When Edward “Eddy” Steven started in the car business more than 50 years ago, he did paperwork out of the back of a car because he didn’t have an office.
But over the years, his business grew into what is now Steven Auto Group, one of the larger dealerships in Wichita.
Mr. Steven, 94, died Saturday. He was the retired owner of Steven Auto Group and founder of Eddy’s Toyota. He owned and was involved with more than 20 car franchises – domestic and imports – through the years.
He was one of the last Yugo dealers in the U.S. and was the dealer who sold a Rolls Royce to Vanna White through an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal, according to his son, Mike.
“He was always good for his word in a business deal. When he started, it was a lot of handshake deals,” said Mike Steven. “When he got the Toyota franchise, it was a handshake deal, but of course the paperwork followed. When he took the Toyota franchise all that was required to qualify was to buy five cars and a box of parts.”
In 1960, Mr. Steven started Eddy’s Fun Cars on South Broadway. He received a franchise from Toyota in 1970 and became partners with his son, Mike, in 1971. Through the years, Steven Auto Group has purchased several dealerships and sold others.
After retiring about 18 years ago, Mr. Steven still came regularly to the dealership to see what was going on and to talk to employees.
Steven Auto Group includes Mike Steven Infiniti; Steven Mitsubishi; Mike Steven Volkswagen; Steven Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge; Eddy’s Scion; and Eddy’s Toyota, which it owns in partnership with Brandon Steven Motors. Mike Steven estimates the group has sold more than 100,000 cars since 1960.
“He had a huge impact on Wichita,” said Brandon Steven, Mr. Steven’s nephew and owner of Brandon Steven Motors. He also runs Eddy’s Toyota. “Wichita was founded with great entrepreneurs from the old days, and he was one of them. He was the kind of guy who wasn’t afraid of anything. He was fearless entrepreneur.”
Bill Steven, Edward Steven’s grandson and manager at Mike Steven Volkswagen, said his grandfather played a big role in the Wichita business community. The group has employed as many as 450 people at one time.
“Over the course of just the auto companies, I don’t know how many employees we’ve had,” Bill Steven said. “He supplied income for thousands of Wichitans.”
He tries to treat customers and employees the way his grandfather would, he said.
“I try to emulate his persona of not being a high and mighty person, that we’re members of a team together and I care deeply about everybody that works in our stores and know all of them and talk to them just like he would,” Bill Steven said. “He taught me what it means to be a Steven. We work hard because that’s the expectation we set for each other.”
Mr. Steven’s legacy will continue, family members said.
“He was the beginning of all of it,” Bill Steven said.
A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.
Memorials have been established with the Lord’s Diner, Harry Hynes Memorial Hospice and the Wichita Children’s Home.