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Updated 3:45 p.m. PT, 1/6]
[NOTE TO READERS: This article will be updated as LCT gathers more information and commemorative comments. Readers are welcome to leave comments below this article].
By the calendar, he was 99, but only 11 days shy of his 100th birthday. Froeschle was born Jan. 11, 1916, about five years after the first mass-produced consumer cars hit U.S. roads. A resident of Carson, he died of natural causes after a brief hospital stay.
A celebration of life in honor of Bob Froeschle will be held Saturday, Jan. 9 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Coach West, 1029 E. Dominguez St., Carson, Calif., 90746, (310) 609-2900.
Froeschle worked at multiple auto dealerships in Southern California since he started in 1939 at a Cadillac dealership in Santa Ana. But he was best known in the limousine industry as a salesman for Coach West in Carson, about 15 miles south of Los Angeles, where he was hired in 1989 at age 73. He had started selling stretch limousines in 1980 for another distributor, and eventually sold all types of limos, buses, funeral vehicles and chauffeured cars to clients along the West Coast.
“He had to teach a lot of people how to drive when he first started selling cars,” said Jay Real, owner and CEO of Coach West, who hired Froeschle. “Driving was still new to a lot of people back then.”
Froeschle embodied stamina, longevity, consistency and sheer joy of living. He regularly delivered vehicles to clients up to age 94, drove his own car until age 98, and worked steadily selling vehicles until the summer of 2015. “He and I had a joke that he had a contract here until he turned 100,” Real told LCT. “He was just an icon. He was usually the first one in the office, and the last one to leave.”
Froeschle’s sales approach was defined by a sense of humor and loyalty to the customer, Real said. “He was a fatherly figure to a lot of people. He was in his 70s when he joined us, and touched a lot of people.”
One longtime client who entered the limousine business in 1991 with very little experience recalled Bob’s generosity. Baurice Nelson started a limousine service in Olympia, Wash., in 1991 and needed a stretch. In 1992, Nelson bought a one-way airline ticket to Los Angeles and carried a newspaper where he had circled an advertisement mentioning Bob and Coach West. “I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Nelson, owner of Capital West Limousines. “I didn’t have a car, so Bob loaned me this little pick-up truck that you could use to take stuff to the dump. He let me use it for a few days to go to all the places with limos for sale. But I ended up buying two limos from Bob, and almost every limo since I’ve gotten from him. I’d hook up with Bob anytime I went down there."
Froeschle even officiated at Nelson’s wedding along Venice Beach in 2012. “I loved that guy a lot and he was a giant part of my life, even if it was only a few days at a time," Nelson recalled. "I enjoyed many years hanging out with him and always tried to include him in at least a lunch when I was going through California. I am really happy he was able to perform my wedding ceremony. While I was concerned he would forget some lines, he was beyond on top of it. He did keep eating all the booze-filled fruit until he went to sleep, and then he couldn't feel his hand for a while. I was concerned I may have killed him at that point.”
Bob often would drive the limousines Nelson purchased to Olympia. “He’d drive up here smoking his pipe and deliver the limo. He’d spend the night, cook us dinner and hang out a few days.”
Froeschle also enjoyed a side career as a musician, starting with a violin in high school but then playing bass for the rest of his life, according to an article in the Autumn 2011 issue of The Score magazine. He took up bass after one fateful night during a high school play when the scenery collapsed into the orchestra pit and crushed his violin. Bass was the only instrument available, so he took it up and played it from then on.
Froeschle first journeyed to California in 1934 to live with his sister, a schoolteacher. While traveling by bus through Wilcox, Arizona, a monsoon rain flooded the road and swept the bus away in a flash food. Although other passengers died in the accident, Bob held on and was rescued. After arriving in Orange County, he joined a jazz band. Through the rest of the 1930s and far beyond, he played in jazz bands at dance clubs and restaurants, the article reported.
Froeschle joined the Orange County Musicians’ Association, also known as Local 7 of the American Federation of Musicians, in 1936 and became a lifetime member in 1956. He was part of the first union team that negotiated a musicians’ contract with Disneyland in 1955, and his band regularly played at the Balboa Bay Club when it was just a cement slab covered by a tent. The union local recognized him in 2011 with a special award for 75 years of service and membership, according to the magazine.
The article said of Bob, "Regular attendees of Local 7 meetings are drawn to him, not only by his elegant presence, but also his outgoing manner and willingness to share a joke (not always respectable in mixed company) with his fellow members."
A business feature article published in the Daily Breeze newspaper of Torrance, Calif., on July 3, 2007 best captured Froeschle’s approach to life and work. [Note: By coincidence, LCT editor Martin Romjue was business editor of the newspaper at the time, six months before joining LCT].
CLASSY CARS, CLASSIC LIFE: At 91, Carson limo salesman still has a knack for delivering luxury — and jokes
On Bob Froeschle 's desk sits a fist-sized paperweight that looks like a giant Viagra tablet. In front of the oversized pill is a framed photograph of the Carson resident seemingly passed out in the back seat of a limousine.
He also has a brown hairy wig in his desk.
Froeschle , 91, is a man of many stories and jokes. He is part avuncular, part mischievous, with many of his jokes inappropriate for a family newspaper. For the past 16 years, Froeschle has worked as a salesman at Coach West, a Carson limousine dealership.
The son of a German Methodist minister and homemaker mother, Froeschle moved from Granite City, Ill., to Southern California in 1935 to live close to his brother and sister. In 1939, he took a job as a salesman at a Cadillac dealership in Santa Ana, while playing stand-up bass in a jazz band on the side. Froeschle no longer plays in a band, but he still sells vehicles.
What does your job entail?
First thing is selling product. The other is just whatever needs to be done. If a car needs to be delivered or picked up.
Who are your customers?
Eighty-five to 90% of our sales are to limousine services. The others are for company CEOs and people who just want to have a limousine. I sold a used one to a bed and breakfast that's going to take their guests on wine tours. There's still a certain mystique about limousines. When you pull up in a limousine, everybody looks.
How has your business changed over the years?
We're seeing a change in the models. We're selling more SUVs than we used to. The kids want to have that kind of a look.
What's the most expensive limousine you sell?
Limousine buses. They run from $175,000 to $195,000.
What's your favorite limousine?
The 120-inch extension. It's when they add 120 inches between the front doors and back doors of a sedan. The 120-inch is the traditional model. That's the kind you take if you want to go out to dinner or an anniversary or wedding. You get usually four people into that comfortably. But you can probably squeeze eight in there if you really want to.
How much does a 120-inch limousine cost?
That runs in the $70,000s.
How has your age affected your job?
I'm not as agile as I used to be. People probably treat me a little bit kinder than someone who is 85. I've never thought of quitting, unless I'm forced to. But when you're 91 and single, you don't have any 'honey-dos.' So it makes life a little simpler.
Since you mentioned it, how are you doing with the ladies?
The ladies, you know, I beat them back with a stick. But I have a defense. I tell them at my age I can't take yes for an answer.
Does the wig in your desk scare kids?
Oh, yes. It scares me.
What's the best part of your job?
What's the worst part?
When you can't convince someone to buy what you're trying to sell them.
If you could have any other job, what would it be?
It would be the same thing. That's all I've ever done.
How do you stay young at heart?
Being around young people and not taking yourself too seriously. I have an awful lot of people who take care of me. I have quite a few mother hens, so I can't get away with too much. It's nice when you have people 50 years younger than you looking out for you.
Anything else you want to say about yourself?
I'm taking Spanish lessons from Harbor College every Monday. I know the dirty words, but I don't know the good words. So I have to be careful.
Source: Daily Breeze, Torrance, Calif.
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