During the Depression, Leo was alone, because Emmett had died young (at 43), in 1929. But he kept looking ahead and sent son Warren to school at the G.M. Institute in Flint, Michigan. It was study six months, work six months at the Lansing auto plant at for young Warren. While there, he’d watch the board carefully and call his dad about company cars that were for sale during those difficult times, so his father could buy them. Warren would drive them home to be used in the agency (just struggling to survive) to appear that the business was still vibrant. Warren also did a tour of duty in the Pacific during World War II. And he served, as did John, as president of the National Automobile Dealers Association. Warren and John are the only two dealers from Iowa to hold that distinction — and the first father/son combination in NADA’s 90-year history.
The flood shown in the picture was nothing compared to the Great 1965 Flood, in which cars had to be housed out at Jensen’s farm and dealership offices were at the Brewery on Second Street. Again, they survived.
Most of the McEleneys who we know came from Leo. Warren and Jim carried on for decades. (Brother Don was a dermatologist in Cedar Rapids and retired to Clinton before he passed away about the same time as Warren, two years ago.) Then John, Tom and Dan took over. They are from a wonderful family whose matriarch was Ellen (O’Neil) McEleney from Fourth Avenue South — near the Revere and St. John’s Church. She was “the calm” to all the business hub-bub and raised seven children, including Anne, Sue, Ed and Bill.
It’s quite an accomplishment to persevere 100 years in business, especially when you consider how many fail. It took dedication and grit to weather the storms, and the McEleneys can be proud that they’ve done so and have served the community in the process.
Sources: Archives of the Clinton Herald; Material from the Clinton County Historical Society Museum; John McEleney, Tom McEleney and Bob Soesbe.
Gary Herrity is the Clinton Herald’s historical columnist. His column appears on page 5A on Fridays.