Valentine Auto Body changes hands

Pictured, from left, Ken Valentine is honored by Waterloo Mayor Tom Smith during the Jan. 18 city council meeting for 43 years of business and community goodwill. Smith praised Valentine as a “cornerstone” of the community. Valentine attributed all his success to his parents.

After over 40 years owning and operating Valentine Auto Body, Ken Valentine has retired, entrusting the business to close friend and fellow auto expert Rodney Cissell. 

The story of Valentine Auto Body started approximately 54 years ago when Valentine’s father Wes opened the Waterloo shop in 1968 after operating State Street Auto Body in East St. Louis for many years. 

“He was pretty much a self-trained auto body man who never ran a business before but wanted a business for himself,” Valentine said of his father. “You want something of your own, you know how to do it, you can do it, and there was only one other auto body shop in town at the time, so he thought he could go out on his own without a problem. It’s been going well ever since.” 

Valentine’s father taught him all he needed to know to run the business – from painting to replacing parts and everything in between.  

“I pretty much learned everything from him, also the business aspect of it, meaning how to deal with a customer, how to make sure they were happy,” Valentine said. “If there was a problem, (I learned) how to take care of a problem. You do whatever you have to do to make it work, as any other businessman would do.”

By the time Valentine was in his early 20s, Valentine had taken over the business and has seen many changes in the industry since. Valentine said as cars have become more advanced, so has welding, painting and other techniques. As Monroe County’s population grew, Valentine had a lot more vehicles to fix. 

In the beginning, many decisions rested on the driver. Now, the insurance companies call the majority of the shots, Valentine said. 

“The customer would have insurance and they would wreck the car and then the insurance would dictate how the car was repaired, meaning what parts we used, whether it was new parts, whether it was used parts or aftermarket parts,” Valentine said. “That has all changed over the years.” 

Technological advancements are the largest shift the industry has experienced, Valentine said. Other than being of retirement age, this played a huge role in Valentine deciding to retire. 

“I hear people my age say, ‘I got a new car, but it’s taken me six months to figure out half the things it’ll do,’ and that sort of thing. So, think about trying to fix that. I don’t know how to use it already, much less fix it,” Valentine said. “I knew that technology was kind of passing me by and that I would not be the person to really be able to do this correctly and service the customer the way they should be serviced.”

Fortunately, Cissell is just the person to meet this goal. Having formerly operated a shop in nearby Red Bud, Cissell is well-versed in industry developments. 

“You have to make sure that you treat the customers right and all that, put them first before anything else,” Cissell said, stating this was one of the biggest lessons he learned since he had met Valentine in the 1990s. 

Cissell said he is looking forward to building on the good reputation the shop has built over the years. 

“I know it was a good quality run shop and I just wanted to continue on and keep taking care of the local community,” Cissell said.

This commitment to serving the community – both through his business and outside involvement – led Valentine to be recognized in 2018 as a Waterloo Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award winner. 

Valentine is particularly passionate about serving youth, and said his involvement in the Waterloo Optimist Club gives him ample opportunity to connect with this younger population. The club promotes the Monroe County Longbeards JAKES Day, which connects kids with nature. Valentine has also set up a trap range at his farm for the Monroe County Lead Heads youth shooting team to practice. 

“There’s an old adage that says ‘If (every) kid grows up on a farm or in the country or hunting or fishing, you’d never find a bad kid.’ If you get the kid out of the possibility of running with the wrong people and you get them with good people, they can further themselves into being an even better person,” Valentine said. “That’s all we’re trying to do: Make sure that we do our best to set them on the path to being a good person and hopefully then themselves and hopefully their faith in God will allow them to become that.” 

For more on Valentine Auto Body, located at 3702 State Route 156 west of Waterloo, call 618-939-7975 or click here.

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Madison Lammert

Madison is a reporter at the Republic-Times. She has over six years of experience in journalistic writing. Madison is a recent graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville; she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in mass communications. Before graduating and working at the Republic-Times, Madison worked for SIUE’s student newspaper, The Alestle, for many years. During her time there she filled many roles, including editor-in-chief. When she is not working, she likes to spend time with her dog and try new restaurants across the river.
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