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Fenzel Motor Sales celebrates 70 years in Hampshire

Fenzel Motor Sales is located 206 South State Street Hampshire.

Fenzel Motor Sales is located at 206 South State Street in Hampshire.

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:09AM

HAMPSHIRE — Fenzel Motor Sales, at 206 S. State St., has been operating in the village’s downtown area for the past 70 years.

The business is owned by John Fenzel Jr. It is a new and used car and truck dealership that includes a showroom, two repair facilities, and a used car area on both sides of Jefferson Avenue west of State Street. It also has a separate storage facility on Prairie Street.

The dealership offers new Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models and Ram trucks along with certified, pre-owned cars, trucks, minivans and SUVs. The parts department carries OEM (original equipment manufacturer) Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep parts and accessories.

The Fenzel family is originally from Chicago. Fenzel said his father, John Fenzel Sr., first came to this area in 1939. He obtained a loan from Henry Hattendorf at the State Bank of Burlington and purchased the Henry Pfingsten Ford Store, also in Burlington.

In 1940, Fenzel moved with his father; his mother, Florence, and his two sisters, Joanne and Mary Jane, to a house along Main Street in Burlington. Fenzel’s mother was unhappy with the house because it had no running water or electricity. When a dealership in Hampshire went up for sale, Fenzel’s father bought it.

Open since 1942

Fenzel’s Motor Sales opened in Hampshire on Nov. 1, 1942.

The Fenzel family moved to the upstairs section of the dealership in Hampshire in 1943. Fenzel’s youngest sister, Rose Charlene, was born in 1944. Fenzel and his siblings attended St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Hampshire.

Fenzel Motor Sales expanded from one side of Jefferson Avenue to the other in 2001 when Fenzel tore down the building that had stood at the northwest corner of State and Jefferson since 1887. The building was originally a hardware/implements store and gas station. Fenzel bought the property from Ray Maynard and his son so that he could build his showroom on the site.

In 2009, when Chrysler closed 789 dealerships due to bankruptcy and restructuring, Fenzel Motor Sales remained open.

“We had a good relationship with Chrysler, and our customer satisfaction index was high,” Fenzel said. “We always had 100 to 150 percent of market penetration. This town has been good to us. We were lucky.”

Hampshire memories

Fenzel remembered when farmers would bring their milk into town in 8-gallon cans.

“The Hampshire milk company produced 375,000 pounds of milk a day,” Fenzel said.

During World War II, when there was a shortage of manpower due to many young Americans serving overseas, 250 German prisoners of war were brought to Hampshire. They worked at the Inderrieden Canning Co. on Keyes Street, which canned peas and corn.

Fenzel said the squad tents could each hold nine to 12 men. The POW camp had a headquarters, PX military store, and mess halls. There were 25 enlisted men to guard the prisoners.

At that time, Fenzel was a student who delivered newspapers when he was not attending school. He was asked to deliver newspapers to the prisoners and the guards at the prison camp.

“I had to clip out any mention of rape or murder,” Fenzel said. “I took newspapers there twice a day. I also brought supplies for the POWs who wanted to carve wood. They would take the ends of orange crates and make carvings. I learned how to play pinochle and euchre with the prisoners. Boys in town would help load the crop dusters and work with the prisoners in the fields. Peas and sweet corn was picked by hand.”

Fenzel said that on Sundays, the prisoners were allowed to go to church. He said that half of them went to the St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, while the other half went to the Lutheran church.

“You could hear their boots on the paved brick streets,” Fenzel said. “They marched 12 abreast and sang on their way there and back. It was beautiful singing.”

Fenzel said that most of the POWs were volunteers with Germany’s Afrika Korps.

“On D-Day, we listened with the POWs to the radio about the invasion,” Fenzel said.

Fenzel has many memories of how the village and his business have changed over the years.

Today, Fenzel and his wife, Muriel, live in Sleepy Hollow. They have four children: John, Mark, Michael and Lisa.

Their son, John, is a U.S. Army Special Forces colonel who has served for 30 years. His book, “The Lazarus Covenant,” is based on his experiences from the White House Situation Room to the war zones of central Europe.

Mark is a graduate of the U.S. Navy Merchant Marine Academy. He is engaged in ocean-going shipping.

Michael is a U.S. Army brigade commander at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

Lisa is married with three children in Maryland.

When Michael was a soldier with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Unit, he befriended an Anatolian shepherd puppy that the soldiers in his unit found near the town of Bashur, Iraq. Michael sent the dog, which he named after the place where she was found, to his family in Hampshire.

Today, Bashur greets customers when they enter the main sales and service facility at Fenzel Motor Sales.

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