Warren McEleney.jpg

Warren McEleney

The Herald's Opinion

Yellowing slips of newsprint, long-ago clippings that are kept in the Clinton Herald’s on-site library, are a valuable resource in taking a look at the people who have made a difference in this community over the years.

 And when an envelope containing the life story of one of its residents is pulled out of a file cabinet and opened up, the clips provide details that show the significant impact a person has had on his or her community over the long haul.

This is truly the case when it comes to Warren McEleney, who died last weekend at the age of 90 at his home right across the river in Fulton, Ill.

When one hears the name McEleney, one thinks of shiny new cars displayed on a showroom floor.

It’s an image that crosses generational lines because the dealership was founded almost 100 years ago by McEleney’s father, Leo, and uncle Emmett.

The clip files at the Herald indicate the importance of the business they started on June 1, 1914, providing a timeline of the growth they spearheaded.

The pages show photos of structural additions built over the years while the accompanying text describes the changes that occurred as the business grew, the evolving footprint at its Main Avenue location and a move to the west edge of Clinton into a brand-new auto center.

The story of Leo and Emmett’s initial venture is detailed, too — how the brothers had less than $1,000 capital between them when they started. Emmett was a machinist and Leo a clerk when they got the urge to go into the automobile business. Neither knew how to drive.

Leo had been in a car only a few times in his life up to that point, states a 1950 Clinton Herald article. The first car they sold — a 1914 Jeffrey — was purchased by William Disbrow, a former owner of a northend sash and door company.

Leo was in partnership with Emmett until Emmett’s death in 1929. Leo then took over his brother’s business interest and operated the business alone until July 1947 when it was incorporated as McEleney Motors. Leo’s three sons were taken into the corporation: Warren, who had been with the company since 1946; Donald and James. In a 1950 Herald clipping, it was an-nounced that Leo was relinquishing his active management, putting Warren in charge. Warren had earned a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the General Motors Institute at Kettering University in Flint, Mich., in 1944, after studying automotive engineering and dealer management.  Warren was later named Dealer Operator of McEleney Motors in 1951 and served as Chairman of the Board beginning in 1985.

As a May 30, 1964, Clinton Herald article states, “Fifty years of continuous operation of an automobile dealership by the same family is a rarity in the United States. And when that operation has been maintained in the same location for the full half century there definitely is cause to celebrate.”

His list of professional achievements to celebrate was a long one, too, and included the GM President’s Dealer Advisory Council 1958-59; National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Board of Directors Representing Iowa 1966; NADA Treasurer 1968; President-Alumni Board of Trustees GMI Engineering and Management Institute in Flint, MI; Chairman Oldsmobile National Dealer Council 1968; Elected as Iowa’s first and one of the youngest Presidents of NADA in 1971 at the age of 49, where he led the association of over 22,000 franchised new vehicle dealers; NADA Delegate to International Organization of Motor Traders and Repairers The Hague, Netherlands from 1972-75; Cadillac National Dealer Council 1973-74; Chairman – Chevrolet National Dealer Council in 1975 where he led the association of over 5,000 Chevrolet Dealers; Toyota National Dealer Council 1981-87; Vice President Automotive Hall of Fame Midland, Mich., 1983 and Chairman NADA Retirement Trust Board of Trustees from 1980-1988.  The automotive industry awarded Warren with numerous distinctions including: being elected to Honorary Lifetime Director-NADA 1972; elected as the only Honorary President-Iowa Automobile Dealers in NADA’s 95-year history; becoming Iowa’s first ever Time Magazine National Quality Dealer of the Year Award in 1977 when he represented 22,000-plus franchised new-vehicle dealers in the U.S.; Dealer of Distinction Award-American International Automobile Dealers Association-1982; Distinguished Service Citation Award-Automobile Hall of Fame Midland, Mich., 1985; became one of six annual inductees into the Automotive Hall of Fame Midland, Mich.; Honorary Doctor of Management Degree conferred by GMI Engineering and Management Institute-Flint, Mich., 1995, and one of only five current inductees into the Inaugural Group Iowa Automobile Dealer Association Hall of Fame in 2008.

At the same time, when one thinks about everything it takes to run a large, growing business, it’s easy to see that there could be some difficulty in getting involved — and staying involved — with local organizations that bolster the community.

One need only turn back to the clip files to see that Warren’s role in the community was just as great as it was in the business world.

Warren was President of Clinton Chamber of Commerce in 1951; President of the Clinton Lyons Club in 1952; member of the City Planning Commission from 1956-1974; President of the Clinton Country Club in 1959; Clinton, Iowa United Way (Community Chest) Campaign Chairman from 1956-60; Co-Chairman of the YMCA Building Fund Drive in 1960; President of the Board of Trustees of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital; Co-Chairman of the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Capital Building Campaign; Director of Iowa State Savings Bank; Director of First National Bank; Executive Committee member of St. Mary’s High School Building Campaign; President of the Clinton Area Development Company in 1975; Co-Chairman of the YMCA Building Fund in 1976; Co-Chairman of the Clinton Area Development Corporation Fund Drive in 1983; Charter member of the Fulton Country Club; Izaak Walton League member; member of Jesus Christ Prince of Peace Parish; a 4th Degree member of the Knights of Columbus; Lay Advisory Board Member of Mt. St. Clare College; Lay Advisory Board Member of St. Ambrose College-Davenport, IA; member of the Parents Advisory Board-St. Mary’s College-Notre Dame, Ind.; Chairman of the Clinton County American Red Cross Fund Drive; and a member of the Clinton Art Association and the Symphony Orchestra Association. These involvements led to numerous awards/distinctions including: KROS Radio Clinton Man of the Year in 1951; Clinton Jaycees Outstanding Young Man of the Year in 1952; Clinton Jaycees Boss of the Year in 1972; YMCA Distinguished Service Award in 1978 and the Mt. St. Clare College Community Leadership Award in 1979.

He was a significant contributor to this region’s economic vitality and the community we live in today is better due to Warren and others like him that ushered our community in times of growth and guarded us in times of recession.

 In the days prior to Warren’s death, we coincidentally published two stories on page 1A — one about a sword presented by Toyota’s corporate officials to McEleney’s — still flourishing as the third and fourth generations of McEleneys work each day to ensure its success — and another about McEleney AutoCenter’s contribution to the local United Way chapter.

In the end those two stories, which ran back to back, truly showcase Warren McEleney’s significant contributions, his commitment to moving the community forward and his tireless investment of time, both professional and personal, to do so.

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