Three daughters came instead, and none of them was particularly interested in the old car.
So it has been in a garage since. Or at least that’s what his family thought when they visited for a reunion in July.
On a pretext, Arnie invited the family over to his home, where they found a screened-off section of the driveway. Their Mom, Jeri, was there, too, and her reaction justified all the time and money Arnie spent on his secret restoration project.
“I have never heard her cry and wail. She just lost it, so we all did,” said Deb Nelson, a sister of Arnie who lives in Ham Lake. “We were all so touched that he would do that.”
Jeri said it was the color, the precise shade of robin's egg blue, that cinched it. It was perfect. The replacement Chevy — the one she helped buy in 1974 — had a slightly darker, sky-blue shade. But the restoration included a new paint scheme, and Jeri instantly recognized the Chevy that she met her husband in. The memory was so indelible, she said, that she almost expected Gene to hop out of the car.
The restoration was as painstaking and expensive as it was successful. Two weeks after the reunion, the car won first place in its category in a nationally sanctioned judging competition.
Arnie learned something about his parents, too.
His mother, who now lives in St. Peter, wrote him a letter describing her first memory of the car. She was walking home when Gene pulled over in the fancy Bel Air and offered her a ride home, which she took. He eventually proposed to her in that car.
This story has been edited to reflect the following correction:
A story on page A1 Monday about the restoration of a 1954 Chevy contained errors. Gene Mondloch was on his way home from a funeral in St. James, not Mankato. Also, he was 42 when he died, not 43. Finally, the Chevy was driven to Seattle in 1988, not 1984.