“In black ink, on a plain, white business card I read what was printed on Robbie’s keepsake”
From my very first visit to inquire about Lawrence Caffee’s advertising needs for Springs Auto to my very last visit, I was never really certain what to expect. One thing was for sure though; I always left Springs Auto with a valuable piece of knowledge during my visits with the longtime Wessington Springs businessman.
Sometimes he’d want to place an ad, sometimes not. On some weeks, I’d be there for 15 minutes, on others I’d be there for over an hour. One week he would have a meticulously handwritten list of vehicles to include in his ad. The next week he’d send me out on the lot without any other instruction but to, “take pictures of anything that wasn’t here last week.”
One thing was always for certain, there would be a steady stream of visitors and calls on the phone any time or day of the week, vying for a piece of Lawrence’s valuable time.
I don’t know if it was because I was a relative newbie in the community he held so dear or if he was nervous about the next generation of newspaper ownership doing the Wenzel newspaper legacy justice, but he felt some sort of responsibility to teach me about the dynamics of small town business, the importance of buying local, the duty I now had, to support the community. I will forever cherish that Lawrence took the time to pass his decades and decades of business knowledge on to me. I promise to remember and use it to help our town prosper now and well into the future.
Lawrence’s passion for Wessington Springs and keeping it a viable, thriving community was contagious. During our weekly visits, his enthusiasm about keeping Wessington Springs a place where future generations will flourish taught me far more about owning a small-town business than I could ever learn in a college class.
Many times when I’d stop by Springs Auto to visit Lawrence, my son JR and stepson Robbie were with me. Lawrence knew well about our tractor-loving 5-year-old’s fascination with all things farm equipment. He’d be sure to point JR in the direction of tractors he had on the lot, new and old. Lawrence would patiently listen to JR’s rambling stories about hauling hay with his dad and feeding the cows. On some visits Lawrence would share some of his own ranching stories with us.
The motorcycles on the showroom floor were what piqued Robbie’s interest the most. There was never a time when we’d visit Springs Auto that Lawrence wouldn’t drop what he was doing to walk from his office out to the showroom to answer inquisitive nine-year-old Robbie’s questions. It usually turned into a conversation about a new bike or truck or piece of equipment he was expecting to get in within the week, followed by more Robbie questions.
We recently purchased a vehicle from Lawrence, and when we went to pick it up, the boys were with me once again, excited to go for a drive in our shiny black Tahoe.
After getting JR buckled up and sliding into the driver’s seat, I looked in my rear view mirror and saw Lawrence and Robbie talking. Then he handed Robbie something. With an ear-to-ear smile, Robbie hopped in the back seat, carefully clutching something in his hand. “Lawrence said that if I bring this business card back when I’m older, he’ll help me find a car of my own,” Robbie explained with excitement.
I didn’t give it much thought at the time. Mostly I remember chuckling to myself at Lawrence’s salesman skills – nothing like laying the foundation early!
While many saw Lawrence as a powerful businessman, our boys saw him as a friend. A friend with a listening ear who also happened to have a bunch of really cool cars, trucks and farm equipment.
When I learned of Lawrence’s passing, I sat down with the boys and told them about their friend. JR had lots of questions but Robbie was quiet.
I asked Robbie if he wanted to talk but knew he needed a little more time.
Later that day when we were driving to town, Robbie felt like it was time to talk.
“Kristi, I know I won’t be able to buy a car from Lawrence now, but I really want to keep this.”
When I stopped the car I turned to the backseat and looked at Robbie. Sticking out of his hand was the corner of a dog-eared piece of card stock. When I asked him what it was he wanted to keep, he released his grasp around the piece of paper and opened his hand to show me.
When I saw what it was, I realized what an impact Lawrence had made not only on me, but also on JR and Robbie.
In black ink on a plain, white business card I read what was printed on Robbie’s keepsake: SPRINGS AUTO, INC., LAWRENCE CAFFEE.