The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

September 3, 2013

'54 Chevy a relic of father-son bond

Man surprises family with sentimental restoration

It was 1974, and Jeri Mondloch had finally found it: a blue two-door 1954 Chevy Bel Air.

There was a scare involving some teenager who snagged the car first, but it turned out the kid's eyes were bigger than his checking account. A month and $800 later, it was in the Mondlochs' hands. Jeri had searched for the car as a Father's Day gift to her husband, Gene.

The '54 Chevy was a collectible car in its own right, but it meant something more to Gene. In 1956 or so, he had bought and cherished a turquoise '54 Bel Air. By 1959, he was engaged to Jeri and they agreed they only needed one car. His car sold right away, so they kept hers.

Dad always regretted the sale, his son Arnie said, which led to his Mom's successful search for its replacement.

Even then, the hunt wasn’t over. The car needed work, so Gene and his son combed over junkyards for parts. But the real thrills came from finding a factory original part, never installed in a car, Arnie said.

“That was like finding treasure,” he said.

In the '70s, the family lived in Mankato and Gene was a recruiter for the National Guard. He would drive the ’54 Chevy to high schools, where it pulled in high school boys by the dozens to hear about their opportunities in the armed forces.

A few years later, in 1978, Gene was killed in a car accident, in a different vehicle. He was on the way home from a funeral atin St. James when he was hit by a semi and died at the scene. He was 42.

The car was put into storage, and Arnie drove it to the Seattle area when he moved there, in 1988. “I was thinking when I had a son we’d relive the experience,” he said.

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