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Sheppard’s marks 40 years in business

PARKERSBURG – For John Sheppard, it was about where God was leading him in his life, whether to go into the ministry or auto mechanics.

His path led him to open his own automotive service business.

Sheppard’s Auto Services,at 1903 Seventh St., Parkersburg, celebrated its 40th anniversary on May 27.

Ever since he got his driver’s license at the age of 16, Sheppard had an interest in working on cars.

“For some reason, about the 10th grade I got interested in cars,” he said. “I had an old car I worked on all the time, a 1957 Chevy hardtop.”

He and his friends would hang out and work on their cars.

“I got into it just by messing around with cars in high school,” he said.

Sheppard graduated from Parkersburg High School in 1964.

He went to St. Louis that September to attend an automotive school, came back to Parkersburg the following May and was fortunate to get a job at Hupp-Wharton Cadillac Olds.

“My bosses treated me great and sent me to Cadillac school and other schools,” Sheppard said. “I had so many older mechanics who took me under their wing, taught me and took care of me. They were so great to me.”

He worked at Hupp-Wharton for about 10 years, from May 1965 to May 1975.

He felt God might be guiding him toward a life in the ministry in the mid-1970s.

After discussing it with his wife, Helen, whom he met in high school and having married in 1965, they put their house up for sale with the plan of going to a Bible college in Virginia.

“We never had one person call about the house,” Sheppard said. “We never had one person come look at the house. We decided from there that (the ministry) was not where God was directing us. It was obvious that he shut that door.”

About a year later, he was doing home visits for his church (Beechwood Church of Christ) with David Hale, a vice president at United National Bank. The two served as deacons in the church.

“He and I were out visiting people one evening and we got to talking about what we would like to do with our lives,” Sheppard said. “I mentioned that I wanted to own my own business, a garage, sometime.”

They made a few more calls. Sheppard got home that evening and at 10 p.m. Hale called him and said he could get him set up for a loan. Hale’s secretary was willing to do the books in the evenings and other aspects of getting the business going started to fall into place.

A couple weeks later, he told his next door neighbor he was looking for a place to set up his business. The neighbor had a place behind the IGA store on Seventh Street, around where Astorg Ford now is. He agreed to rent it out to Sheppard.

“It was obvious to Helen and I that God shut the door one way and he opened up another door,” Sheppard said. “The Bible says ‘God will direct your paths.’ We believe this is where he led us. On May 27, 1975, we started our business. God has blessed us ever since.”

In the beginning, Sheppard worked on the cars, Helen worked in the office and their two kids, Angie and Blaine, played around the garage.

They were busy enough that they hired their first employee in August of that year.

“Everything just kind of fell into place,” Sheppard said. “It kind of surprised us. We had no idea when I left to go out calling with David that I would be going into business. Things just worked out and God blessed us throughout the whole thing.”

Sheppard gave a special thanks to his wife, saying they have been in this together from the start.

“We did it together,” he said.

A few years later in 1982, they were able to build the garage where they are located.

The biggest change in the work they have done is the integration of more computerized systems into automobiles.

When they saw where things were going, Sheppard sent Danny Egbert to GM schools and other schools and has kept up-to-date on the work being done with computer systems. He made sure the others in the garage knew what to do.

Sheppard praised the customers who have continually brought their cars to work on and for recommending the garage to other people.

“We have been blessed with so many great customers,” he said. “It has been great. You build relationships with so many people. Some of the customers I have go back 50 years, when I worked at Wharton’s. I have customers that I worked on their cars back in the ’60s. I am definitely working on their grandkids cars now.”

Sheppard retired in October 2012 and returned to the garage part time over the last year. He sold the garage to his son, Blaine, who retains ownership over it.

“The customers are the reason I work part time,” he said. “I missed being around the shop. You miss the noise and everything around the garage. After spending over 50 years in a shop, I missed being around the employees and around the customers.

“I have seen their kids and grandkids born and we are working on their cars now. It is amazing how God has blessed us with so many customers. They are more than just customers, they are friends.”

At the time when his father was considering retirement, he was worried about what would happen to his employees if he sold the garage outright, Blaine said.

“That is what worried him the most,” he said.

Although Blaine works as a lawyer in San Diego, he was interested in keeping the garage in the family which worked out well when his father decided to return part time.

“It was what was best for the people there,” he said.

Blaine said he and his sister grew up around the garage and it was always a big part of their family’s lives. He worked there during the summer when school was out. He has known many of the people who work at the garage, been to their weddings and so on.

He played for a Sheppard’s Auto Service sponsored Little League baseball team and is looking into the possibility of sponsoring a team himself, through the garage, sometime.

“It really is a family atmosphere,” Blaine said.

He said the business has thrived and continues to be successful because of good customer service.

Blaine thought it was important the business continue to have a life after the first owner and remain in the community.

“It is a very nice reward to say that I am the owner,” he said of when he comes back for visits.

Sheppard praised all of the employees he has had over the years in making the business a success.

Egbert, who now manages the shop, has been there for 37 years; Lowell Camp, 38 years; Debbie Lynch, 28 years; Jeff Wilson, 21 years; Adam White, three years; and Jacob McDaniel, one year.

“The employees have been like family,” Sheppard said. “We have gone to their weddings, seen their kids born… it is just like a family. We have been blessed with good employees. I give them the credit for the company being successful.”

People have praised the professionalism they exhibit in the garage, Sheppard said.

“I think that I and everyone who has worked for me believes that we try to do on their cars what we would do on our own cars,” he said. “We treat them like we would want to be treated. We have been blessed with people of good character. Everyone tries to do a quality job. Do what you want someone to do for you.

“We fix their car right, don’t take advantage of them,” Sheppard said. “If something needs to be done, but not right now, we tell them that and we will worry about it when it is time. It is all about relationships with people.”