magazine. RER founder Jim Gartland became friends with Grasse while doing his initial research into the rental industry, and Grasse helped Gartland in his efforts by teaching him about the industry and introducing him to rental people and industry suppliers. Grasse wrote a monthly column called “RenTopics,” offering tips on equipment and maintenance of equipment. The column would run for 40 years and is believed to have been the longest-running column ever in American business journalism. Even today, 10 years after Grasse stopped writing the column, readers still request back issues of Grasse's writings and specific columns where he addressed particular topics.
However, Grasse's contributions to the rental industry went beyond his work as a mechanic, as company owner-executive, or writer. The term “goodwill ambassador” may describe it best. Grasse traveled all over the world visiting rental companies and became friends with rental people internationally. He led a number of delegations where American rental people visited rental companies in other countries, and he often hosted rental visitors from other countries. Perhaps more than any other individual, Grasse planted the seeds and set the stage for the international connections between people in the rental industry. Even after retiring, Grasse continued to attend industry trade shows until very recently when health considerations limited his travel.
Grasse was active in the California Rental Association, served as its president and was honored as its Rental Person of the Year in 1969. He also served on a number of American Rental Association committees.
Grasse met his wife Ellie in Shanghai during World War II and the couple was married for 63 years. Their four children were Bonnie Grasse, who died of cancer in 2007; Jim, manager of global rental and used equipment and global allied products for Caterpillar; Larry, western region franchise sales manager for Volvo Construction Equipment, Asheville, N.C.; and Ron, equipment sales manager for Wagner Rents in Denver. Larry's wife Vivian is also involved in the rental industry as Rocky Mountain regional safety manager for United Rentals.
Grasse is also survived by 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.