The owner of one of La Grande's oldest and most successful businesses

received a high honor recently, when he was nominated for Time

Magazine's Auto Dealer of the Year Award.

Mark Goss, president and general manager of M.J. Goss Motor Co. ,

was among a select group of dealers from around the nation nominated

for the award, one of the most coveted among new car dealers.

He was picked to represent the Oregon Automobile Dealers Association

at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in New

Orleans in January.

He said the nomination came almost as a shock. In the end, the award went to a dealer from Louisiana named George P. Fritze, but for Goss, being considered was enough. He was one of only 49 dealers, from more than 19,500 nationwide, to be selected.

"I was very blown away," he said. "It's a prestigious honor. We're a small dealership and we're not in the limelight like a lot of others. I was pretty much speechless when I was nominated."

The award, sponsored by Time in association with the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. , takes into account not only business success but also long-standing commitment to community service.

M.J. Goss Motor Co. has always been a leader in that area. Mark Goss carries on the tradition, serving with a variety of civic clubs and associations and sponsoring and supporting a host of special events and fundraising efforts.

His involvements are too numerous to list, but causes he supports, include Sunrise Rotary, the Union County Fair, Union County Special Olympics, Little League, youth soccer, the La Grande Fireworks Fund, and more.

He said he is particularly proud of his contributions, both financial and as a volunteer, to the La Grande High School Booster Club. He was a founding member, and remains active today.

He said he considers it vital to contribute to the betterment of La Grande and Union County.

"The community supports us, and I think it's very important to put something back. I've lived here all my life, and in my heart I feel obligated."

To discover the beginnings of the M.J. Goss Motor Co., one has to look far back into local history.

In about 1916, a fellow named Milo Jasper Goss appeared on the local scene, eager to get in on the burgeoning auto sales industry. He worked for Hamilton Motors for a time, but by 1922 he was on his own.

He started M.J. Goss Motor Co. in a building at 808 Adams Ave., the site today of Eastern Oregon Net, Inc. Ten years later, he moved the business to its current location in the 1400 block of Adams Avenue.

He was principally a Studebaker dealer back then, but added other makes, including Oldsmobile, Buick, Pontiac, Chevrolet and DeSoto. He had plenty to offer his customers after Studebaker quit producing.

Though the business model changed several times, M.J. Goss Motor Co. stayed constant in one thing: it was always a family business.

Goss's three sons, Milo (better known as Bill), Ken and Bob worked in it for years, along with a partner named Ed Brog. Bill, Mark's father, emerged as a principal, and stayed active in the business until his death in 2006 at age 82.

Mark Goss was about 8 years old when he started his career, pushing a broom at the dealership. He said he never thought too much about working for someone else.

He worked part-time at M.J. Goss all through high school before enrolling in courses in automotive marketing at Northwood University in Michigan.

He got his associate's degree, then completed a bachelor's degree in business. After graduation, he came home to work in the family business.

In 1981, he and his father became sole owners of the business. Today, M.J. Goss deals in new products including Cadillac, Buick, Pontiac, GMC and Chevrolet, plus used cars and trucks.

"It's challenging, but it's rewarding," Mark said. "It's fun dealing with the people. A majority of them are making the second largest purchase they'll ever make, and it's fun helping them do that."

M.J. Goss employs 33 people in six departments, including new car sales, used car sales, parts, service, body shop and rentals.

With a recession on, Goss said sales aren't all they could be, but other departments are taking up the slack.

"Our number one goal is to keep everyone employed," he said. "The focus right now is on service, parts and body shop. If people aren't purchasing vehicles, they are having them repaired."

Across the country, 900 new car dealerships went out of business in 2008, and it is expected another 500-1,000 will go under in the coming year.

Goss said he expects a tough 2009, but added he is confident his company will weather the storm.

"We're an old established store. Most everything is paid for, so we don't have the large overhead other people do," he said.

Goss has served on the Oregon Automobile Dealers Association board of directors since 1991. He tracks legislative issues that affect his industry, and advocates for the membership.

Each year, he attends the state conference in Sunriver. But that experience pales by comparison to the national gathering he attended in New Orleans. There, the opening was attended by more than 25,000 people involved in the industry.

"It was quite an experience, quite an affair," he said.

Being nominated for the award was a peak experience for him.

"It's probably the highest honor I'll have in my career," he said.

Goss lives in La Grande with his wife, Cally. They have three children, Taydie McAndie, Caylin Bankston and Mavric.

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