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Published: Tuesday, 8/29/2006

Auto dealer in Sylvania led chamber of commerce

Lawrence Eugene "Gene" Fenstemacher, 78, former owner of an automobile sales and service business in downtown Sylvania and a past president of the Sylvania Area Chamber of Commerce, died Saturday in the Lake Park nursing facility.

The family said the death resulted from complications from various cancers.

Mr. Fenstemacher got his start in the automotive business in the 1950s, selling new Buicks and Pontiacs at Carroll Motor Sales, a Sylvania dealership owned by his father-in-law, Charles Carroll.

Mr. Fenstemacher worked at the dealership for about 22 years, developing a professionalism that he would later take with him to his own business, a used car dealership and service center, his son, Thomas Fenstemacher, said.

"His handshake was his word," he said. "If he agreed to something, he agreed to something - there was no wiggle room."

While working for his father-in-law, Mr. Fenstemacher became involved in the chamber of commerce and, in 1960, served as its president for a year. He also was a past member of the Sylvania Downtown Business Association.

After his father-in-law's dealership was sold, Mr. Fenstemacher went into the automobile business for himself, recalled his wife, Colleen Fenstemacher.

He founded Fenstemacher Sales & Service in 1972 on South Main Street in Sylvania.

Mr. Fenstemacher's other son, John, described his father as belonging to a breed of salesmen who brought upstanding principals and ethics to the job.

"He was an honest used car dealer," he said. "He was concerned about his reputation, and that his cars would be dependable once they went off the lot."

In fact, he refused to sell the type of lower-end, beat up vehicles that could have generated quick profit for his business, John Fenstemacher said.

"He didn't want to put anybody in a car that wasn't dependable," he said.

He recalled how his father opened the shop's second floor to Sylvania's Fraternal Order of Police for a meeting room, and in the building's garage enjoyed tinkering with old sports cars such as 1950s British MGBs, Corvettes, and a Mercedes Roadster, which he later sold.

Mr. Fenstemacher retired in the mid-1980s, about the same time that he and his wife built a year-round cottage at his favorite vacation and relaxation spot, Devils Lake, Mich.

He and his wife met at the lake years ago, when Mr. Fenstemacher and a buddy were canoeing past the Carroll's family cottage, his son Thomas said.

They spotted the future Mrs. Fenstemacher and her best girlfriend sitting at the end of a dock and paddled over to introduce themselves.

As fate had it, the young men and women coupled up - and ultimately married. The Fenstemachers walked down the aisle in 1950.

Mr. Fenstemacher was born in Greenville, Tenn., on March 29, 1928. His family moved to Hudson, Mich., when he was about 10, and later he attended high school at Tennessee Military Institute, a boarding school. Afterward, Mr. Fenstemacher graduated from the former General Motors Institute in Flint, Mich., where he received instruction in fields related to the automotive industry.

He moved to Sylvania for his job at Carroll Motor Sales.

He is survived by his wife, Colleen Fenstemacher; sons, John Fenstemacher and Thomas Fenstemacher; five grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter.

Services will be at 2 p.m. Thursday in the Reeb Funeral Home, Sylvania, where visitation will be after 4 p.m. tomorrow.

The family suggests tributes to Visiting Nurse Hospice & Health Care.



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