Two years ago, Charlie Diers had an inkling that Marianne Simmons' friends were having difficulty getting in and out of her Lincoln Continental. So, when a used Lincoln MKX Crossover SUV showed up at his dealership, he gave Simmons a call.
“Charlie thought I needed this particular car,” said Simmons, a longtime customer of Diers Ford Lincoln in Fremont, Neb. “He said he would drive it over and park it in my driveway so I could see how I liked it.”
As it turned out, Diers was right. “I drive a lot of my elderly friends around,” said Simmons, 81, “and this is much easier for them to get in and out.”
In August, Charlie Diers, 76, will celebrate being a Ford and Lincoln dealer for 50 years. The family recently celebrated 75 years of owning Ford dealerships in Nebraska.
In 1964, Diers earned his dealer license at age 26, becoming one of the youngest Ford Lincoln Mercury dealers in the U.S. “I couldn't wait to get to work,” he said.
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Nearly 50 years later, Diers says the same excitement and enthusiasm draw him to the showroom.
“Customers come in and their guard is up a little. They've worked hard for their money, and it's hard to part with that. But they have a need and we're here to help them fulfill that need. The customer needs to win, too,” Diers said.
The dealership also maintains a full-service repair shop.
“People come a long way to have their vehicle serviced here,” said Diers, whose technicians include employees who've worked for the dealership for three and four decades.
Diers' introduction to the family business began when he was a teenager.
“In the summers, I would work on the farm. In the winters, I would work at the dealership, sweeping floors and polishing cars,” Diers said. On the farm, he learned to respect his neighbors, his fellow farmers. At the dealership, he learned from his father, Walter Diers, that you have to earn the customer's loyalty and trust. “My father used to say: 'The customer writes your paycheck,' ” Diers said.
But more than selling and servicing cars and trucks for 50 years, Diers can also point to decades of community service: 28 years as a member of the Fremont Area YMCA, 50 years of membership in the Fremont Rotary Club and other civic activities, including the dealership's participation in 61 Habitat for Humanity projects.
In the late 1990s, Diers donated 20 acres of the family's farmland for the construction of St. Patrick Catholic Church, which was dedicated in 2001. Diers also was active in the development of Deer Point, a residential and commercial development on the east side of Fremont.
Diers has owned the Fremont dealership since 1964, the same year that Lee Iacocca, then Ford's vice president, unveiled the automaker's latest gem, the Ford Mustang, at the New York World's Fair.
But the story of the family-owned auto dealership begins in 1916 or thereabouts, when Diers' father, Walter Diers — a farmer's son — made a habit of ducking into the local Ford dealership in downtown Fremont, midway between school and the livery barn where he left his horse, to escape the cold.
The dealership must have made an impression on Walter. More than 20 years later, when the dealership came up for sale, bank officials showed up at the Diers family farm and told Walter's father that Walter and his brother Eugene were interested in buying the dealership.
The announcement caused E.C. Diers, Walter and Eugene's father, to blurt: “ 'Over my dead body. We're farmers!' ” Diers said.
Despite their father's reaction, Walter, Eugene and their father bought the dealership at 210 E. Military Ave. in 1938.
On Dec. 17, 1938, father and sons held a “formal opening” that featured the latest models, including the 1939 Ford V-8, Mercury and Lincoln Zephyr, and the dealership's newly equipped service department.
A few years later, in 1942, the Dierses purchased a second Ford dealership in Grand Island.
In 1961, Eugene Diers sold the Fremont dealership.
Three years later, in 1964, Charlie Diers, who was working at the family's Grand Island dealership, had the opportunity to purchase the Fremont location. He asked his father for a loan to help him buy it back.
“My father mortgaged the family farm so I could buy the Fremont dealership,” Diers said, adding proudly: “I paid my father back in eight years.”
In 1967, Diers moved the dealership from downtown to its present location at 2445 N. Broad St. and began his lifelong involvement with the community. “I couldn't have survived downtown on a quarter block. We needed two or three city blocks,” Diers said in 1991.
Today the dealership employs 50 people, including Diers' son Chuck Diers, 44, the dealership's general manager.
“We just like doing business with the Dierses,” Simmons said. “They're wonderful community leaders.”