Herald Journal, May 24, 2004
Van Lith observes 30 years in NG auto repair business
By Starrla Mathews
Steve Van Lith of New Germany recently turned the corner on 30 years in the auto repair business.
Van Lith has owned and operated Steve’s Auto Service since April 1, 1974.
“I’ve been comin’ through that same door for 30 years,” he said.
As a way to appreciate his customers, Van Lith hosted an open house at his shop April 23 and 24.
“The business wouldn’t be here without the customers,” he commented. I really owe a lot to them.” With food, refreshments, and prize drawings, the open house was a perfect way to commemorate the years of good service.
About 200 people attended the gathering, and Van Lith received a fair amount of good-natured teasing. “People kept asking me if I’m going to keep at it for another 30 years,” he laughed.
While he’s not sure exactly how long he’d like to stay working, Van Lith said, “Probably another 15 years at least, but I would like to retire eventually!”
Van Lith’s interest in car repair started at a young age. Growing up, he helped at his dad’s auto shop in his hometown of Delano.
To gain knowledge and experience, he worked alongside his dad and brother throughout high school.
“It really helped having my dad there. He was always around when we had questions,” commented Van Lith.
After high school, Van Lith attended vocational school in Hutchinson for two years. When he was 19, Van Lith and his 25-year-old brother, Dave, purchased the current shop in New Germany.
A few years later, Van Lith bought his brother out, and the name changed from Dave and Steve’s Auto Shop to its current title.
“I’m thankful I had my brother to start me out. I was very young at the time, and he had more experience. I don’t know if I could have done it without him,” Van Lith said.
The auto repair industry has undergone significant changes since Van Lith first opened his shop. Van Lith commented on the amount of change he’s seen in the cars.
“I used to do a lot of work on carburetors. Now, most of the cars use fuel injection,” he said. Front wheel drive is a relatively new invention, and the brakes of cars have also changed.
Air conditioning is another feature that cars of the past didn’t have. Van Lith said that there are advantages and disadvantages to the modernization of cars.
“Computers help tell what’s going on, which makes things easier. However, cars are becoming more compact, which means there’s less room to work,” he said. The engines in the newer models are of better quality than in cars from the 1970s, and can handle considerably more miles.
“I still like the older cars, though,” Van Lith admitted.
Currently, Van Lith does standardized repairs on cars, trucks, and tractors, but his services extend far beyond that. Van Lith is a dedicated person who is devoted to customer satisfaction.
“I really enjoy what I do, and I wouldn’t change anything. I like being able to fix people’s problems,” Van Lith stated.
One of his favorite parts about owning the auto service is being his own boss.
However, that can also be one of the struggles. Since he is the only worker, the responsibilities fall solely on him.
“I have to be there no matter what,” he said.
Van Lith is definitely not complaining, though. He looks forward to new challenges and works hard to provide his customers with the best service possible.
Van Lith has lived with his wife, Penny, in New Germany for several years. He enjoys the small town atmosphere, but he also looks forward to new development as a way for the community to grow.
He is very involved with the community, and serves on a number of organizations.
Van Lith has been a part of the fire department for 23 years, serving as fire chief for 13 years.
He has been on the city council for 19 years, and has been part of the New Germany Commercial Club for 30 years. Some of Van Lith’s other hobbies include hunting, fishing, and playing softball.
“My wife has been an immense help and has been very supportive of all my activities,” Van Lith added.
“The community has given me so much. I enjoy giving back in any way I can.”