- Associated Press - Monday, November 13, 2017

OAK PARK HEIGHTS, Minn. (AP) - Gus MacDonald vividly remembers his first day on the job at Stillwater Motors.

“I had a bad start that day,” said MacDonald, 87, who is a service manager for the dealership in Oak Park Heights. “It was almost my first - and last - day.”

That was almost 70 years ago.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that MacDonald, who was 19, got the job in November 1949 because he was good friends with the owner’s son, Frank Raduenz. Frank’s father, Arthur Franklin Raduenz, had founded the dealership in 1922 in downtown Stillwater.

When MacDonald reported to work, he was told to go to a nearby storage building, get a truck, drive it back to the dealership and put a heater in it.

“It was like 15 to 20 below zero,” MacDonald said during a recent interview at the dealership. “I got in the truck and started downtown - and by the time I got there, the windows were so fogged up, I couldn’t even see where I was going.”

When MacDonald got to the dealership, he had to back the truck into the garage. Driving in reverse, he turned to avoid gas pumps. That’s when he heard a sickening crunch.

“There was a fellow parked on the corner who had pulled out and - this was a big truck, I’ve got to tell you, with four wheels in back - and those wheels went right up over his fender and took the headlights off his car,” MacDonald said. “He came out of the car just screaming. (Art Raduenz) came out and said, ‘Don’t get all excited. We’ll give you something to drive, and we’ll take it right into the body shop and fix it for you.’”

Art Raduenz then called MacDonald into his office for a lecture MacDonald never forgot.

“He sat me down and said: ‘You know, friendship is friendship, and business is business. You’ve got to be really careful when you’re in business.’”

MacDonald also took to heart another of Art’s lessons.

“He always said, ‘If you live by the golden rule, you’ll never have any trouble in your whole life.’ I believed him, and it’s worked. There are not many people who believe that anymore.”

Stillwater Motors moved to Oak Park Heights in 1973; Frank Raduenz ran the dealership from 1958 to 1995. Now his son, D.J. Raduenz, is the owner and operator. In 2015, Raduenz commissioned a book to be written about the company’s history and MacDonald’s tenure.

MacDonald, wearing a blue V-neck Stillwater Motors pullover, spends his days overseeing work in the service area.

He gets up at 4:45 each morning - before his alarm goes off - and grabs a roll and coffee at McDonald’s. He works 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week. Much of his workday is devoted to going through stacks of tickets from the previous day and looking for problems and discrepancies.

“For instance, if we put a motor in someone’s car, and we forgot to charge for the motor, I’ll bring that up to someone real fast,” he said.

MacDonald likes to joke about the location of his office - at the end of a row of offices, right next to the service department’s exterior door.

“Maybe they’re trying to tell me something,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s the door out or the door in.”

As customers enter and exit the service area, they look in on MacDonald and wave.

“I’m happy to be here,” he said. “It isn’t like going to work where you hate what you have to do. I have all sorts of customers stop by and visit and keep me informed about what’s going on in the world. A lot of them were my classmates, so I have a lot in common with them.”

Some of his customers are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of former clients.

MacDonald is the “cornerstone of Stillwater Motors” and a St. Croix River Valley institution, said D.J. Raduenz.

“We’re blessed to have him,” said Raduenz, 54, who used to work for MacDonald in the shop. “He’s family. You entrust your business to family. Trust is not even a consideration; he is as honest as the day is long.”

Raduenz said MacDonald has been offered opportunities to work elsewhere, but he has never wanted to leave a job he loves and “people he loves working with.”

MacDonald said the company has been good to him. He has traveled to London, Rome and Hawaii, courtesy of General Motors, and once got a brand-new Buick Regal as a Christmas present.

Fixing cars has gotten much harder - and much more expensive - in the past seven decades, he said.

“Back when I first started working here, if a car didn’t run right, you could take a screwdriver and short out the spark plugs and tell if a cylinder wasn’t doing what it was supposed to be doing,” he said. “Nowadays, if a car doesn’t work right, it could be a loose wire, it could be water in the coil, it could be a bad connection, it could be a computer that fails.” But now, new cars can be packed with up to 100 million lines of computer code.

MacDonald drives a 2012 black Chevy Silverado pickup truck, but he’s very high on Buicks.

“Buicks are great cars,” he said. “Vida drives a Buick.”

MacDonald was divorced with two children when he met Vida, who was working in the dealership’s accounting department.

The courtship started when MacDonald offered Vida a ride home from work one night.

“It was 8 or 10 below zero, and she’s going out the door walking,” he said. “She had to walk a mile to pick her (4-year-old) son up at her mother’s house and walk another mile home.”

About a month later, MacDonald worked up the nerve to ask her to the company holiday party.

Vida MacDonald, 73, works as a substitute caregiver in the Stillwater Area School District’s Adventure Club childcare program. The couple has six children, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

They have no plans to become “snowbirds” and spend the winters in Florida or Arizona, he said.

“I like the snow, and Vida loves to shovel,” MacDonald said. “If it’s snowing, she will get up before I do and go out and shovel the sidewalk and then shovel down the street to where my truck is parked on the driveway and then shovel the driveway and then go to work. I’ve got a snow blower, but she just loves to go out there and shovel. Snow gets all over her hair, and she’s in heaven.”

MacDonald said he has no plans to retire.

“I’m not one of those guys who goes and hates his job all day long,” he said. “I hear some of the guys grumbling back in the back, and I’ll say: ‘Why don’t you quit and find something that you’d really like to do?’”

MacDonald said he knew early on that he never wanted to work at a factory where “you’re picking up a board and putting it down and doing that all day long.”

“I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile,” he said. “What more can you ask out of life?”

___

Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, http://www.twincities.com


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