His hands reveal the things that shaped his life.
On one, a ring with cobalt-blue stone flanked by diamonds, emblematic of an unparalleled career with Ford Motor Co.
On the other, ring bearing the insignia of the U.S. Marine Corps, representative of service to his country.
Quentin Strouss is a driven man — driven to be the best.
“I’ve always been used to being No. 1,” he said.
At his job, military unit, and sportsmen’s club.
Strouss, who celebrated his 90th birthday Oct. 23, holds another top distinction: the longest-employed salesman at Ron Lewis Ford, formerly Morrow Motors in Beaver Falls — and quite possibly within Ford Motor Co. itself — with 67 years.
“We believe Quentin holds the record as the longest, career salesperson with Ford Motor Company, especially at the same location,” said Gwen Lewis, co-president of Ron Lewis Automotive Group.
“We’ve checked with our contacts at Ford and they do not have records to that effect, but we issue the challenge to hear if anyone else nationally has a record more impressive than Quentin’s.”
Oct. 30, however, Strouss shifts his career to park and retires.
He pauses a moment.
“I don’t really know. Naturally, I’m beginning to feel my age,” he said.
Mainly, it’s pride “and that comes from the Marine Corps training,” he said. “When you’re a Marine you have a pride like nobody else in the world.”
Strouss thinks he no longer measures up to his own high standards.
“I’ve been No. 1 here for years and years and years,” he said.
That’s not hyperbole. Strouss has sales records and awards to prove it.
“We estimate that Quentin’s career sales are well over 12,000 at this point,” Lewis said. “He has earned the award as Ford Motor Company Salesperson of the Year in the Pittsburgh zone multiple times.”
Strouss, she said, “leads by example and serves as an inspiration to all of us with his work ethic, personal integrity, and positive attitude.”
Strouss estimated he once sold 30 cars a month, but now those sales have “dwindled” and “it’s hurt my pride … You might as well say it’s just embarrassing to me from what I was.”
Strouss started his sales career on March 3, 1953, at 23.
It was a heady time for the automotive industry fueled by a postwar boom.
America was in love with cars and assembly lines rolled out head-turning works of art on wheels.
Gone were boxy frames and drab paint.
Cars sported sleek styles and sculpted looks: rakish tail fins; fancy grilles; excess chrome; white-walled tires and shiny hubcaps.
Giddy designers eschewed Henry Ford’s philosophy that “any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”
Dreamy two-toned colors with exotic-sounding names like Bahama Blue, Polynesian Green and Bohemian Red decorated hoods and side panels.
Manufacturers touted bigger-bodied frames, roomy interiors, and powerful V-8 engines offering both comfort and performance. The decade saw the introduction of engineering features like power steering, push-button drive, swivel seats and transmissions so smooth that taking a drive was like “floating on air.”
The ’50s witnessed the rollout of iconic models like the Corvette, Bel-Air, Thunderbird, Citroen and Aston Martin.
“I was lucky enough to see the introduction of the Thunderbird, the introduction of the Mustang and that was a big deal. I saw all of them come out,” Strouss said, and even owned T-birds and Mustangs. “People were used to seeing these beautiful cars.”
Even a car’s name equated elegance and luxury: New Yorker, Continental, Crown Victoria.
Salesmen, too, looked the part of style and elegance.
Every day, Strouss dressed in suit and tie. The finishing touch: a trilby — a narrow-brimmed, silk-banded felt hat perfectly creased on top.
“That was the uniform for a car salesman,” he said. “Today, you watch the salesmen, they have short-sleeved shirts and regular trousers.”
When he started, he worked from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week. Some Saturday nights, he worked alone.
“I look back at that and I think my kids grew up and didn’t know their father because of all the hours,” he said. “My two sons are growing up, they’re playing ball, and all their activities and I don’t get there? Aw, that’s hard to take.”
Strouss has two sons, Brett of Patterson Township, and Mark of Crafton. He also has a grandson and granddaughter. His wife, Janice Marshall Strouss, died about 20 years ago.
On weekends through 1983 when he retired from the Marine Corps Reserves as a master gunnery sergeant, he trained new recruits.
And at 90, Strouss is no slacker.
“I come in at 9 every morning and I can say I have been on time for 67 years,” he said. He works until 5 or 6 p.m. every day except Wednesday and Saturday.
Of course, he’s seen a lot in nearly seven decades.
In the early days, car companies literally kept new-car designs under wraps, augmenting the pent-up anticipation of deliveries to showrooms.
Semi-trailers hauled up to 10 vehicles shrouded in tarps with delivery often timed at night to guard the secrecy. Showroom windows were covered, too, until well-hyped unveiling celebrations.
“Any time a new model came out we’d cover the showroom windows,” Strouss said, but people would still try to “sneak looks.”
Frank Morrow, he said, “was a real promoter.”
“We used to have parades. He would have the convoy trucks stop out at the turnpike and have a parade through town into New Brighton and back with all the new cars on these carriers. He and I would be in a pickup truck in the front with signs on the side — ‘See the New Fords’ — with a loudspeaker and people would line up along the street. You wouldn’t think of that today.”
Today, many cars look alike.
In yesteryear, little kids could stand on the street and identify different makes and models driving by.
“That’s a Chevy. That’s a Pontiac. That’s a Buick,” Strouss said. “Today, I can’t tell when they go by. Talk about cookie cutters — it’s a crime.”
Now, the top sellers aren’t cars, but SUVs and trucks.
“A lot of manufacturers aren’t building cars anymore,” he said. “Its SUVs and trucks. And the young guys that used to have the hot rods, they have switched to trucks. Trucks are the big seller now.”
The car business is in Strouss’ blood.
“I was practically born in a Ford garage,” he said.
His father, Harry Strouss, owned a dealership — Strouss Motor Sales — on Third Avenue in New Brighton.
The family lived across the street.
One memory remains vivid.
“I remember one time I got into one of the cars and somehow let the brake off and the car drifted out into the middle of the main street and I got out and ran home, of course, before my dad could get me.”
He was 6 on a warm, spring day in March 1936 when a downpour dropped nearly two inches of rain on the region already dealing with a winter that dumped 63 inches of snow. Snowmelt coupled with swollen creeks that fed into the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers resulted in a historic and devastating flood unlike any the region had experienced.
River levels reached a peak of 46 feet in Pittsburgh — more than 20 feet over flood stage, according to the Heinz History Center, leaving more than half of the city’s businesses under water.
After waters receded a week later, 62 people were dead, more than 500 injured, 135,000 left homeless, and millions of dollars in damage to homes, businesses, and industries, the center said.
That afternoon and evening, water pooled on New Brighton streets, too.
“My dad called the chief of police,” Strouss said.
“Don’t worry about it, Harry. Go to bed. I don’t think it will get any higher,” the chief said.
“Well, we had to get out of the house,” Strouss said. “The water was that high in the dining room,” he said, holding his hand up about 2 to 3 feet.
“Everything was destroyed in the garage. Cars and everything. Wow, what a mess that was.”
His father rebuilt on the other end of town.
For most of his school years, Strouss’ family lived in Beaver Falls. But after his parents divorced, he moved in with his father in Beaver and graduated from Beaver High School in 1948.
He worked at the former Westinghouse Electric in Vanport Township, now part of Eaton Corp., while at the same time entering the Marine Corps Reserves.
In 1950 as the country was entering the Korean War, he was called to active duty and sent to Parris Island in South Carolina for boot camp.
But he never served overseas.
“They pulled me out of the replacement draft to Korea and sent me to school,” he said. Strouss trained in aviation, mechanics and metal-smithing at military training sites in Jacksonville, Fla., Memphis, Tenn., and finally at an air station in Cherry Point, N.C., where he worked on helicopters.
The war ended, Strouss returned home and upon seeing him his dad said “it was the first time I ever walked straight” — proof that the Marine Corps turned him into a man.
“I think he was proud of me,” Strouss said.
Strouss returned briefly to Westinghouse as a machine operator.
“I just couldn’t stand being cooped up like that. I was late going to work every day.”
He knew he wouldn’t last long.
At the time, Strouss’ father managed Morrow Ford for owner Frank Morrow, and helped his son get a job.
Talking with Strouss, you wouldn’t believe it, but he said he was “really shy. Frank Morrow sent me to Geneva College for a public-speaking course because I was so shy. I shouldn’t have been after being in the Marine Corps.”
Ford sent him to company sales-training schools at district headquarters in Pittsburgh.
“It was periodic. Maybe I’d go a week this month and two months later go for another week,” he said.
He learned on the job, too.
“We studied all the (car) features. You knew everything about the cars,” he said.
Among his first sales was to a couple that lived across the street from his father.
“I don’t know that they wanted to buy a Ford, but I showed them every little feature that was on that Customline, four-door sedan … They bought the car just because I spent so much time showing them all the features.”
It was that interest — not only in the vehicle but the customer — that garnered Strouss so many repeat customers, some spanning multiple generations.
“People put their trust in me,” he said. “That’s great. The boss here (Steve Peterson) tells the story that he felt like a greeter for Quentin Strouss. He said people would come in and they would only talk to me and if I didn’t get to them before the end of the day, they’d come back the next day.”
To succeed in car sales, Strouss said “you have to be sincere and you have to be honest and you should know your products…Get to know the people before you even talk about cars. Get to know them — their needs and wants.
In retirement, Strouss plans to remain active in the Beaver Valley Sportsmans Club where two to three days a week he visits the trap-shooting range and shoots clay pigeons.
He’ll also take walks with his beloved companion Jake, a 3-year-old beagle-hound mix he rescued from a shelter in Canfield, Ohio.
Dogs, he said, provide company and entertainment.
“You never come home that they’re not wagging their tail, greeting you happily,” he said. “You say your prayers at night — bless this, bless that — you never think about that animal that is such a part of your family.”
Strouss said “the good Lord has been awful good to me. Kept me on the right side of the grass for 90 years.”
(c) 2020 the Beaver County Times
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