Church member's experience with original 'Willy Wonka' provides a sweet connection to school production

  • The cast of "Willy Wonka, Jr." rehearses the finale at Immanuel-Lutheran Batavia. Tickets are available for this weekend's production.

    The cast of "Willy Wonka, Jr." rehearses the finale at Immanuel-Lutheran Batavia. Tickets are available for this weekend's production. Courtesy of Lori Ward St. Vincent

Submitted by Jeannie Anderson
Updated 3/6/2019 1:18 PM

Imagine entering Willy Wonka's chocolate room. As Willy saunters in, his guests are barely able to contain their awe, ready to sample all the goodies that the delicious habitat has to offer: giant gummy bears, jawbreakers, licorice, marshmallow mushrooms, and the highly coveted chocolate river.

In anticipation of Immanuel Lutheran School's third annual spring musical, Rogers Brackmann, 88, a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church who currently lives at the Holmstead in Batavia, contacted the church to share his special connection to Roald Dahl, the author of both the book and screenplay "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," and Mr. Wonka himself, Gene Wilder.


Brackmann, it turns out, was involved in the production of original motion picture "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," directed by Mel Stuart in 1971.

After working for M & M Mars Company in the 1960s, Brackmann started his own Chicago-based advertising agency. He knew the president of Quaker Oats, who asked Brackmann to start the Willy Wonka candy company and join him on a three-week trip to Munich, Germany, to work on the set of "Willy Wonka."

According to Brackmann, Quaker Oats had purchased the rights to the film, and Brackmann was to meet with the production team to gain inspiration to create products for the candy company. "I was there to capture the picture of the movie and sets to create candy," said Brackmann.

In Munich, Brackmann and Quaker Oats executives met with Dahl, Wilder, and artist and actor Harper Goff, who art directed the film. Brackmann said the sets and costumes for the film were all the imagination of Roald Dahl, but they came alive through Harper Goff.

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After a long-day's work, the men spent most evenings having dinner together and spent weekends in Salzburg, where "The Sound of Music" was filmed.

"Gene was as real and as natural as anybody could be," said Brackmann. "He was a funny guy."

Brackmann spoke fondly of Wilder, and stated that what he loved most was hearing him tell stories about his wife. "Gene had an extreme amount of love for her."

After his trip, Brackmann returned to Chicago with the "imagination for the candy line" and his wife and children created the prototypes of the Willy Wonka candy in their kitchen. The candy line came out the month before the film's release.

At Holmstead, Brackmann reflected fondly on his life. "Diane and I have been blessed -- it's been a wonderful life. I don't see that we've ever been a big deal, but we've been associates of people who have been a big deal." The Brackmanns have been married for 63 years and up until recently, he had been active in business.

"Willy Wonka. Jr. " will be presented March 8-10 at Immanuel Lutheran School, 950 Hart Road in Batavia. Tickets for the performance are $5, $4 for seniors, and kids under 5 years of age are free. The performances are at 6:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday the performance is at 2:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at


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