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Calif. auto pioneer had roots in Willmar


WILLMAR -- A man remembered for living the American success story by becoming one of the best-known names in California auto sales had his roots in Willmar, and always kept his heart here too.

Ray Fladeboe, 85, died Nov. 27 in California of heart complications.

His service will be held at 11 a.m. Dec. 11 at Eagle Lake Lutheran Church, Willmar. Interment will be in the Eagle Lake Cemetery.

Fladeboe is remembered as an "automotive pioneer'' and founder of the Fladeboe Automotive Group in Irvine, Calif. He developed the nation's first "auto center'' that placed multiple dealerships together in one location. He placed his center in Irvine on busy Interstate 5 linking Los Angeles and San Diego.

He grew up on his parents' farm near Eagle Lake and served during World War II in the U.S. Marine Corps. He began working for the Bank of America in California, but accepted a job with a car dealership and never turned back. He opened his first dealership -- Mercury -- in 1961.

He developed a business partnership that opened multiple dealerships in Orange County, including Fladeboe Honda, Fladeboe Volkswagen and Fladeboe Buick-GMC.

He returned every autumn to hunt pheasants and waterfowl in the Willmar area, and often remarked: "You can't beat Palm Springs in January and you can't beat Sunburg in October,'' said his great-nephew, Glen Fladeboe.

Glen's father, Dale Fladeboe, said his uncle had very humble beginnings on a farm in Section 20 of Green Lake Township and worked his way up to living near an exclusive Palm Springs golf course.

Fladeboe remained interested in his hometown throughout his life, and received the West Central Tribune by mail to keep up with things, noted Glen Fladeboe.

Glen Fladeboe said his great-uncle had the good fortune of landing in the "super bowl'' of locations to start selling cars. California -- Orange County in particular -- has always been at the very heart of America's love affair with the automobile.

But Glen Fladeboe said the biggest factor in his success had everything to do with his upbringing on a farm in the Willmar area. His work ethic, positive attitude and passion for treating his customers with respect were attributes he acquired growing up here, he said.

Ray Fladeboe is survived by family in California including a son, Bruce Fladeboe; and daughters Candice (Eric) Kaltenbach, Denice (Brian) Fladeboe Mock, and Renae (Dave) Fladeboe Wilkinson. Survivors in this area include his nephew, Dale Fladeboe of Kandiyohi; and a niece, Betty Rolla of Granite Falls.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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