Gene Baxter was an Iowa Crosley dealer in the late 1940s, and a wheeler-dealer. In fact, his Baxter Motors in Durant, Iowa started the short-lived Crosley Owners Club in 1948. In May of 1936, when he was sweet on Vern Ann Hering, he struck up a deal. "What if she doesn't accept it?" Gene asked the Durant jeweler as he eyed an engagement ring. "I'll buy it back," the jeweler said. "And if she accepts it, I'll buy a Plymouth coupe."
Having been in the car business only a couple of years then and already used to taking horses in on trade for new tractors, Gene was pretty confident.
"I slipped that ring on her finger," he says. "What I'd done right there, I got a wife and sold a car."
Gene and Vern live in the southeast Cedar Rapids house they've called home for 49 years, and this August 22, Gene and Vern Ann Baxter will have been married 76 years.
It began Jan. 17, 1936, during Iowa's coldest winter. Vern Ann was a registered nurse after receiving her degree in 1935 from Mercy Hospital in Davenport, and needed a car to care for patients in Plainview and Durant. Her stepfather found her a Ford coupe without a heater. "My mother said, `There's a new dealer down the street. Maybe they'll have a heater,'" Vern Ann said.
That dealer was C.E. Baxter and Sons. Gene said, "My brother Albert came in. `Boy, I met a slick chick today. You better meet her.'" Gene talked Vern Ann and two friends into letting him show them the town. "We looked at it as if we hadn't seen it before."
Vern Ann got the heater for $16 installed. (Gene bought them 48 at a time.) After their wedding day, Aug. 22, 1936, with $200 in savings they drove to the West Coast and back for a two-week honeymoon. Gas was 19 cents a gallon, so they returned with $22.11.
Gene became a Chrysler-Plymouth distributor. He opened Baxter Motors, Inc. at 829 Second Ave. SE, and later moved to a new building at 629 A Ave. NE, selling Crosleys, Chrysler products and Mack trucks.
They had three children, Bill, now 70 of Cedar Rapids, Rick, 65, of Marion, and Barbara Thomsen, 63, who lives on a farm near Ryan.
They sold the dealership in 1963, and the Chrysler-Plymouth-John Deere-Maytag business they started in 1943 in Coggon IA in 1978. They also had an RV, snowmobile, boat and motorcycle business in Manchester for 14 years and an RV dealership in Coralville for 11 years.
In 1979 they retired. Gene loves socializing with folks he's known for decades and those he's just met. His big day is April Fools because he likes to pull little pranks to make everyone smile.
Gene turned 99 on June 18; Vern Ann will on Nov. 24. While her father died of kidney disease at age 38, longevity runs in Gene's family. His sister, Florence McChesney of Phoenix, is 102.