SMALL TOWNS: After 95 years, Menasha family’s legacy is under new ownership

Coonen’s Complete Service is now owned by someone other than a Coonen
Popular auto service garage under new ownership
Updated: Mar. 30, 2023 at 6:10 PM CDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MENASHA, Wis. (WBAY) - Earlier this month marked the end of an era for an auto service garage in the Fox Valley.

After 95 years, Coonen’s Complete Service is now owned by someone other than a Coonen.

This week in Small Towns, we visit Menasha where a family’s legacy will be remembered.

The sights and sounds inside this garage are all Pete Coonen has ever known. “It’s going to feel really, really strange because I’ve been doing it my whole life,” explains Pete.

Started by his grandfather in 1928, Pete’s dad and uncle took over Coonen’s Complete Service in 1964.

His brother then followed until he passed away 12 years ago, leaving Pete in charge of the longtime family business.

In recent months, though, facing back and shoulder issues, Pete knew the time had come to sell -- with no one in the family to take it over.

“It was a pretty difficult decision, and it will be the end of the Coonen family in the business,” says Pete.

“I have not seen him cry as much in the last three months as long as I’ve known him. He is so connected to this community and always went out of his way to make people feel special,” adds Jackie Coonen, Pete’s wife.

It’s a trait that runs deep in the Coonen family.

“They have never wavered, none of them, with the compassion, the honesty, that has been provided. They walk them through, they talk it through, whether it’s an 18-year-old or a 90-year-old person, they make sure that you know that when you leave here, your car has been serviced and it’s been in good hands,” says Jackie.

Which is why customers representing generations often show up to the shop with cookies and other treats.

There’s a simple reason they’ve always come back.

“Because they always take care of you like other people didn’t. That’s why you stay and a bad penny always comes back,” says longtime customer Sue Holmes, before adding, “When a light goes out, you call Pete. When you’re stuck some place, you call Pete.”

Loyal customer Sarah Straw recalls, “My grandfather actually passed away about three years ago now, and my grandma was on her way to the facility he was at, and she got a flat tire. And nothing was going to stop her from going there as he was passing. She drove on a flat tire. And Pete came out to fix it, and no questions asked, no money, no nothing, just kindness of his own heart.”

That compassion for community is what makes saying goodbye so hard.

“I could probably speak for my dad and my brother, it’s been great for all the customers we had, a lot of loyal customers, and they still are, and I hope it continues to be that way because we’ve been blessed and very fortunate for the ones we’ve had,” says Pete.

Taking over the garage is Pete’s employee Mike Gilson, who is well aware of the legacy he is inheriting and is honored to do so.

“Because I’ve got tremendous shoes to fill. There is no way that -- every time that phone rings somebody goes, ‘Is Pete there?’ and sooner or later I’m going to have to say, ‘Pete’s not here,’ but I still want Pete to be here,” says Mike.

Which Pete will be from now on as a loyal customer and the garage’s biggest cheerleader.

“As far as it goes, this place is going to stay the same, the name on the building is going to stay the same, and I believe the quality of the service will be the same, maybe better. I don’t want to say better, but I think it will be great,” says Pete with a smile.