Frank P. Steves, Jr., 77, owner of Steves Chevrolet Buick, died Friday, April 6 at Pacifica Senior Living, Modesto.
He was born in French Camp to Frank and Edna Steves, Sr.; his father was an immigrant dairy farmer. Educated in Ripon and Manteca schools, he graduated from Manteca High School in 1953. Soon after school he became a member of the California National Guard. Toward the end of high school, he went to work for Mendosa’s Mens Wear in Manteca. In a short time he became a valued employee.
In 1955, Mr. Steves was recruited by Jerry Knapp to work in sales at the Manteca Motors Ford dealership, later to become Knapp Ford. He quickly moved up from sales to manager to general manager/part owner. Opportunity knocked and Mr. Steves purchased the Oakdale Chevrolet Buick agency from Byron Erkenbrecher in 1974.
While he was signing the franchise papers in San Francisco he called the local Bank of America manager and learned the dealership he had just bought caught fire and was a total loss. Undaunted, he quickly inquired about a vacant Pontiac dealership building across the street, purchased the property and moved on.
Steves Chevrolet Buick in Oakdale would feature his strong work ethic and approach to car sales that revolved around service. He often said, “Service will sell the next car.” Those principles continue at the dealership today. In 2004, the Steves family purchased the Chevrolet franchise in Chowchilla.
“When it came to the dealership there was always a Steves present,” his eldest son Jeff said. “It was his Golden Rule that one of us would always be there. When he had his stroke (on Good Friday) we both left to be with him.”
He was a dominant, strong figure in his family. He was something of a patriarch, Jeff said, being put onto a pedestal for who he was to them.
“Dad was the king – Dad was the man,” Jeff said. “We would never question him. If he said we were going to do it this way, we did it. We might present another side, but he was the leader.”
Jeff later added that he and his father and brother Brett hardly ever had any differences while working shoulder to shoulder at the dealership.
As his children were growing up, Mr. Steves promised himself that he wasn’t going to spoil them and give them everything in life. His sons learned firsthand through hard work that they would take over the business someday, learning the operation from the ground up, starting with washing cars, to the service department, to the parts department. His sons earned their management roles with their father’s mentoring.
Mr. Steves believed in giving back to the community. He was a major contributor to several organizations and charities, including Oak Valley Hospital, the CHP 11-99 Foundation, the Steves Chevy Field, and more recently the Oakdale High School football field. Over the years several youth activities have benefited from his generosity.
“He was off-the-charts generous with anything that had to do with kids,” Jeff remembered. “Almost generous to a fault – that’s how he was with kids – he’d whip out his checkbook even when business was slow.”
Mr. Steves was also on the board of several organizations, including the California Motor Car Dealers Association, the National Chevrolet Dealers Council, and as part of the design team for the Chevrolet Avalanche.
His true enjoyment in life came from his family: the love of his wife Beverly, three children, and six grandchildren. The family’s trips to Hawaii were most treasured. Mr. Steves always remembered his buddies from high school; their lifelong relationships were dear to him.
He had a love for sports and his favorite past time was golf. He was the oldest surviving charter member of Spring Creek Country Club in Ripon. He enjoyed playing golf and at his best he had about an 11 handicap.
In 2010, Steves Chevrolet Buick was honored with a California Small Business of the Year award. He said the first thing that came to mind were his family and all the employees at both dealerships. He stated that without dedicated employees the business wouldn’t have achieved its success.
A real tribute to his father, Jeff Steves explained, was the longevity of his employees of 20 to 30 years each. Mr. Steves’ children were taught early on how very important it was to have respect for their employees.
He is survived by his beloved wife of 55 years, Beverly Ann Steves; children, Jeff M. (Margaret) Steves, Brett (Yvette M.) Steves, Karen (Frank L.) Ott; siblings, Betty (Chub) Pratt, Robert (Dolores) Steves, Sr.; and grandchildren, Steven Ott, Erika-Rea Steves, Taylor Steves, John Ott, Alexandra Steves, and Austin Steves.
He was preceded in death by his parents; and siblings, Frank Steves (infant), Lawrence Steves, and Tom Steves.
Visitation will be held from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 12 at P.L. Fry & Son, 290 N. Union Road, Manteca. A rosary and Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, April 13 at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church, 505 E. North St., Manteca. A celebration of life will immediately follow at the MRPF Hall, 133 N. Grant St., Manteca. Burial will be private.
P.L. Fry & Son Funeral Home, Manteca, in charge of arrangements.
In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be sent to the Alzheimer’s Association, 530 Bercut Dr. #A, Sacramento, CA 94203; or to Community Hospice, 4368 Spyres Way, Modesto, CA 95350.
Manteca Bulletin reporter Glenn Kahl contributed to this article