Wayne Atchley considered it a combination of hard work and good luck that propelled him from a poor childhood to ownership of what was for several years the largest auto dealership in Nebraska.
The former owner of Atchley Ford died Wednesday from complications of Alzheimer’s disease at a care facility, said his son, Zach Atchley, current owner of the business. He was 72.
Wayne Atchley’s career in cars started as a high school summer job at Courtesy Ford in Littleton, Colorado. He was headed to college on a wrestling scholarship, with plans to become a history teacher, and hoped to earn some spending money.
He envied the car salesmen, though, with their nice clothes, new cars and big personalities, and asked for a job selling cars, even though it meant lying about his age, he told The World-Herald in 1975. He sold about 60 cars that summer and reconsidered his career.
He stayed on at Courtesy, hustling to do work other salesmen might not, like cleaning snow off a car in the winter for a customer who wanted a test drive.
Ford saw his potential. In 1975, with the help of the Ford Dealership Development Program, he bought Omaha dealership Sample Hart. Renamed Atchley Ford, the business was Nebraska’s biggest dealer in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Zach Atchley said. The dealership remodeled in 2014 and today continues to sell more than 2,500 vehicles a year.
The business was the pride of the family. Atchley, born in Oklahoma, was raised by his mother and grandmothers after his parents divorced in his youth.
One time, recalled his wife, Sue Atchley, “Grandma Atchley drove up and he drove her down there,” she said of the dealership. “She stood in front of the building and just cried and cried. She never thought she’d see something like that.”
Atchley passed that pride down to his children, Sue Atchley said. On Sundays, when the dealership was closed, the family would drive to the car lot, and Wayne would have the kids pick up any litter on the ground.
Wayne Atchley built a successful business on the principle that the customer is always right, said his son, who recalled that even when a buyer was difficult to deal with, his father would say, “You better find a way to work with the customers to make sure they feel they’re being listened to. Whether you agree with it or not, the customer is king.”
Despite his hard work and poor upbringing, Atchley felt he was lucky, too, to have had good mentors and a natural talent for salesmanship, his son said, and tried to give his employees their own opportunities to succeed.
Atchley was an active member of the Nebraska New Car & Truck Dealers Association, said Loy Todd, the group’s president.
His peers in 2006 nominated him for the Time Magazine Quality Dealer of the Year, a reflection of the respect other local dealers had for him, Todd said.
“He always had a smile on his face,” Todd said. “It was clear he enjoyed his family, and he enjoyed the business. He was very proud of being a successful dealer and taking care of his customers.”
In addition to son Zach, Atchley is survived by a daughter, Tish; two grandsons; and his wife, Sue, of Elkhorn, with whom he had celebrated 50 years of marriage in 2014 with a dinner for family and friends at the Omaha Country Club.
A wake is planned from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at Reichmuth Mortuary in the Elkhorn area. Services will be at 2 p.m. Thursday at St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Elkhorn.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1336, email@example.com