Van Horn family gives back to area
By Mary Matsumoto

The name Van Horn means more than car dealerships.

The name represents a family who believes in giving back to the community, whether that involves making monetary donations or getting right out there, rolling up their sleeves, and working side by side with others to help out where their efforts are most needed. They’ve been doing this for almost 50 years.

The first of three generations, Joe Van Horn, started from the bottom in 1966 and built his business up with hard work and commitment.

Joe had moved from Chicago to adopt Plymouth as his new home. To feed his family of eight, he purchased Wagner Chevrolet on the corner of Factory and Schwartz and opened his first dealership. Then, in 1977, he relocated to Eastern Avenue near STH 57, where the business is currently located. In the next 35 years, the company grew and flourished, both under Joe’s ownership and, later, his son Chuck’s.

Today the company operates in six locations.

As their dealership grew, however, the Van Horns have always played an intricate role in the community, feeling a deep desire to give back in any way they can.

Special interest in young people

Teresa Van Horn, one of Joe’s daughters and dealer of Van Horn Chevrolet, has a special interest in young people, having four children of her own. She volunteers for school events and acts as coach. The youths are the building blocks of the future. By showing an active interest in their welfare, the entire community benefits in the long run, she said.

“While we are here, we should share our talent, time and treasure with others,” she said. “We should do whatever we can to make our community better.”

Chuck Van Horn, Teresa’s brother and father of a daughter of his own, has volunteered for the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program for almost 15 years, showing that he, too, demonstrates an interest in young people.

“Our family values carry over into all we do,” said the Van Horns, “and we eagerly engage ourselves in opportunities to use our resources to enhance and aid the lives of others.”

Intergenerational center started

Over the years, the projects and community events the Van Horns have involved themselves in are too numerous to mention. One recent undertaking, however, is the completion of the Plymouth Intergenerational Coalition which involved some $150,000 to get that initiative off the ground. Joann (Van Horn) Wieland, another Van Horn sibling, was instrumental in getting that project going.

Today, located on CTH E north of Eastern Avenue, the center is devoted to bringing generations, old and young, together. It provides an opportunity for people of different ages to learn from each other and work together. To that end, the center houses the Plymouth Senior Center, Growing Generations Child Care Center, the Family Resource Center and Head Start.

“I believe in the concept of putting old and young together,” said Chuck Van Horn. “The wisdom and knowledge adults have is often wasted in our society. If the Intergenerational Center can put young people and older, wiser people together, that theory makes a lot of sense to me.”

Another group the Van Horns have shown a special interest in are students, whether it’s providing a van to help Lakeland College students carpool to improve the environment or updating antiquated equipment at Plymouth High School.

Last December, Teresa Van Horn presented the high school with a $15,000 check as the first of three installments to be used for renovations to the Technology Education and Engineering Department for the purchase of tools, shop equipment and improvements to the transportation technology program.

Hiring from local schools

Many current and former employees at Van Horn are graduates of the high school, and Van Horn would like to continue to hire from the community if possible.

“We’d like to get the kids to see that an automotive technician is a good career,” Teresa said. “We thought this would be a great way for us to help get students started on that career path.”

In addition to encouraging students to consider the field of auto mechanics, the interest shown by the dealership also encourages students to stay in school period, to get a diploma and to consider a career goal.

Another project Teresa has been particularly involved in over the years is the Above and Beyond Children’s Museum in Sheboygan, a non-profit organization that offers a multitude of recreational experiences and learning opportunities for younger children.

The Van Horn Automotive Group donates time and energy to organizations as varied as the Sheboygan Hmong Association, Gentle Hands Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation, and the Cheesehead Chase Race to Support Women’s Causes. Whether the project encompasses food drives for the hungry, donations to organizations that help cancer victims or youth baseball, if it’s an opportunity to improve the community, Van Horn gets involved in them all.

And if that’s not enough, they also provide opportunities for their employees to maintain their overall health.

One example of this is the Smoke Free Smoking Cessation Program to provide education, support and encouragement to quit the tobacco habit. Van Horn sponsors classes in this area for their employees and their families.

The company has also partnered with St. Nicholas Hospital and Prevea to provide other health and wellness services to improve health care costs to both employees and to the company itself. A nurse practitioner and a physical therapist are on hand for employees. The idea is to prevent illness before it happens, which means healthy employees and less sick leave.

These efforts are all a part of giving back to the community Joe Van Horn and his family adopted as their own almost 50 years ago. Whether it involves the city of Plymouth or the county that surrounds it, the Van Horns consider the area a good and safe place to live and raise a family. They want to protect that environment by giving back to the people of the community who made their success possible.