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"Accidental' tire dealer's acts of good reverberate Helping others Sharing, caring Remembering vets

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D.—”Tire Man,” a looming stick figure made of exhaust tubing, mufflers and tires, stands silently over each of the three stores that make up Tires Tires Tires.

The retailer has been known for years for the whimsical, 16-foot-tall collections of parts.

But there's one piece that outsiders may not see—its heart.

For that, look no further than Dan Nothdurft, someone you could call an “accidental tire dealer.” The Tires Tires Tires founder never forgets to pay it forward.

His generosity and compassionate deeds have made Mr. Nothdurft—who bears more than a passing resemblance to actor Ed Asner—the winner of the 2012 Tire Dealer Humanitarian Award. Sponsored by Tire Business for the past 19 years, the Humanitarian Award celebrates the outstanding charitable activities and public service of an independent tire dealer or retreader.

Judging of the award was conducted by The Volunteer Center, an affiliate of the United Way of Summit County, Ohio. In selecting Mr. Nuthdurft, the judges cited his involvement in many community activities, in particular the Angel Cars program.

Mr. Nothdurft received the award Oct. 30 at the Tire Industry Honors event sponsored by the Tire Industry Association during the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. He was presented a special medal symbolizing the spirit of giving, and Tire Business donated $2,500 to a charity selected by Mr. Nothdurft: Sioux Empire Wheels to Work.

Growing up on his family's South Dakota farm, Mr. Nothdurft and his brothers worked from sunup to sundown “doing whatever needed done” during the school week. On weekends it was more of the same, but with one more chore needing to be done: cleaning out the hog pens. “By hand. With something called a shovel,” Mr. Nothdurft recalls wryly.

When he reached adulthood, Mr. Nothdurft made farming his livelihood, but the life he envisioned—like his father, being connected to the land, growing crops and raising livestock—was torpedoed.

Consider the times: It was the economic meltdown of the 1980s “when interest rates skyrocketed to 21 percent and everything turned upside down,” Mr. Nothdurft recounted. “One day the bank called and said, 'You're done.'”

Were they ever wrong.

Like many other family farmers facing similar plights, Mr. Nothdurft set about looking for another way to support his family. He wound up working for an uncle who sold tires, most of them used. After awhile, his uncle told him he ought to look into opening his own tire business.

Mr. Nothdurft found a former two-bay gas station in Sioux City, Iowa, available to rent, borrowed some cash and prayed that he could land a rent deal of $600 or less, which is all he figured he could afford. He needn't have worried. Mr. Nothdurft said that when they met, the landlord told him right off the bat, “I can't take less than $500 a month and I'll throw in an air compressor.”

Twenty-five years and several air compressors later, Mr. Nothdurft's Tires Tires Tires consists of two tire stores in Sioux City and a flagship store in Sioux Falls, S.D. An additional location in Sioux Falls is being considered.

But Tires Tires Tires—also known as “T3”—isn't the only thing the former farmer has grown healthy and strong. Through the years, Mr. Nothdurft has given his support, enthusiasm and ideas to several community programs that help a spectrum of people in “Siouxland,” the nickname for the region that includes Sioux City and Sioux Falls.

Helping others just comes naturally, the tire dealer told Tire Business. “We grew up in a farm family. You always help your neighbors out. I learned it from my parents, my grandparents and church. Even when you weren't making a lot of money, you were still donating things.

“That's part of life. You need to give back. The Bible says, 'For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required.'”

To that end, Tires Tires Tires has donated tires and services such as oil changes and alignments to help raise funds for the American Heart Association, National Kidney Foundation, Sioux Falls YWCA, churches, service groups like the South Sioux Kiwanis Club and Make-A-Wish South Dakota.

Keeping close to the community and deciding just how to help is the job of Tires Tires Tires' leadership team: Mr. Nothdurft, president; his brother Dale, co-owner and vice president; and Gary Michaels, general manager.

When a tornado packing winds of between 135 and 165 mph ripped through the small western Iowa town of Mapleton, destroying or damaging 60 percent of its structures on an April night in 2011, Dan and Mr. Michaels made arrangements to prepare, deliver and serve more than 600 pounds of smoked pork to victims of the twister. (In the time it takes to rotate a set of tires, a casual observer learns that one of Dan Nothdurft's hobbies is grilling.)

Tires Tires Tires is also a meal sponsor for athletic programs at Sioux City's Bishop Heelan High School, which Dan's children attended.

But the tire retailer's most ambitious and well-known community service is its month-long Angel Cars program, which was launched in 2009.

The Angel Cars program gets its wings from the effective and trusting relationship Tires Tires Tires has with a Sioux Falls non-commercial Christian radio station, Life 96.5, and Sioux Empire Wheels to Work, a nonprofit organization that aids disadvantaged single mothers.

“I'd always thought it would be nice to give cars away to gals who are really in need or abused women who have left their relationship,” Dan Nothdurft said. “Often times they have their kids in tow and leave with only the clothes on their backs. They have nothing. Some of these women are almost beat down to the point where they have almost zero self-worth. To leave that situation takes a lot takes a lot of courage.”

During Angel Cars' designated month, the radio station puts out the word, urging listeners to donate cars. T3 inspects the donated vehicles to identify the ones that can be reconditioned and/or repaired for safe and reliable transportation. After performing any work that's required, Tires Tires Tires turns the cars over to Sioux Empire Wheels to Work, which titles the cars and selects vehicle recipients after careful scrutiny of an application.

“We have each other's best interests in mind,” said Dave Ryerson, 96.5's program director. “It's amazing to come alongside a business that actually shares the same mission and values about trying to better your community and sharing the gospel. But it's not just a contractual partnership. We really appreciate the relationship we share with each other.”

Tires Tires Tires and its partners initially were worried about being able to acquire enough donated vehicles. Angel Cars debuted during the federal “cash for clunkers” promotions offered by the struggling auto industry in 2009. They needn't have worried. Or as Dale Nothdurft put it: “It's a God thing.”

Karen Hattervig, founder and director of Wheels to Work, said the Angel Car program was “a huge success. The year before Angel Cars started we gave away 10 cars. The first year of Angel Cars we gave close to 50 cars away.”

“One woman who received a car told us that every morning she'd have to get up at five in the morning. She'd walk a mile with her kids to the day care. Then she'd leave her kids at the day care, then she'd walk another mile to her job. She'd work an eight-hour day, then walk a mile back to the day care to pick up the kids and then walk a mile with the kids back to her home.”

The radio station's management said Angel Cars fits right in with the station's goal of having its listeners put their shoes to the ground and live a life guided by the Bible's scripture.

“We really want to get our listeners to get out of their own little world, and into working with people in need and recognizing that that's what the gospel is all about, that's what Jesus instructed us to do,” Mr. Ryerson told Tire Business.

“It's more than them going to church on Sunday or listening to some feel-good music. It's actually going out and living it. We see ministry taking place here. People in need are being looked after.”

Getting the donated cars ready for deserving women and families is a serious undertaking. Every donated vehicle gets the same inspection any retail customer's vehicle would receive.

Some—like a 2000 GMC Yukon with 119,000 miles—are in great shape. The owner even detailed the SUV before he donated it, Mr. Michaels said. But even then the Yukon required $700 worth of work before it was ready to be given away.

More typical was a 1999 Oldsmobile Intrigue. “It was mechanically sound,” Mr. Michaels said. “The body was good. But it needed tires, brakes, struts, a hub assembly and exhaust work. We spent $1,600 repairing the car, but it was a solid car.”

Thanks to Angel Cars, the Oldsmobile found a new life as Christine Yellow Eagle Steele's first-ever car.

“I was crying, I was so happy,” the 34-year-old mother of three told Tire Business. The former drug addict said she learned of Angel Cars from the staff of the shelter where she and her children, ages 8, 9 and 12, had been staying.

“It's great to have a car. I'm not having to catch the bus and have to plan two to three hours ahead of time for every appointment.”

She said her children not only compete to get a seat by the windows, they're showing pride of ownership and taking care of the Olds, which she says “runs wonderful.” Like a teen-ager with her first car, one of the first things Ms. Steele did was pile the youngsters, including her 15-year-old brother who lives with her, into the sedan and take a trip to South Dakota's Badlands to show off the car to her parents, noting: “You appreciate things more if you have to earn it.”

“Things are only going to get better,” Ms. Steele gushed. A clerk at “Get N Go,” a locally owned chain of package stores and fuel stations, she said her supportive boss wrote a recommendation letter to the Angel Cars program on her behalf. But she has her sights set on a future as a counselor for disadvantaged women.

“I'm going to be a great role model for my children. I plan on going back to school. I've got a lot of people pulling for me now.”

One of them is Dan Nothdurft, who said: “When you give them the keys to the car, there are tears on both sides. It changes that person's life forever because you've just given them transportation. It's a new freedom.”

Helping and encouraging others is just part of the institutional fabric at Tires Tires Tires, said Duane Lukes, an ace technician and service manager of the Sioux Falls store.

“It's awesome. They're like family,” said the 21-year, salaried employee who has been known to come in to the shop before dawn to work on a customer's vehicle.

“We can talk to Dale anytime. They'll help you out and go way above and beyond. They're straightforward and there's a trust that goes both ways.”

Mr. Lukes recounted how a World War II veteran had been pulled over by the police for having a taillight out. Tires Tires Tires—which has a big place in its heart for Americans who have served in the military—replaced the bulb free.

“It's not about making money,” he said. “They just like to help out, whether it's the Girl Scouts or our older folks.”

One of the Nothdurfts' favorite programs is Support Siouxland Soldiers, a nonprofit organization that helps the region's estimated 11,000 veterans, as well as active military families.

“We're the land of the free, but it came at a price,” Dan Nothdurft said. “Lives and blood were shed. We need to honor those who do serve this country.”

According to Sarah Petersen, founder of Support Siouxland Soldiers and the wife of a vet, many returning soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan have severe problems readjusting or landing jobs. Some suffer from post-traumatic stress and/or alcoholism.

Tires Tires Tires' Sioux City location has hosted collection drives that have resulted in thousands of care packages being sent to troops deployed overseas. In October, T3 co-sponsored “Help on the Homefront,” a food drive that provided a week's worth of groceries to about 50 families.

“Their stores have really good visibility,” Ms. Petersen said of the dealership. “When they do an event for us, it brings in a whole other crowd that we wouldn't normally reach. He's (Mr. Nothdurft) able to build awareness for our organization. He contacts his friends in the media world. He buys a lot of advertising so he taps into those resources for us.

“When we've done events, he'll stay up the whole night talking with whoever is there. He'll be out shaking hands. He definitely rallies his group to make it a big success.”

Ms. Petersen said the fact that military families are signing up for the food drive program indicates how seriously they're struggling. She said anonymous data they collect show that 94.4 percent of the participants fall below federal poverty guidelines. She hopes to apply for grants that will help the families of veterans. “There's a huge need and it's probably not going to go away for some time.”

“I'm going to love doing the food thing,” Dan Nothdurft said. “My dad and my father-in-law, my uncles, everybody served in the armed forces one way or the other. When I grew up, the Vietnam War was going on and we'd see them taking off. Sometimes they wouldn't come back.

“The ones who did come back, they were changed. Your heart goes out to these guys because they laid it all out for their country.”



Freelance writer Jeff Yip is a frequent contributor to Tire Business.
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