After 45 years of service to Fremont and surrounding communities, Skip and Judy Sawyer have sold their car wash to fellow Nebraskan Brian Fox, owner of Cornhusker Express Lube in Fremont as well as the Cornhusker Auto Wash in Bellevue.
“For 45 years,” recalled Fox, “Skip and Judy have run their business the right way. By keeping their employees , customers, and community first. To me Skip and Judy are the definition of integrity.”
On Monday, Feb. 28, the Fremont Chamber of Commerce presented the Sawyers with a Certificate of Honorary Lifetime Membership.
“Skip and Judy have helped shaped and advance the Fremont area as a vibrant, family-focused business community,” said Jacob Herre, director of membership and development. “The Fremont Area Chamber thanks them for their many years of dedicated service and commitment to making Fremont a great place to live.”
Another way the Chamber showed their gratitude to the Sawyers was by having members of the community chalk their cars with words of thanks before driving through the car wash one last time under the Sawyer Car Wash banner.
Becky Mullin had some very special memories to share about her mom and dad.
“They bought the carwash when they were pretty young. They had a one-and-a half-year old and my mom was pregnant with me,” said Mullin.
“It was a bit of a leap of faith, but they had every intention of making it work,” Mullin added. “I think 45 years and 3 months’ worth of dedication proves how invested they were in this business!”
As a parent, Mullin can easily imagine the inconvenience of having little kids running around while trying to work.
“My dad would be doing the maintenance and repairs, and Mom would be doing the bookwork. But I never felt like we were in the way. They always kept us busy helping out in the ‘dog house,’ which is what the money booth used to be called when there were also gas pumps.”
“My dad would let my sister and I design new labels for the Coke machine options,” said Mullin. “We even put in a ‘mystery’ option where we would refill that slot with random soda flavors! Probably not a great money maker, but they let us have our fun.”
“In the past 14 years,” Mullins added, “they have created some great memorable experiences for my kids—they loved going to Grandma and Grandpa’s to visit and ‘work’ at the wash.”
As important as business was to the owners of Sawyer Car Wash, parenting was always their top priority.
“One of the perks of having parents that owned their own business,” said Mullin, “was that no matter what school activity, sporting event, etc. was going on, they were always there to support us kids. From pre-K through high school and beyond, they were always there to cheer us on. I am sure it wasn’t always easy to get away, but it was important to them, so they made it happen.”
Through the years, Mullin and her siblings noticed how their parents’ dedication extended equally to their employees, customers, friends, and community.
“I think if you ask anyone that has worked for my parents, they would tell you my parents helped shape them as well. Being a boss isn’t always easy, and even in those tough moments with employees, they would find a way to help the kids learn from the experience.”
“The only thing I can think of that isn’t in there would be a sign we found on a family trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, about 35 years ago that still hangs in the carwash today,” daughter Jill said. “It says, ‘Hire a teenager while they still know everything.’ Many of the employees they have hired in the last 45 years have come back to thank them for all of the lessons they learned while working at the carwash, even when they thought they knew everything. “
She continued adding, “One thing my dad made sure of was the carwash was a place for kids to learn how to have a job and how to leave a job. My dad leads by example. He was at the carwash every day and many nights making sure it was ready for business the next morning. It isn’t very often you see the owner of a business out doing the job they have hired high school students to do.
“He was even washing cars on their last day of business.”
Mullin also commented on her dad’s unique way of dealing with an employee’s error. “Sometimes he would say, ‘I have a short memory,’ meaning we all make mistakes, learn from them and move on. Grudges were not held. It’s a learning experience, and we all grow from them.”
The Sawyers were great mentors to many of the kids in their community. Another fond memory Mullin shared was the special way her dad was honored on his 70th birthday.
“My sister, brother, and I contacted old employees and asked if they would send a little note to be included in a book we put together for him,” Mullin said. “Reading those notes from former employees really was amazing.”
“As their daughter, I know they are great people and they would do anything for us,” Mullin added, “but to hear the impact they made on kids while they worked at the carwash (and beyond those years) was really humbling and inspiring!”
One former employee, Nik Beninato, benefitted so much from Skip and Judy’s leadership that he went on to achieve great success in Fremont’s business community. He now is co-owner of Don Peterson and Associates.
“Skip and Judy were the best bosses I’ve ever had,” said Beninato. “I started working there the day after I turned 15 and was there through high school graduation. During college breaks, Skip would basically create work for myself and a couple former employees while we were home.”
Beninato recalls applying for a job at a car wash in Kearney while he was in college. “I was told they didn’t need any extra help. Skip knew the owner and called him for me, and I had a job the next week. He is so well respected.”
Generous is a word Beninato thinks of right away when reflecting on his experience with the Sawyers. “If it was good for the community, they were interested and involved. I’m extremely proud to call them friends, and super proud of all they’ve accomplished in their work. They’ve definitely earned their retirement.”
Selling the car wash was bittersweet for the Sawyers. Mullins commented that her parents did not want to sell it to just anyone.
“So many people that get into the carwash business these days are investors in large chains,” she said. “They aren’t there day in and day out, making it a community business. Knowing Brian and his tradition of a family-run business has made it easier.”
Although Sawyer Car Wash has a new owner and a new name, all of the employees will remain and will continue providing the excellent service their customers have always enjoyed.
The new Cornhusker Auto Wash will be associated with the Cornhusker Express Lube down the street. Everyone who gets an oil change will receive a free car wash.
An active member of the Fremont community, Brian Fox will be supporting various organizations by donating a portion of every dollar customers spend at Cornhusker Auto Wash on Bell Street.
The Tribune is happy to share a special message Skip and Judy Sawyer posted on their website:
“We would like to thank each and every one of you for being a loyal customer and friend. We are so blessed to have had your support throughout the past 45 years!”
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