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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Mechanic gets recognition for character

Friday, May 8, 2009

Greencastle mechanic and owner of Jerrys Foreign Auto Jerry Hecko shares what he has learned with a national men's magazine.
It may have come as a surprise to many Greencastle residents when they heard that one of their own, Jerry Hecko, appeared in this month's issue of Esquire. But it shouldn't come as that much of a surprise to many who know Hecko. A more colorful character you will rarely find.

Obviously Tom Chiarella, a Greencastle resident and Esquire contributor, knew he wouldn't have to look far for one of his interviews for the article titled "What I've Learned: The American Man."

"Tom was writing this article on men, and as you can see in this magazine, it's got all these guys in there and some of the quotes they have to say. Sometimes I guess I can be a character, so I guess that's why I'm in it," Hecko said.

The piece, which appears on pages 101 and 102 of this month's issue, features quotes from 12 men of all ages and walks of life. Each one gives three tidbits of knowledge he's picked up over time. There's a congressman, a professional basketball player, an explorer and a student.

And there's a mechanic and owner of Jerry's Foreign Auto at 9 E. Franklin. Step into Hecko's office for more than a couple minutes and find what makes him such an interesting subject. He will talk about cars, but the conversation soon also turns to politics, families and personal accountability. That's a big one for Hecko.

"If you're having problems with people at work and problems at home, it's your duty to sit down and look in the mirror and say, 'Now what have I done wrong?' Start with yourself, don't you go taking inventory of somebody else," he said.

"If you look at all the things you do to yourself, write down all the things you do that's good for you and all the things you do that's bad for you," he continued. "You'll figure out real quick that maybe you ought to consider being your friend instead being just somebody you know. When you're your friend, you take better care of yourself."

But ask Hecko about what attracts people to use him as a subject (He's now been in two of Chiarella's Esquire articles as well as once on the front of U.S.A. Today.), and he'll deflect the interest elsewhere. He says the attraction is to the atmosphere of his shop, not to the guy looking under the hood.

"It's such a laid-back place," Hecko said. "I have people come in here that I don't even know who they are. I have people come in here who look at it and then they want to buy things. They think it's an antique shop."

The antique shop feel comes from the countless artifacts, posters and articles that occupy the walls and shelves. And a rotating cast of characters comes through the doors. Some come for their cars, some to play cribbage and others simply to shoot the breeze.

"It's just an old, comfortable place. It's not fancy. It's not designed to be fancy," Hecko said. "Almost everybody's welcome -- until you step over a line, and then you're not welcome anymore."

No one who steps through the doors should expect any mincing of words, though. A sign on the wall warns that "no politically correct language" is permitted.

"It's the openness and the honesty, probably, of the place. That's probably one of the biggest things," Hecko said. "Anyone you talk to about me will say, 'He won't always tell you what you want to hear, but he'll sure tell you what he thinks.' Well, that's the truth. That's the honesty and that's all I know. I don't know lying to you."

When it comes to the matter of actually working on cars, Hecko said he has a slightly different approach to the matter.

"Unlike most other places, my job is to keep your car from costing you money. I don't care what your car looks like; I care more about whether it's going to be dependable. Safe and dependable -- that's all I care about," he said.

Hecko got his start working on foreign cars in the mid-60s, when he bought one of his own. When he decided to start repairing them professionally, he made a choice to keep the focus on serving people.

"I elected some years ago to take care of people's automobiles -- their basic transportation," Hecko said. "I could've made a lot more money doing elite work on elite automobiles. I don't give a damn for those at all. Those guys have got more brains than they've got money. They can stick those cars where it's dark, as far as I'm concerned."

By choosing to focus on the customer, Hecko has served generations of DePauw students, many of whom will still call him for advice from around the country. Armed with the words of someone who understands what needs to be done, they save significantly.

"The guy knows that they know a little about what they're talking about. So then instead of paying $2,000, it only costs them $300 because they only have to get the stuff they need," Hecko said.

It's those connections that keep Hecko turning a wrench, not making a buck or any affinity for the machines.

"It's not a business. If it becomes a business, I quit," Hecko said. "To me, it's like down home. I have customers come in here -- I used to take them off the interstate -- they'd haul them in, and when the guy'd get ready to leave, he'd shake my hand and say, 'I've never been in a place where I was so immediately and ease and comfortable as I was in this place.' And that's the way it's supposed to be."

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Without any doubt, he is one-of-a-kind.

-- Posted by Xgamer on Sat, May 9, 2009, at 4:57 AM

Great story! too bad more people didn't have Jerry's look on life i could listen to his wisdom always! Congrats!

-- Posted by hoosiermama on Sat, May 9, 2009, at 8:20 AM

You will not find a better person. He realy is a great guy !

-- Posted by nova5080 on Sat, May 9, 2009, at 9:57 AM

Love this man! Always has a smile on his face with a big Hello everytime you see him! Way to go Jerry!

-- Posted by johndeeregreen on Sat, May 9, 2009, at 9:24 PM

I've taken my car to Jerry for years. He is the most honest mechanic you will find! I recommend him to anyone with a foreign car. He's not bad on the eyes, either!

-- Posted by dzmwrr on Sun, May 10, 2009, at 6:27 PM

Great man! I took my Honda to him and he didn't charge me a ton like every other place would have. He also made the time to check my car over at a moment's notice when he was EXTREMELY busy... I will always be a loyal customer! Thanks Jerry!

-- Posted by gc2008 on Mon, May 11, 2009, at 1:27 PM

Your Mom would be so proud of the man you became. Fantastic article. (I spent several nights in the Hecko home when things were a question.) When I'm in Greencastle, I've driven by the house and I think you've fulfilled all your Mom's visions of how she would like the house. When you painted her porch, did you use milk paint and a blue ceiling? What did you do with the smoke house? I can see you have worked on your Dad's garage. Do you still have ropebeds and no doors upstairs? Lots of memories! Pam Hecko-Byers

-- Posted by pbyers on Thu, May 14, 2009, at 7:37 PM

It's certainly not my intention to question Jerry's reputation as a great(foreign car)mechanic. I'm sure it is well earned. But there was a time when I wasn't sure about his respect for vehicles, especially when it was loaned to him by his good friend.

The last time I saw my beautiful 1956 Crown Victoria convertible was when I handed the keys to Jerry in Los Angeles Ca. I received a phone call from Jerry the following day informing me that my car was dead and abandoned beside a hot dusty, lonely road somewhere in the Mojave Desert. (as far as I know, it's still there.)

I can't say for sure,but that single act of vehicle abuse may well have been a turning point in Jerry's life. He emerged from the California Desert (by way of Las Vegas Nv)found his way back to Greencastle where he devoted his life to saving instead of destroying vehicles.

Nearly 45 years later, I can't help but think that if given the same facts today, Jerry would not allow my poor 56 Ford to suffer such a cruel lonely demise. But then again, a Ford is not a foreign auto. What do you think?

-- Posted by undy60 on Sat, May 16, 2009, at 10:30 AM

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