Visitation is 6-8 p.m., Friday, Feb. 14 at the A.J. Desmond & Sons Funeral Home on Woodward Avenue in Royal Oak. A funeral service is planned for 11 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 15 at the First United Methodist Church on Maple Road in Birmingham.
Remembering George Stephen Matick, Jr.
Founder of George Matick Chevrolet
“Like a rock.”
Indeed, that popular 10-year-running Chevrolet theme song by Bob Seger that touted the dependable, strong, solid characteristics of the Chevy pickup truck also could have been written to describe George Matick Chevrolet dealership founder George Stephen Matick, Jr.
“Like a rock” were the exact words used to describe Matick by his wife and three daughters as they gathered recently to reflect on Matick’s prolific life both on the car-industry stage and off, raising a family and enjoying boating, golfing, his dogs (including the lovable recent shelter-rescue, “Chuck”), games of gin rummy and gatherings with high school, college and dealership buddies Frank, Jimmy, Al, Steve, Norm, Terry, etc., all of whom he cherished.
Matick died peacefully in his Bloomfield Township, Michigan home Feb. 9 with his wife, Kathryn “Katie” (Kathryn Lee Murdick) at his side after a full day of visiting with daughters and family following a 22-month-long battle with cancer. He was 86.
Matick was born on Oct. 23, 1927 in Detroit and grew up in the Hazel Park area. He graduated in 1951 from Hillsdale College with a degree in business. At Hillsdale, he was a member of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity.
Following his first semester at college, Matick left school to serve his country from 1945-46 in the 11th United States Army Airborne, which took him to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Benning in Georgia, and Sapporo and Hokkaido, Japan, among other places.
“He was a paratrooper, if you can imagine that,” recalls Matick’s sister-in-law, Elizabeth “Betty” Matick of Bloomfield Hills (she was married to Matick’s brother, Bob). “I was so impressed with that and if you asked George to tell you what it was like to be a paratrooper, he’d joke and say things like, ‘It’s a good thing there’s someone behind you pushing you to pull the cord because otherwise you might not do it.’ He had a great sense of humor. He also told us that he wanted to be a paratrooper because he didn’t want to ‘walk through the war as an infantryman.’ No walking for him.”
Betty met George in 1946 right after he returned from the service and before he re-enrolled at Hillsdale College. “The brothers (George and Bob) were very close.”
Dealerships in the Making
Following graduation, Matick returned to Detroit to work for his father, George Matick, Sr., at Northwest Motor Sales, a Dodge dealership on Grand River Avenue in northwest Detroit. Bob Matick also worked for his dad and eventually left to open a Chevrolet dealership in Branford, Connecticut.
“But they both worked somewhere else first because their dad insisted on it,” Betty recalls. “He said, ‘You go work for someone else and then come to me and we’ll talk.’”
Their father, George Matick, Sr., was a Croatian immigrant who had sold cars for a living. He was 13 when he arrived to America, walking from Ellis Island in New York straight to Milwaukee. “He threw his papers away,” Betty recalls, “and said he’d never need them again, so he never was really sure of his birth date.”
George Matick, Sr. — and many like him at that time — helped to define the American dream. “If he were living today,” Betty says, “and saw how folks today believe that it’s who you know that gets you places and not how hard you work, well, he’d really be shocked and saddened. We all had great respect for him, and he passed down those characteristics to his children, who in turn have done the same.”
Through diligence and determination, George Matick, Sr. became a sales manager and then general manager of a Chevrolet dealership on Woodward Avenue in Detroit before buying his own Dodge franchise.
It wasn’t long before George Matick, Jr., who “started in the parts department at his dad’s dealership,” recalls wife Katie, also followed in his father's footsteps. “His dad wanted him to work his way up the ladder,” she says, “and not just get a top job because he was the dealer’s son.”
Adds Betty: “The Matick sons learned the business from the ground up, but they also already knew a lot about automobiles because they were around them all the time. Pop (George Matick, Sr.) always had different cars in his driveway — that was part of the boys’ lives.”
Their father passed away at age 65 when Matick was only 28 years old, leaving him and Bob to complete their training on the job and on their own.
While Americans continued buying more and more cars and trucks through the 1950s and 1960s, consumers began to demonstrate their preference for what became known as America’s brand: Chevrolet.
So, in 1967, Matick purchased a Chevrolet dealership — Paul McGlone Chevrolet — on Joy and Evergreen roads on the west side of Detroit. Success came almost immediately and soon after, a larger facility became necessary.
In 1977, just months before the opening of I-96 at Telegraph Road, George Matick Chevrolet bought the building and property for what is now the dealership’s current location in Redford Township.
With more than two acres of floor space under one roof, the dealership, a former Topps department store with an adjacent Farmer Jack grocery, has long been recognized as the “largest indoor showroom in Michigan.”
“That was an exciting day,” recalls Katie, his wife of almost 50 years. “He was so proud of that space — it was huge and went on forever, with dirt floors in some spots. Our young kids were running around and I was standing in awe at George and his accomplishments and vision.”
Matick had the vision of the high-volume, high-capacity facility long before anyone ever coined the term “super-store.”
Unlike many dealers of his generation, Matick never desired the limelight and was uncomfortable with self-promotion. He was far more comfortable supporting his leaders and team as a “coach of the fundamentals.” The hardworking entrepreneur was adamant about living by “the Golden Rule” and treating everyone he encountered with dignity and respect. He would never get visibly upset and instead stayed outwardly calm during even the most upsetting of circumstances.
While Matick was demanding and had high expectations for his staff and their performance, he was known for his big, soft heart, his keen sense of humor and the fun loving, twinkle in his eye. He was deeply loved by his staff, some of whom came from his old dealership and still work at George Matick Chevrolet today.
After more than 50 years in the retail automotive business, Matick retired from day-to-day involvement in the company in 1998, turning over the reins to business partner and son-in-law, Karl Zimmermann, of whom he was extremely proud.
Zimmermann purchased Matick’s remaining ownership interest in 2008. And Matick stayed current on all the details of Zimmermann’s expansion plans until he died.
Today, the Redford dealership ranks in the top one percent nationally of Chevy dealers for new-car sales. The dealership still features Michigan’s largest indoor new-car showroom with up to 100 vehicles parked inside at any time. Matick Chevy is undergoing a multi-million dollar renovation and recently opened a state-of-the-art body shop complex near the dealership.
“It’s an honor to see that these businesses were so successful for as long as they were,” Betty says. “My father-in-law working with his two sons — they learn and move on … none of that’s easy, and now George, Jr.’s business continues to be in family hands. That’s honorable.”
George Matick at Home
“George was a dependable, caring, conservative, protective, honorable, attentive, hardworking person and a wonderful husband,” says wife Katie, a former Birmingham schoolteacher who met George on a blind date in 1962. They married in Gaylord and were blessed with three daughters, including Sarah Zimmermann (married to Karl); Susan Baranowski (married to Tom); and Elizabeth Storrie (married to Scot).
“We were so excited that he met Katie and was getting married,” says Matick’s sister-in-law, Betty. “He was thrilled and we were more thrilled!”
“He was a great father and husband because he left his work at work,” Katie recalls, “even when times were tough, like during the labor strikes of the 1970s.”
Matick was a member of Orchard Lake Country Club in Orchard Lake Village, Michigan, where he had caddied as boy, hitchhiking back then all the way from Hazel Park. He and his wife enjoyed traveling all over the world and creating fond memories of going on trips with other car dealers and personnel to destinations such as Hawaii, Switzerland, Japan and China.
A lover of “the latest car,” Matick seemed to always have a convertible parked in his garage and adored driving his Corvettes well into his 80s. “He loved the classy, sharp hotrods,” Katie notes.
Matick recognized the value of solid friendships and made it a point to stay in touch with several pals from high school and college. Every week until recently, he would meet them at the Clawson Steak House, to reminisce about old times and enjoy a good meal served by Barbara, his favorite waitress.
“He also loved golf and playing gin rummy,” note his daughters, “but it was more about just being with people and enjoying the spirit of the game, rather than the competition and winning. He was all about the banter, joking and being with his buddies, enjoying a drink and cigar after a round of golf.”
Boating outings also ranked high on Matick’s list, whether with friends and/or family. He and Katie own vacation homes in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Harbor Springs, Michigan. They kept boats at both locations.
Matick is son of the late George and Josephine Matick. He is survived by his wife, three daughters and their spouses as well as grandchildren Max, 13; Anna, 11; George, 6; Will, 6; and Sam, 3; sister-in-law Elizabeth “Betty” Matick; niece Suzanne Matick and her daughter, Isabel; nephew James “Jim” Matick and his children, Tammy Dinatale and Jim Matick.