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Changing of the guard at Svanda dealership in Sparta

  • Members of the Morgenthaler and Meier families celebrate the change in ownership at Svanda Chevrolet Buick GMC, in Sparta. From left: Lexy Meier, holding Roark; Devin Meier; Dillon Meier; Tracey Meier; Mike Meier; Patti Morgenthaler; and John Morgenthaler, holding their granddaughter, Moxie

    Members of the Morgenthaler and Meier families celebrate the change in ownership at Svanda Chevrolet Buick GMC, in Sparta. From left: Lexy Meier, holding Roark; Devin Meier; Dillon Meier; Tracey Meier; Mike Meier; Patti Morgenthaler; and John Morgenthaler, holding their granddaughter, Moxie
    Courtesy of John Falkenhein/County Journal

 
 
updated: 1/10/2018 2:47 PM

In 1970, John Morgenthaler was fresh out of the U.S. Marines. He needed a job and he got one, selling cars for Svanda Chevrolet in Sparta.

It was a job that turned into a 47-year career. And on Dec. 31, 2017, Morgenthaler retired as the longtime owner of the Svanda Chevrolet, Buick and GM dealership at 1200 N. Market St., putting it into the hands of Mike Meier, a veteran car dealer in Nashville, IL.

"The new owner is a stand-up man and he has a good reputation in the area," Morgenthaler said. "He's got excellent credentials with GM. He'll be successful."

Morgenthaler -- though eager to join his son, a professional guide for the Fishing League Worldwide (FLW) Tour -- will be around in the near future to help Meier and his son, Dillon Meier, get the hang of the new dealership.

Dillon Meier said customers of Svanda will not see many changes in the running of the business.

"Our main focus is to keep customers happy," he said. "In Nashville, our customers are very loyal and we work hard at that.

"We're a small town family business," Dillon Meier added. "Both of us are born and raised in Nashville, and we know the Sparta area well too."

Mike Meier bought the Nashville dealership, now called Meier Chevrolet-Buick, in 1996. He started out as a car salesman in Centralia, then bought part-ownership of the Nashville dealership, which dates to before World War II. Eventually, he bought it outright, Dillon said.

Morgenthaler, meanwhile, said the transition is going well, the latest change for a dealership that had its start in an old Sparta blacksmith's shop.

Morgenthaler, who grew up in Pinckneyville, joined the Svanda sales staff in 1970 after getting out of the Marines. He bought 49 percent of the business in 1985 from Otto and Norman Svanda, and bought the rest of it in 1990.

At 71, he said, it's time to hang it up and go fishing.

"I won't miss it," he said of his old life. The new life, he said, will involve time spent with his son on the tour, doing a lot of fishing himself and time with his wife and grandchildren.