MARSHALL - Over the course of a 44-year career, Len DeSchepper was nothing if not committed to helping customers. Besides the time Len put into his service station business on West College Drive, there were service calls and trips through some truly nasty weather. One year, his wife Marj DeSchepper recalled, Len headed out to help start a car during a blizzard and ended up missing family Christmas celebrations.
"He was all the way to Vesta," Marj DeSchepper said.
That kind of connection with customers was what made Len's Southside Sinclair Service special, the DeScheppers said. It was the last full-service gas station in Marshall.
Photo by Deb Gau
Russ Labat, at far right, presented Marj DeSchepper, Jeff DeSchepper and Len DeSchepper with a proclamation Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes read at a gathering Thursday morning. After 44 years of service at Len’s Southside Sinclair in Marshall, Len DeSchepper is retiring and closing the service station.
"We have customers who have been with us since the beginning," Marj DeSchepper said.
"We just talk to everybody," Len DeSchepper said.
But after today, Len will be closing up shop and retiring. He said he figured he had enough gas left to last until sometime today.
On Thursday morning, a sign reading "Thank you from your customers" stood in front of the service station, not too far from the sign advertising the property for sale. Several community members gathered with Len, Marj, and their son Jeff DeSchepper as Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes gave a proclamation recognizing their service.
Len DeSchepper said he got into the gas station business in the 1960s, but it wasn't something he had anticipated.
"I was looking for a change," from working for a local printing company, he said. He credited his friend Woody Hanson with helping to point him toward the auto-repair field. "I just thought that would be a new venture."
Len managed a Standard-owned gas station from 1966 to 1969, before buying the current Southside station on West College Drive. Marj did the books, and, Len said, "We had a couple of guys who did mechanic work," as well as pumping gas, washing cars and doing oil changes.
"I never did go to school for it," he said. "I learned from working with people who were good mechanics."
Throughout the years, he said several Marshall boys had part-time jobs working at the station. Though they've grown up now, they still come back to visit.
"We've had a lot of good kids," Len DeSchepper said. "We had a good time."
The DeScheppers' sons Jeff and Brian have also worked at the station. Jeff started working full time in 1980 and has been with the station ever since.
"I think our work ethics were instilled in our kids as well," Marj DeSchepper said.
Len DeSchepper said the work wasn't hard, but it often meant long hours and plenty of service calls.
"We've fixed quite a few tires on Saturdays," he said. And in cold weather or during snowstorms, there would be lots of people who needed help getting their cars started.
"We'd go from about 7:15 in the morning to 7 at night sometimes, and the ones we couldn't get started we'd bring inside overnight," Len DeSchepper said.
Over the years, most gas stations have shifted away from auto service and into having convenience stores, the DeScheppers said. But Marj DeSchepper said they were never interested in running a store.
"What's gotten us through is the people who wanted full service," Marj DeSchepper said.
As much as he loved getting to talk and work with customers, Len said he thought it was time to retire. At the age of 76, it's tough to stand on concrete all day, he said. It would also be good to get a chance to relax more - he and Marj said they'd like to go out driving or take day trips.
In some ways it will be hard to close the service station, the DeScheppers said. The Marshall community has been good to them, they said.
"Through the whole town, there are tremendous people," Len DeSchepper said.