Dealer expands his 'community' role after natural disasters
Sometime in the near future, when another natural disaster strikes, Mike Bettenhausen will be filling up a truck with supplies and donations to bring emergency aid to victims.
The third-generation Dodge dealer grew up in his Tinley Park, Ill., store watching first his grandparents and then his parents support their local communities and local charities, providing time and money and leadership to help neighbors in need.
"That's just what we grew up believing," says Bettenhausen, 46, referring to his family and his brother and business partner, Troy. "We always saw this as part of our mission, to support local food drives, toy donations for kids in the area and fundraisers for local school sports."
But when Hurricane Katrina overturned communities in Louisiana in 2005, he says, "We decided it was time to take it to the next level."
Bettenhausen and employees, managers and customers from the family's two Chrysler group stores gathered donations of all kinds, including blankets, clothes and food. They loaded trucks and drove them into the destroyed regions where a church relief organization accepted them.
When a vicious tornado wiped out Joplin, Mo., in 2011, Bettenhausen repeated the relief effort. His son Alec led the drive to gather emergency materials and food and led a small caravan of trucks and a minivan to the disaster scene.
Last year, Hurricane Sandy prompted the retail group -- now with a Fiat store, a Dodge-Ram store and a Chrysler-Jeep store -- to fill up a semitrailer with supplies, including blankets and tools, and hand it over to the American Red Cross for the displaced people on the New Jersey coast.
"I'm finding that people are looking to us to do something when there's a crisis like this," Bettenhausen says. "Here in our organization, they will say, 'We have to do something to help.' And then it just takes off.
"We have a fourth generation of family now coming up who will run this company someday," he adds. "This is the culture they're growing up with here."
You can reach Lindsay Chappell at firstname.lastname@example.org.