THE AMERICAN DREAM - ‘I can do it again. I’ll start over’

DeWayne Bartels
Though the news was bad, Steve Killpatrick, left, president of Uftring Chrysler, was all smiles with U.S. Congressman Aaron Schock May 16.

When the letter from Chrysler arrived at Uftring Chrysler a couple of weeks ago announcing the closing of the dealership, Steve Killpatrick, president of the dealership, was shocked.

But, he has not been devastated by the planned closure of the North Peoria dealership in 12 days.

Killpatrick said that is because for him, The American Dream is not about what you acquire, but the journey toward the dream.

‘Is this the one?’

Killpatrick, 48, has been in the car selling business for 24 years. He has been Gary Uftring’s partner in the North Peoria dealership for about two-and-a-half years.

“I put everything I had into this dealership,” Killpatrick told reporters May 17 at a press conference attended by U.S. Congressman Aaron Schock (R-Peoria).

“It just isn’t right. It’s not our fault. We’re paying the bills and making a profit.”

There was a tone of resignation in his words then.

On May 20, when he sat down to talk about The American Dream and what it meant to him, there was an air of confidence.

Killpatrick said he knows about hard economic times. The Minneapolis native graduated from Millikin University in 1983 into a down economy.

“It was hard to find work. I got a job selling photo copiers door-to-door at businesses on Main Street and Pioneer Parkway here in Peoria,” he said.

“I did well. I discovered selling.”

He did so well he was transferred to Champaign, where he snagged the University of Illinois as a client. But, as he did better and better, the company made the sales goals harder and harder and the good money was becoming more difficult to earn.

He switched to selling cars in Champaign, but had a girlfriend in Pekin, so he spent a lot of time in the Peoria area.

He met Gary Uftring, and his career path selling cars here was set, he said.

“Gary is an entrepreneur, not just a car dealer. He took me to lunch one day early in my career with him,” Killpatrick said.

They talked about Killpatrick’s future.

“Out of the blue, Gary said, ‘Someday I’d like to be your partner in a dealership.’”

That was 1988.

Uftring moved Killpatrick through the ranks at his different dealerships in the area as new car manager, used car manager, finance manager and finally general manager.

Then one day, Killpatrick said, Uftring came to him and said, ‘There’s a dealership for sale. Is this the one?’”

All in

Killpatrick said Uftring did not have to ask him twice.   

Killpatrick said yes and the pair were on their way to opening Uftring Chrysler Peoria at 3905 N. University.

The decision was made. The only obstacle was for Killpatrick to find the money.

He had acreage in Washington. A company was interested. A friend in real estate told him it was Wal-Mart. They wanted to build a superstore in Washington, and they wanted it on Killpatrick’s property.

Killpatrick told the developer what he wanted for his acreage. The developer balked.

Then one day, the developer came back and said he would meet his price.

“That was my dealership money,” Killpatrick said.

“The deal closed one or two weeks before the deal on this place closed.”

 The dealership, co-owned by Uftring and Killpatrick, opened on Dec. 15, 2006.

“I’m a Christian man. Things just fell into place. I never worried,” he said.

“I’ve never been afraid to lose what I invest.”

Killpatrick said what he has invested is everything he has.

Comeback kid

Killpatrick said as he faces the very real possibility of losing everything he owns, his definition of The American Dream has not changed.

“It’s kind of funny now that I think about it,” he said, when asked for his definition of The American Dream.

“My definition came from a college professor I had. He said, ‘I’ll do today what others don’t, so tomorrow I can do what other’s can’t.’ Back then, that meant earning money to me. As I grew older, that definition changed from money to meaning opportunity, the freedom to pursue what I want. That hasn’t changed,” he said.

Killpatrick said his wife and children are largely responsible for his growth.

“I’m less selfish. Material things don’t mean as much when you have children,” he said.

“My wife, Julie, is a very Godly woman. She changed me by example. Even through this, she said to me, ‘I don’t care if we have to sell the house. I don’t need a house.’”

Killpatrick said as he has faced the prospect of losing everything, he has come to realize that for him, The American Dream is a process.

“It’s not something you achieve. It’s a journey. I enjoy paying the price for the journey — the long hours, the sacrifice,” Killpatrick said.

“It’s not the kill for me that counts, it’s the hunt.”

Killpatrick said he does not know what the coming days will bring. But, he said, he does not fear what lies ahead.

“It’s a God thing. He has a plan, a purpose for my life,” Killpatrick said.

“Things have just happened. Money has never motivated me. It may all be gone. I don’t think about it. You can’t take it with you. You don’t see trailers attached to hearses.”

Killpatrick smiled.

“We’ll see where we go from here. There’s only three stages in every life. Either you are going into a storm, you’re in a storm or coming out of a storm,” Killpatrick said.

“I’m in a storm right now, but I know I’ll come out. I don’t know what sea I’ll be in. But, I know what I’ve done before. I can do it again. I’ll start over.”