By J.L. Schmidt - Statehouse Correspondent - The Nebraska Press Association
The Internet is alive with the story of the pending two-day auction of the former Lambrecht Chevrolet Company in Pierce, Nebraska. The dealership closed 17 years ago. The Minnesota–based auction company is touting a number of vehicles with fewer than ten miles on the odometer, plastic on the seats, original factory stickers still in the windows and hub caps and floor mats still in the trunk.
It’s the stuff that car guys yearn for. A 1958 Chevrolet Cameo pickup truck with one mile on the odometer. A 1964 Chevy Impala with four miles on the odometer. A Silver Anniversary issued 1978 Corvette with four miles on the odometer. Plus a large number of “project” cars, trade-ins that were not re-sold, but stored on the Lambrecht farm. In addition, there are car parts still in the bins, parts books still on the counters, advertising displays, etc. in the showroom.
But the story of Ray P. and Mildred Lambrecht, as told to the auction company by their daughter Jeannie Lambrecht Stillwell, is the story of small business in the Midwest, of the true spirit of Mom and Pop and their love of, and involvement in, the life of the community.
She writes that her Dad and Mom owned and operated Lambrecht Chevrolet Company from 1946 until 1996, selling new Chevrolets to multiple generations of families all over the Midwest and beyond. They had one mechanic and Ray developed a reputation for making his first offer to the customer his best offer. No dealing or dickering. He would offer a price and encourage his customers to go elsewhere and try to beat it. They usually came back.
Born in 1918 during a depression in rural Pierce County, Nebraska, a small farming community, Lambrecht drove his first car at age nine. It was a 1927 tan Chevrolet two-door coupe and he drove his mother seven miles into town to buy groceries. He was drafted into the Army in 1942 and served in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska where there was fierce fighting with the Japanese. Honorably discharged in 1946, he returned to Nebraska, married Mildred and went into the car business with his uncle. He designed and built the building that housed the dealership, driving from town-to-town in post-war Nebraska to find the materials. After two years, he bought out the uncle.
Ray and Mildred operated the dealership for 50 years until they retired in 1996 at ages 78 and 75. They worked six days a week for 50 years, never taking one single day of vacation or one sick day. They worked hard and operated their business with honesty, integrity, and kindness, frequently lending a helping hand to others who were in need. Now, 17 years later, they have decided to sell everything, including the cars that are making collectors quiver with excitement. The late September auction is even the subject of a YouTube video.
Jeannie says her dad believed in the Golden Rule, and he treated his customers accordingly. He was especially kind to the children who accompanied their fathers to the dealership to look at cars and trucks. He would let the kids sit inside new cars or look under the hoods while he explained to them how things worked. The kids were delighted and often became life-long customers when they became adults.
Ray also believed in selling safe cars to families and often took the trade-ins to the farm where his collection started to grow. It now includes 500 survivor vehicles. Ray, now 95, can look at any of those vehicles today and tell you the story behind it. He remembers each used car and the former owner, like the 1928 Durant owned by his wife’s uncle Louie. That car is still part of the collection.
But more important than the cars was the fact that Lambrecht Chevrolet participated in all of the important local celebrations and events throughout the years. For its grand opening in 1946, there were real live elephants in front of the dealership wearing Chevrolet banners on their backs, Jeannie said. During the Nebraska Centennial in 1954, Ray had the honor of driving the Governor of Nebraska in a 1953 Corvette down Main Street in the parade. Pioneer Days in June of 1959 was the 100th anniversary of Pierce County, Nebraska. Ray again drove dignitaries in a new 1959 Chevy in the parade. There were countless other functions and parades.
Lambrecht Chevrolet Company remained a small business in a small Nebraska community of about 1,200 people. In the 1980’s, the Lambrechts made the transition from typewriter to computer for communications with General Motors. But Mildred still used an adding machine for maintaining handwritten financial ledgers and paper files. The original cash register from 1946 still sat on the front counter and was used daily.
The inventory of Lambrecht Chevrolet is a virtual time capsule. The dedication of Ray and Mildred and their involvement in the community is a story repeated every day across Nebraska by countless small businessmen and women dedicated to serving friends and neighbors.