Of all the dealers who have volunteered to head NADA over the past century, Fred W.A. Vesper stands out.
One of the 30 dealers whose lobbying before Congress in 1917 led to the formation of NADA, Vesper shaped the structure and culture of the trade association as its second president in 1918 and 1919.
He returned during the depths of the Depression when NADA was on the brink, serving three more terms from 1933 through 1935. Between his first and second stints as president, he was NADA's treasurer and traveled the country recruiting dealers to join the association.
Four other dealers have been two-term NADA presidents. Vesper held the reins for five terms.
NADA members knew Vesper for his innovation and energy, and for creating one of Buick's largest dealerships.
But in his adopted city of St. Louis, Vesper wasn't just an auto dealer. "F.W.A.," the initials he preferred his friends to call him by, was better known as a prize-winning cattle breeder, patron of the arts and civic booster.
Born in 1873 in Lawrence, Kan., Vesper spent his early career on the move through Kansas, Minnesota, Illinois, Texas, Michigan and Missouri. He owned a bicycle shop in Topeka, Kan., until John Deere Co. hired him in 1894 to head its entry into bicycle production. By 1906, Vesper was vice president and general manager of Northern Rock Plow Co.
He entered the auto industry in 1909 as Texas district manager of Buick Motor Co., and became Buick's advertising manager in 1912. Two years later, he opened a Buick dealership in St. Louis, where he and his wife, Margaret, put down roots to raise their daughter, Josephine.
In addition to his positions with NADA, Vesper was president of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce in 1921-1922.
Buying a dairy farm he called Fredmar (combining the names Fred and Margaret), Vesper became a crack Holstein breeder. He racked up multiple national awards for bull bloodlines and milk production.
As a National Dairy Asso-ciation board member, he was instrumental in bringing the National Holstein Show to St. Louis in 1929 and persuading the city to build a permanent palace for the show. For all that Vesper meant to NADA, he's in the Missouri Dairy Hall of Honors as a cattleman.