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Chevy dealer Frank Steves passes away

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POSTED April 10, 2012 12:59 a.m.

Steves Chevrolet-Buick franchise owner Frank Steves, 77, died Friday leaving the unique fabric of his character imprinted on his children Jeff, Brett and Karen.

Steves was well-known among many long-time residents. His relationship with a number of farmers and Manteca residents was so strong that they have never bought a new vehicle from anyone else.

Steves was the dominant figure of strength in his family. He was something of a patriarch, his son Jeff said, being put onto a pedestal for who he was to them.

As his children were growing up in Manteca, Frank promised himself that he wasn’t going to spoil them and give them everything in life. Jeff and Brett learned firsthand through a lot of hard work that they would take over the business someday that grew into a second dealership in Chowchilla in 2004.

Jeff said walking into the Oakdale dealership Monday morning and going by his dad’s empty office “was very strange” and set off a chain of memories that were very fresh in his mind. He and his brother weren’t handed their management roles on a platter. They had to earn them albeit through his mentoring.

Both boys started out washing cars, worked in the service department and ended up in the parts department. Jeff and his brother Brett were sent to a special General Motors school designed just for the sons and daughters of dealership owners.

When they returned to their dad’s business, it was back into the parts department for them to continue absorbing the workings of the operation from the ground up.

“When it came to the dealership there was always a Steves present,” Jeff said Monday. “It was his Golden Rule that one of us would always be there. When he had his stroke (on Good Friday) we both left to be with him.”

Steves had been at a care facility in Modesto after first suffering from an Alzheimer condition, his son said. It was March 26 when he entered the facility, passing away just two weeks later.

All his family members got to spend special time with their dad and talking to him at his bedside before he actually passed away – a special last-minute gift, Jeff said, they will never forget. There was a period when it was just the two of them.

“Dad was the king – Dad was the man,” Jeff said. “We would never question him. If he said we were going to do it this way, we did it. We might present another side, but he was the leader.”

A real tribute to his father, he explained, was the longevity of his employees of 20 to 30 years each. Frank’s children were taught early on how very important it was to have respect for their employees. Jeff said he could usually “read” his father and his brother and they could both read his thoughts and mannerisms as well.

“When you work with each other shoulder to shoulder, the relationships you have are so special. Friends have commented how we all had made it work. We hardly ever had any differences,” he stressed. “The phone calls coming in now are unbelieveable.”

Jeff said as they were growing up his dad was working seven days a week making things work and his mother, Beverly, was taking care of the home front.

“He came home with the neatest toys, go carts and toy trucks, bicycles all the time. He would shower us with gifts as he was trying to create something he could pass on to us,” his oldest son recalled.

Frank’s sister Betty Pratt talked on the telephone Monday afternoon, saying the two of them were only 15 months apart in age, adding that he had such a dry sense of humor. She went to the rural Rustic Elementary School and he went to the equally rural Veritas School.

“We moved around a lot because Daddy milked cows. I then went to Ripon Grammar School and he went to Ripon High in his freshman year and then went to Manteca High School. He was really shy but he liked nice things remembering him with a 1940 Ford and then a black 1956 Chevrolet, saying he was going to be driving a Cadillac someday.”

Betty said her brother, who she still refers to as “Junior,” started going with the girl who would someday be his wife when she was only 14. He waited for Beverly to get out of high school and then they were engaged and married in 1957.

First job was with Mendosa’s Men’s Wear

Frank’s first sales job was with John Mendosa who had taken over his father’s Mendosa’s Men’s Wear in the 100 block of West Yosemite Avenue.

Mendosa explained that Frank had to make more money and was going to leave him just before he got married. He was planning to go to work for Tradeway Chevrolet when the clothier broke his hand and asked the Chevrolet dealer to let him stay at his store for a couple more weeks.

“He was a good employee – everybody liked him,” Mendosa said.

While he was expecting to go to work for Tradeway, Manteca Ford owner Jerry Knapp asked Mendosa if Frank was a good salesman. Instead of taking the job with Lou Blumberg at Tradeway, he went to work for Knapp who was quick to take Mendosa’s recommendation.

“He’s had only two employers in his lifetime,” Mendosa quipped, “me and Jerry Knapp.”

Frank worked his way up the ladder to sales manager and became a part owner in the Ford dealership before buying the Oakdale location in the mid-‘70s. The building site burned when he was signing the franchise contract in San Francisco and he bought an abandoned Pontiac dealership that was just across the street and opened his new operation.

“Anybody who really knew him was aware he didn’t like to brag,” his sister said. “So no one knew how successful he was in business. Junior was strictly a Chevy man, but he did a good job selling Fords and really made a name for himself.”

She said he really wasn’t outgoing until he got to know a person, being reserved and shy which a lot of people didn’t recognize at first.

“When it came to selling cars he was completely different. Because his father’s name was also Frank, he was called Junior. All his classmates still call him Junior. Here’s this big strapping guy and you hear somebody call out to him, ‘Hey, Junior!’”

“He was off-the-charts generous with anything that had to do with kids,” Jeff remembered. “Almost generous to a fault – that’s how he was with kids – he’d whip out his check book even when business was slow.”

Jeff Steves said that everything his Dad touched in business really worked.

“He succeeded in so much in life. We are going to have one heck of a celebration of his life after the funeral on Friday at the MRPS Hall,” he said.

A rosary plus a Mass of Christian Burial is set for 10:30 a.m. on Friday at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Manteca. Burial will be private.

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