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Customers' 'best wishes' put a lump in Dean Kesler's throat as he retires (IN)


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On Friday morning, Dean Kesler will get up early, put on his work uniform — dark blue pants and shirt with his name above the pocket — and take on the day.


As owner of his own service center for the last 62-plus years, Dean’s day has always started like that.

But on Friday, it will be different. He will stay home. He may chop some firewood or practice his golf swing. He won’t open up Dean’s at the corner of Indiana 23 and Mayflower Road — just a block and a half from where he and his wife Peg live.


He is finally hanging up his wrench.


But his uniform? “I’m thinking I will wear it for a week or so around the house after I retire,” Dean says.

Why? He may need to ease into this new chapter in his life.


But at 81, he figures he and Peg have some adventures to pursue before they get too old. Maybe a short cruise, a trip to Arizona to visit friends, just some time to enjoy each other’s company. And, hopefully, his 59th straight Indianapolis 500.


When they were dating more than 60 years ago, Dean took Peg to Tower Hill one afternoon. “My dad thought I needed a day off. I had been in business for six months and I hadn’t taken one yet.”


Seven days a week, 12 hours a day.


“I’ve always put my heart into it,” Dean says. “And I’ve always loved my job — especially serving the customers. The customers have always been No. 1. Over the course of a year, I probably deal with 2,000 people.”


He will miss them. They may miss him more.


As word spread that Dean had sold his business and will retire Friday, the cards that have come in and the heartfelt “best wishes” have moistened Dean’s eyes and put a lump in his throat.


“Dean and his employees have taken care of our vehicles for more than 30 years,” John Switzer says. “We’ve always been quite pleased with the work and they’re very cordial guys. We hate to see Dean go but hope he has a great retirement.”


Jim Nagle dropped off one of the cards the other day, thanking Dean for taking care of his cars and reminding him that he kept his three Cadillacs in top shape even after their odometers went well past 200,000 miles.


“I think the women who come in might miss him the most,” says Kathy Lukowski, Dean’s older of two daughters. (Karol Kesler is No. 2.) “He has always treated them sweetly.”


It’s been a great run — but not without one tragic day. On a Sunday morning in 1981, a customer, Glen Tobias, rode his bicycle in to pay his bill. A gunman arrived about the same time and ended up killing Tobias during a robbery attempt after Dean had been forced to the floor.


Dean chased the man down in his tow truck and knocked him to the ground — making sure he stayed there until the police were on the scene and took him into custody.


Dean wiped away the tears and opened his business the next day. His work ethic demanded it. “And Mr. Tobias’s two daughters continued to be loyal customers over the years,” he says.


A 1957 Greene Township High School graduate, Dean grew up working at the grocery store owned by his parents — Orval and Helen Kesler — right beside where his service station is now located. “I started stocking shelves when I was 9 years old,” he says. “I learned about hard work and how to deal with people through watching my parents.”


He opened his first service station in Lakeville when he was 19. He made just $27 that first day and wondered if he was going to make it. That was the first of 180-some straight days of work and things eventually began to brighten. The following year, he moved his business beside his parents’ grocery and he has been there ever since.


He sold gas and fixed tires. He then began adding service bays, started a 24-hour towing service and hired technicians. One of them was a 19-year-old kid named Terry O’Connor. That was 50 years ago. Terry is retiring on Friday, too.


“I used to hang around the station, and Dean eventually offered me a job,” Terry says. “I’m still here. Dean has been a great guy to work with and I think we’ve made a great team.”


In recent years, Dean cut back his work schedule to five days a week — but often still 12 hours a day. That’s probably why he continues to weigh a svelte 135 pounds. “At one point in my life, I was about 5-foot-9,” he says. “I am probably down closer to 5-7 now.”


But on the corner of Indiana 23 and Mayflower Road, he always has stood tall.


“I live down the street from my business and I grew up next door to where Peg and I now live,” Dean says. “I haven’t gone very far.


“And I wouldn’t change a thing.”



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