EAST LACKAWANNOCK TOWNSHIP – Bill McCandless always heads to work first thing in the morning, so he wondered what was going on when his family convinced him to make other plans on Monday.
“I knew there was something,” he laughed as he entered McCandless Ford to a round of applause.
His family, friends and colleagues organized a surprise party to celebrate his 60th year with the car dealership, which is on U.S. Route 62 in East Lackawannock Township just outside of Mercer.
In recent years, McCandless and his wife Charlene have been spending time in Florida, returning to Mercer County for the summer, when he spends his days at the dealership that bears the family name.
While McCandless and his grandson Logan took a drive to look at some car parts on Monday morning, his loved ones decorated the dealership with banners and balloons.
He kept saying the anniversary wasn’t a big deal, but they wanted to do something special, said Cathy Kovach, executive assistant.
“We all love you,” she said as McCandless greeted everyone.
Salesman Mike Roddy has worked at McCandless for 47 years; he started out washing cars.
His father Bob started working there in 1968, so he’s known McCandless for many years.
He likes the family atmosphere and said McCandless has been a great mentor with a heart of gold.
“He’s like my dad,” Roddy said of McCandless.
McCandless, 82, joined the dealership in 1961 back when it was Robbins Ford and located on U.S Route 19.
Bill and Charlene McCandless got married in 1961, and they have three children, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
He and his wife eventually bought the business from Harold Robbins, who took them under his wing.
His father Vollie also worked for Robbins, and McCandless washed cars during the day and worked in sales at night.
The Harrisville native loves talking to people and enjoys meeting with folks who remember that McCandless sold them their very first car.
“I was a lucky fellow,” he said of having those kinds of memories.
He’s seen a lot of changes in the industry over the years, like more computerized services, but said that good customer service remains the most important thing.
The pandemic was tough and inventory is low at dealerships across the country, but they’re making it through, he added.
McCandless has no plans to quit any time soon, and the flexibility he has now allows him to spend more time with his family.
He feels the business is in good hands with son Gregg, the company president and owner.
“He’s still the boss. That’ll never change,” Gregg McCandless said.
Gregg McCandless has worked at the dealership for 37 years, also starting as a car washer. His son Josh is the sales manager and son Logan is in college.
He bought the business from his parents about 15 years ago and admires his father’s work ethic.
The McCandless family loves living and working in the Mercer area, and the dealership often supports community events and organizations.
A bulletin board is filled with thank-you cards from Mercer Elementary students and certificates of appreciation for the dealership’s commitment to the area.
And McCandless has no plans to hang up his hat any time soon.
“I hope I’ve got lots of time left,” he said.