Monday morning, for the first Monday in 51 years, Robert Thurston will get to drink an extra cup of coffee. He may even take his dog, Mercy, for a walk.
Save for the years between 1967 and 1971 when he served in the U.S. Air Force and Vietnam as a sentry dog handler, Thurston’s only job has been to provide excellent customer service and auto parts for the last 51 years.
The life of a small business owner means keeping the doors open six days a week, often alone; forgoing family vacations so the doors can remain open; long hours, and uncertain economic times.
The dividends can be customers who are lifelong friends, and the knowledge that you’ve helped someone in need.
With automobiles becoming more and more high-tech, not many people do their own car repair anymore. The days of “shade tree” mechanics are gone, for the most part, but Thurston Auto Supply has had a successful business for 56 years.
After much prayer and consideration, Robert Thurston and wife, Becky made the decision it is time for Robert to retire. The last day of business at the store Martin Thurston, Robert’s dad, started in 1957 will be Friday, March 29.
“He has worked here on this corner for 51 years, and he’s only 65 years old!” Becky exclaimed. “It’s all he’s ever done except those four years in the military.”
It is with great emotion, but a sense of peace that Robert made that decision, with full blessing from his family. He had worked for his father six and a half days per week, back when they still sold lawn mowers and lawn equipment. He worked there while in the Distributive Education program at Corsicana High School, when he and Becky “dated a little, but weren’t sweethearts.”
They married in 1972, and welcomed daughter Gayla in 1974, and Susan in 1977. In 1984, they purchased the store from Martin and Alene Thurston, and made the choice to discontinue the lawn inventory and focus on auto parts. Another challenge they faced later was making the change to computerized inventory listings.
Once their girls were grown, married and on their own, Robert and Becky made the decision to relocate their living quarters to the property where the store is. For eight years they have also called that corner “home.” Long-time members at First Baptist Church, Becky took a job there as the music and children’s secretary. Their grandchildren, Anna and Owen Abbe, are fifth generation members of First Baptist, and as Robert pointed out proudly, both were saved Jan. 12, 2012.
“We have enjoyed a wonderful business over the years, and had a lot of faithful customers who we very much appreciate,” Robert said. “I have a good friend with an automotive warehouse who will purchase our inventory and haul it off, which is an answer to prayer.”
Though there are no plans to relocate their residence, Robert is getting excited about his prospects of things to do with his retirement. A huge movie buff, the only thing Robert is more passionate about than the movie Lonesome Dove is his two grandkids.
“They are really a blessing, a gift from God,” he said. “I’m going to take them fishing.”
He is also going to pick them up from school at Bowie, take them for swim practice at the Y, and in his free time, he plans to work part-time at Corley Funeral Home. Both Thurstons have hosted visitations there for years, and consider the work they do there to be a ministry, as well.
“I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been closed for illness,” Robert said. “I have been faithful to this business. My dad always told me, ‘You can’t do business long distance — you’ve got to stay on the job.’”
“He is going to do things that other people take for granted, like stopping by to take his wife to lunch on a week day,” Becky said. “And there are lots of volunteer opportunities, enough to keep someone busy full-time. And we often have things that come up with church where we need extra hands.”
Daughter Susan worked in the store, as did her husband, Chris Abbe, before they married. Anna and Owen grew up in the store, as did Gayla Andrews and Susan, who brought Owen to work there as a baby.
Through the years, they were joined by some fine young men who worked there, going as far back as Don McCreary and Lowell “Nose” Hudson (in the Martin Thurston days) to Jim Coker, Steve Colburn, Kyle Slaughter, and the late Cody Oliphant, who said, “See you Monday,” when he walked out on Saturday and lost his life later that night in an auto accident, Robert explained with tears in his eyes.
“We love Corsicana,” Robert said. “We’ve made a good living and been blessed beyond measure. We have been blessed with many good customers.”
Excited about his new beginnings, trips they want to take, memories yet to make, Robert Thurston will lock the door on Thurston Automotive one last time on Friday, March 29.
“It’s emotional for me,” he said, softly. “But it’s time.
“’What is desirable in a man is his kindness,’ Proverbs 19:22, so I try to be kind — to everyone I come in contact with.”
Deanna Kirk may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: email@example.com