Denny Ford sold to Sakelaris family

A car dealership, which has been in Rolla since the 1940s, has new owners.
Denny LaBantschnig, of Denny Ford Lincoln, sold the dealership located near West Seventh Street and U.S. Highway 63 to the Sakelaris family, which owns dealerships in Camdenton, Versailles and California, Mo., along with its original dealership in Alton, Ill.
LaBantschnig, who said he had no named successor to the dealership, decided to sell the business to Steve Sakelaris and his mother, Mary.
"There came a time in my career where I thought it would be beneficial to look at someone younger who has the ability ... to operate the store," LaBantschnig said.
LaBantschnig is familiar with the Sakelaris family, having known Steve for about 15 years as well as Steve's father, Harold since the 1980s. Harold passed away in 1995.
Knowing the Sakelaris family beforehand made the decision easier for LaBantschnig to sell the dealership to them.
"It's like having my baby girl married off. I want her taken care of and in good hands and to have a great marriage," LaBantschnig said.
"Steve is very customer-service oriented and he knows how to operate a business successfully ... It's a good feeling to have people come in that you're comfortable with."
The sale was finalized Oct. 7.
Steve Sakelaris said he will operate the dealership under the golden rule, noting he will treat customers how he wants to be treated.
According to Steve, the transition so far has been seamless.
As for any changes, he mentioned the possibility of expanding the number of employees.
He also said since he owns dealerships near the Lake of the Ozarks, if interested customers cannot find what they are looking for at the Rolla dealership, they will have access to vehicles at his other stores.
According to Steve, while the dealership is under new owners and operators, customers can expect the same things they were accustomed to when they went to Denny Ford Lincoln.
One tradition that will continue under the new owners is the annual Fill-A-Ford campaign, which collects donations for area food pantries around the holidays.
Last year, after setting a goal to fill 58 pickup truck beds, a total of 66 truckloads was filled.
Steve said this campaign could also be expanded at his other stores.
When LaBantschnig approached the Sakelaris family about the Fill-A-Ford campaign, "they got right on board."
Mary and Harold Sakelaris began their first dealership in Alton, Ill., known as Piasa Lincoln Mercury around 1966. After Harold's passing, Steve became involved.
Then about a year ago, Steve Sakelaris and his mother expanded and opened three stores in the Lake of the Ozarks area — in Camdenton, Versailles and California, Mo.
The Sakelaris family will be the fourth owners of the dealership in Rolla, which began in 1946 as Klinefelter Ford Mercury. Then in 1957, the dealership changed hands to become the Diehl Montgomery Ford Lincoln Mercury dealership. LaBantschnig took over in 1989.
LaBantschnig said during his tenure with the dealership, he has seen many positive changes and growth in the community.
"I love Phelps County and Rolla and Ford and Lincoln. It was a childhood dream to become a dealer," LaBantschnig said.
He said his father was an avid Ford enthusiast, but never worked in a dealership. However, his father encouraged his son to get into the Ford dealership business.
"Steve and Mary will take the dealership to new heights," LaBantschnig said of the Sakelaris family.