At almost 100 years old, Stillwater Motors has been a local leader in the automobile industry for nearly as long as cars themselves have been around. Owned and operated by the Raduenz family since 1922, the well-known and well-loved car dealership has faithfully serviced residents with all car-related needs for the past 95 years. But more important, throughout that time Stillwater Motors has become a St. Croix Valley establishment and an integral part of the community. As the staff looks back with pride and gratitude, they also look ahead with anticipation for the years to come.
The Early Years
Arthur Franklin Raduenz, better known as Art, founded Stillwater Motors, originally selling Chevrolet and Buick vehicles. The first home of this iconic business was in downtown Stillwater, but the dealership moved up the hill to its present-location near the high school in Oak Park Heights, Minn., in 1973. Throughout Stillwater Motors’ history, ownership has passed hands through each generation of the Raduenz family. Art’s son Frank took over in the late 1950s, and after Frank’s passing in the mid-1990s, his son D.J. took over and is still owner today.
D.J. began working at Stillwater Motors in 1980, but he got his first taste of the industry when he was just a boy. “I helped out a lot as a child. I would sweep floors, pick up trash, pull weeds on the property, cut grass on the property,” he says. “When I got older, I started out working in the body shop, then progressed through the sales department and sales marketing team until I became dealer-owner in 1992.” At just 29, he was among the youngest car dealers in Minnesota, and he says that throughout the past two-plus decades, he has loved the opportunity to continue the work his father and grandfather began.
The Next Generation
To this day, Stillwater Motors remains a family affair. D.J.’s daughter Laura and son Bobby both work at the dealership. Like his father, Bobby practically grew up in the Stillwater Motors offices, and has many memories of hanging out and helping the family’s business. “I’ve worked here ever since I could drive a car myself,” he says. “When I was 15 or 16, I’d walk over after school to cut the grass, take out the trash, that kind of thing.” After many different roles at the dealership, Bobby now works reconditioning used vehicles. He says being family-owned makes Stillwater Motors special for both the customers and the employees. “I get along really well with everybody here, especially because we’ve all been here for so long. It’s a really tight-knit group of people, just because of the amount of time a lot of the employees have been here.”
Thanks to the longevity of so many employees, the Stillwater Motors team operates as one big family, D.J. says. Service manager Gus MacDonald started at the dealership when Frank was running it and contributes now even that he’s in his late 80s. “When Gus and my father were in junior high, they would wash cars together for fun,” D.J. says. “Gus is definitely still actively with us today. He started working here in 1949,” adding he just celebrated 68 years with the company in November.
Customers Are King
Of course, after so many years in business, Stillwater Motors’ customers have become a family of sorts as well. D.J. and Bobby say many of their customers are fifth- or sixth-generation, too—they turn to the dealership for pretty much all of their automobile needs, just as their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents did before them. “There are a lot of people who have bought a car from us, and they often take it back in to get serviced here,” Bobby says. “You really get to know a lot of people really well, which is fun. The best part of the job is definitely all of the people you get to meet.”
Being active within the St. Croix Valley is central to Stillwater Motors’ mission, too. The company has long been a strong community partner, and the staff strives to give back to the area it has always called home. Every year, when spring gives way to summer and graduation season rolls around, Stillwater Motors gives a vehicle to a Stillwater High School senior through a drawing during the annual senior class party. “My father along with other parents and businesses in the Valley started that tradition—it really was the first of its kind,” D.J. says. “Some parents, teachers and business owners got together, because they wanted to give kids a safe environment to celebrate their graduation together [the party],” he says, and the car was a reason to stay at the party instead of going elsewhere and potentially running into typical late-night teenage shenanigans or other high-risk behavior. That tradition, which began in 1980, continues today—nearly 40 years strong.
Even after so many years, the opportunity to serve customers throughout the Stillwater area never gets old. “Thanks to the good service that my staff gives our customers, they’re always pleased that everything is taken care of efficiently and in a timely manner,” D.J. says. “I like seeing the smiles on our customers’ faces when they get into their vehicles—you can’t beat that.”
A Family Affair
Feeling familial? Here are a handful of other family-owned businesses in the Valley.