From Holland and Tennessee to Anchorage, Alaska, the new owners of Ronan Motors brought a lifetime of experience with both cars and people to the Ronan community they now aim to serve.
Paul and Kelly van Hoek took over the car dealership near downtown Ronan that formerly was known as Pierce Chevrolet in October.
Tired of the busyness of their hometown of Anchorage, the couple traveled south to the Lower 48 looking for a slower pace of life.
“We’re not spring chickens,” Kelly said. “It’s not like we’re 20 and we would just take wherever because we just want to work all the time. We’re older, so it had to be a nice place to live.”
Drawn by a host of friendly folks, familiar wide-open spaces similar to Alaska and scenic Flathead Lake, the van Hoeks found paradise in the Ronan and Polson area.
Both Kelly and Paul grew up around cars, Kelly with her family’s auto auction in Tennessee and Paul starting as an amateur mechanic at the age of 15.
A native of Holland, Paul grew into a fascination with all things motorized at an early age. He taught himself the ins and outs of all types of vehicles, enough to become the go-to guy when his high school friends had trouble with the old beaters that were supposed to get them to town on the weekends.
Following graduation from an intensive two-year college program centered on both the mechanics and business side of cars, Paul entered the Dutch Army for the formerly mandatory conscription required of all young men in the Netherlands.
During his stint in the Army, he maintained and drove tanks as a qualified mechanic before immigrating to Alaska with his family in 1976 at the age of 22.
There he started his own car business in 1977, igniting a lifelong career spanning multiple dealerships and positions.
While working at a Chevrolet dealership in Anchorage in the summer of 1984, Paul met a spunky blonde woman eager to sell cars, but with higher goals of eventually taking his job as finance manager.
What began as a rivalry bloomed into romance, and the two married in July of 1989.
They continued to work side by side as they developed their expertise in the car business, but over the years, they began to grow weary of the rat race that came with a larger city.
Montana brought a welcome relief with wide-open spaces freckled with small, close-knit communities and they made the move to the Ronan area in July this year.
The success of the local car dealership, combined with the former owners’ desire to sell, provided the perfect opening for the couple to make their way in the business they knew in a town they had come to love.
They gave their new venture the name Ronan Motors with the goal of creating a locally focused dealership committed to working with nearby businesses to fill their own needs and help build the community from within.
The van Hoeks rehired the entire Pierce Chevrolet staff when reopening as Ronan Motors and began establishing relationships with local body shops, mechanics, auto-parts stores and other related businesses.
“These people work here, they live here. They need jobs and I’m willing to give it to them,” Paul said. “We want to continue what the Pierces were doing, but we want to do it better.”
The storefront located on U.S. 93 holds its own history, starting out as an auto-body shop in the 1970s and progressing through the years as a car dealership in the hands of four different local families.
Paul and Kelly’s commitment to carrying on the business’ success and to their new community also extends into their sales.
“He doesn’t want to do a car deal unless he can say to the customer, ‘You got a fair deal, and I got a fair profit,’” Kelly said of her husband.
A sign out front announces “under new ownership” in bold letters before the lot filled with about 140 vehicles, featuring various models of new and used Chevrolet, Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep and Ram vehicles. They also offer full service and parts for all makes they sell.
“It’s a lot easier to do business the right way than it is the wrong way,” Paul said. “I want to be able to go home at the end of the day, and say, ‘Hey, it’s all good.’”
For more information about Ronan Motors, visit https://www.ronanautomall.com/.
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.