Gerald J. Stautberg, a longtime auto dealer whose TV advertisements - "For the best deal anywhere, you just gotta come to Jerry's" - wooed generations of car buyers to his Parkville dealership, died Sunday of pneumonia at Gilchrist Hospice Care. The Monkton resident was 79.
"Jerry was one of the first dealers to use radio and TV advertising in this market. He was a real pioneer," said John Sophocles, former general manager of Jerry's Chevrolet, who is now president of TASCO, a telemessaging company that Mr. Stautberg has owned since 1988.
"People identified with Jerry. He was the last thing they saw on the tube when they went to bed, and the first thing they saw when they woke up in the morning," Mr. Sophocles said.
Ads featuring Mr. Stautberg ran until his death.
Mr. Stautberg, the son of an insurance salesman, was born and raised in Cincinnati.
After earning a bachelor's degree in 1951 from the University of Cincinnati, where he played for the Bearcats, he was drafted by the Chicago Bears, where he played tackle and guard.
"Even though he made $5,000 as a rookie player, he left the National Football League in 1952 to work in the automobile business," said his son, James A. Stautberg, president of Jerry's Toyota. "He frequently mentioned that you had to work two jobs to be able to provide for your family while working for the NFL."
At first, Mr. Stautberg, who had returned to Cincinnati, bought used cars and drove them to the South where he resold them. He then went to work for a local Chevrolet dealership and was so successful that he became the agency's general manager.
"He was an aggressive, hustling kind of guy," his son said.
In 1957, against his will, he came to Baltimore at the behest of a General Motors district manager to open a Chevrolet dealership in the 5600 block of York Road in Govans.
"He was not too fond of coming to Baltimore because he was a Midwest kind of guy. His plan was to make some money and go back home," said his son, who lives in Guilford. "But he never made it back."
Mr. Stautberg said that when his father opened Jerry's Chevrolet at age 26, he became the youngest man to own a GM dealership without having a familial connection to General Motors.
"He began advertising on the radio, and it became his slogan: '5600 York Road at Bellona, the best place to become a Chevrolet ownah' " his son said.
In 1971, Mr. Stautberg relocated Jerry's Chevrolet to a 10-acre site on Joppa Road in Parkville. The $2 million facility had a showroom that held 30 new cars and storage for more than 400 new cars and 200 used cars. In 1981, he expanded his business when he opened Jerry's Toyota in White Marsh; two years later, he added Jerry's Mitsubishi in Parkville.
"When customers came in and they saw Jerry, they wanted to shake his hand because they identified with him," recalled Mr. Sophocles, who started as a used-car salesman with Mr. Stautberg nearly 30 years ago.
"Jerry was a good retailer who always had lots of inventory so buyers didn't have to order a car and wait for delivery," he said. "He loved coming out onto the floor and talking to customers, and that's why we had so many repeat buyers.
"He always said we had to 'work hard at taking care of the customer,' and if we did that, they'd take care of us."
David Warder, current general manager of Jerry's Chevrolet, was a high school student when he first went to work for Mr. Stautberg picking up trash and cleaning cars in 1978.
"Foremost, Jerry was dedicated to his employees and they were to him," Mr. Warder said. "He never missed a day's work. He never drank coffee or ate lunch. He came to work and worked."
Since 1973, Mr. Stautberg had lived at Willow Oaks Farm, his 1,000-acre spread in Monkton.
"He was a city boy who was born at home, but he loved country living," his son said. "He enjoyed working his farm, where he had raised Black Angus cattle and, in recent years, thoroughbred horses."
He was a member of the Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club, Maryland Club, Baltimore Country Club, Thoroughbred Club of America and Reading Room in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at St. James Episcopal Church, 3100 Monkton Road in Monkton.
Also surviving are his wife of 24 years, the former Caroline Coleman; two daughters, Susan Pless of Homeland and Cynthia Amling of Palm Beach, Fla.; two stepsons, Sterling Edwards and Leon Edwards, both of Birmingham, Ala.; a stepdaughter, Caroline Sims of Birmingham; three grandchildren; and seven step-grandchildren. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.