Showman, daredevil, businessman: Dick Houston left impact on Pine River community
Business owner, racer, hunter: Many labels fit former car dealership owner
PINE RIVER — Successful business owners often leave their name emblazoned on the communities where they live. Dick Houston, who died Oct. 31 at age 83, did so quite literally.
From 1973 to 2015, the Houston name was prominently featured on large signs south of Pine River at the Houston Ford dealership. Houston was second in line to operate the business, which ran under his father, Glenn, from 1942 until his death in 1955.
Houston's mother, Dorothy, continued running the business, with her son's help, until her death in 1965. Only 27 years old at the time, the corporate offices at Ford weren't entirely comfortable with him assuming ownership of Houston Ford.
"At that time he became the youngest Ford dealer ever and they didn't want to give it to him," said Kade Vershey, owner of Kimber Creek Ford, formerly Houston Ford. "Basically, Dick said, 'Give me a year and see what you think.' And he willed this thing to fruition."
It was Houston who relocated the business in 1973 from downtown to just south of town. In 2015, Vershey bought part of the business and became partner. In July 2017, Vershey bought out Houston's share and changed the name to Kimber Creek Ford.
During his years in the auto industry, Houston was regularly recognized by the Ford Motor Company for his sales acumen, receiving honors whenever his dealership reached certain sales goals and oftentimes having that accomplishment announced in the Pine River Journal.
Houston's talent was in his dedication to personal service.
He was always a member of the chamber. He supported just about every cause that I can remember.
John Wetrosky, former Pine River Chamber director and former local business owner, remembers one time visiting the dealership looking to trade for a van. Nothing matched his needs, but Houston remembered what Wetrosky wanted and called him the moment someone traded in a van matching that description.
"He gave me a heck of a deal on it," Wetrosky said. "That was the kind of guy he was. He just remembered things businesswise. He called me up and I ended up with the van and it was a good deal. I think that's what made him successful. He was just very personable with his customers. He was a giant asset to the community. He drew a lot of folks to town. I think everyone will miss having him around."
"I think there are only like 3,300 Ford dealers in the nation," Vershey said. "Dick Houston is an icon. He was an innovator. He willed this store into existence through sheer willpower. We run the business different, but I have the utmost respect for Dick. He did things before I was even in the car business that nobody else was doing. He thought them through and figured out how to make them work and did some amazing things."
Dick Houston was a great car dealer and a great man.
Wetrosky said Houston would sell cars to a dealership while on elk hunting trips in Montana, spreading the name "Houston Ford, Pine River" across vehicles sold to the west via dealership stickers and mud flaps.
Outside of the dealership, Houston was a gutsy showman. He had several hobbies. He liked pack horses, camping, hunting, racing and driving snowmobiles.
During the August 1973, Pine River centennial celebration, Houston attracted a massive crowd when he declared his intention to skip his snowmobile across the Pine River from the east side to the steps on the west side.
"He started by Mandy Amy's house by Highway 84, shot across the lawn and gave it all the gas he could give it," Wetrosky said. "There was a huge crowd gathered. There were hundreds of people there to watch this event. He came roaring across the lawn. He rode across about three quarters of the river and then he sank right in front of the steps. They had to pull his snowmobile out but the crowd gave him a big roar.
"To cap it all off, Highway 84 is a state highway and he hadn't gotten a permit to do it so he got a ticket for snowmobiling on the highway," Wetrosky said.
Houston also raced stock cars at North Central Speedway and the State Fair. Houston enjoyed many recreational activities, and he supported many activities in the community as well.
"He was always a member of the chamber," Wetrosky said. "He supported just about every cause that I can remember."
Houston was such a local legend he was awarded the prestigious Pine River Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Award in 2012, which recognizes community members who had a hand in supporting and shaping the Pine River community and business atmosphere.
"The opportunity I have as owner of Kimber Creek Ford exists because Dick Houston gave me the opportunity," Vershey said. "There was so much to be learned from Dick. He was really a great car guy and whatever path he chose within the automotive industry, he did it as well as anyone could expect to do it. That's a testament to why Houston Ford was here. Dick Houston was a great car dealer and a great man."
A celebration of life service will be at 1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, at Timberwood Church in Nisswa, with reviewal starting at 11 a.m.
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or firstname.lastname@example.org.