Saturday, July 13, 2013

Movers and Shakers: C. Lawrence "Larry" Jerome

If you were living in Rochester in 1970 or earlier, you probably recognize the name of Larry Jerome, who was a prominent business and civic leader in the community for over 40 years. Known as the owner of Larry Jerome Ford Sales and Service which was located for decades at 215 S. Main, Jerome was also a charter member of the Rochester Kiwanis Club and served terms as president of the board of education and chamber of commerce.

A lengthy interview with Larry Jerome was published in the August 6, 1937 issue of the Rochester Clarion, and relates a very interesting life story.  Jerome was born in 1901 in Detroit, Michigan, the son of John Jerome and Eva Ireland. He attended high school in Detroit, but visited Rochester with his friends at the age of fourteen, when the group of boys took a canoe trip along the Clinton River from Pontiac to Lake St. Clair.  The Clarion reported:
...four weary boys, who had paddled their canoe down the Clinton river a long, tiresome day, brought their boat to rest where the river passes through Rochester and prepared to camp for the night.
'Gee, this is a pretty town,' exclaimed one of the lads, after they had set up their tents and were looking over the village, 'I'd like to settle down and live in a town like this someday.' But Charles Lawrence Jerome, the fourteen year old boy who liked the looks of Rochester, known today as "Larry" Jerome, popular Ford dealer here, little imagined that only seven years later he would be settling down in Rochester and embarking on his life work of selling and servicing automobiles to residents here and throughout the countryside.
The seven years that passed between Jerome's canoe trip to Rochester and his arrival here as an adult businessman were busy ones.  He enlisted in the U.S. Navy while still underage and spent a summer cruising the Great Lakes on a naval training vessel.  He was quickly discharged as ineligible for duty when World War I broke out.  He finished high school and enrolled in college where he participated in the Students' Naval Training Corps at the University of Michigan, but never saw active service before the war ended.

After leaving college, Larry Jerome found his first job in the automobile industry, working for a used car dealer in Detroit. Jerome's job was to travel the countryside buying used cars for resale. One of the firms he regularly called upon was the Phillips & Bailey Ford dealership in Rochester. After he married in 1921, Larry Jerome decided that he would have better business opportunities in a small town than he would in a city as large as Detroit, so he went to work as a salesman for Phillips & Bailey in the town he had admired when on his canoe trip seven years earlier.  In 1924, when W. J. Bailey was offered the Ford dealership in Romeo, Larry Jerome bought his share of the Rochester dealership and it became known as Phillips & Jerome.  Not many years later, Jerome bought out his partner, O. N. Phillips, and Larry Jerome Ford was born.

In his 1937 interview with the Clarion, Larry Jerome gave his perspective on what made a successful auto dealership:
'The success or failure of an automobile agency,' says Mr. Jerome, 'does not depend on the front office or salesrooms. In the long run the success of an automobile dealer depends on how his back shop is operated.  The first thing that attracted me to Ford, even before I entered the automobile business, was the fact that Ford insisted, not only in selling cars at a low price, but also that his dealers be equipped to make necessary repairs as efficiently and as economically as possible. If, after you sell a customer an automobile, you are able to keep his car running satisfactorily at a minimum expense, you are pretty certain to sell him his next car.'

Larry Jerome operated his very successful Rochester dealership until the mid-1960s, when he sold the business to Jack Long. The McKenzie Ford dealership followed Long, and moved the dealership out of downtown to South Hill.  Larry Jerome died in 1971.

In the 1957 promotional photo shown here, Larry Jerome (right) and his son, Dick Jerome, are looking at a new Ford Skyliner with Jim Scolaro and Mickey Niles.

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