Slight, slender, sharp-featured Guy S. Garber, with his crinkly smile, became one of the nation’s leading auto dealers and a Saginaw legend in business and community betterment.
In his time he knew many of the chieftains of the auto industry on a first-name basis. Top officials of General Motors sometimes referred to him as “Buick’s No. 1 salesman.” His original Garber Buick Company in Saginaw, as he built it from the auto industry’s early days, was considered a GM model for salesmanship, efficiency, and service. None of the accolades he received for his business and civic endeavors pleased him more than being known by the man in the street and the mechanic in his shop, or the salesman in the showroom, as a “square-shooter, a regular guy.” This description came frequently.
Garber was born March 5, 1884, on a farm near Eaton Rapids, Michigan. When he was nine years old, he started a popcorn route. It prospered, so his grandfather built him a regular wooden stand which he stocked with popcorn and candy. Next he sold newspapers on the street corners in nearby Lansing.
His next move, when he was still in his teens, was to enter the farm implement business with his father. A major farm implement manufacturer heard about “that young fellow Garber” and signed him on. The way he handled this job was enough recommendation for the late Will C. Durant who helped found the General Motors empire. Durant hired him. In 1907 Garber became Buick’s traveling representative. His job was to establish distributorships, agencies, and dealerships in what then was still the horse-and-buggy era. In 1912 he became Buick distributor in Saginaw. As such he supplied dealers in more than half of Michigan’s land area. Until 1965 he held the only original dealer-distributor contract with GM Buick Motor Division. He had been Buick distributor more than fifty years in 45 Michigan counties.
He was the first president of the Michigan Automobile Dealers Association, which he helped organize. He also was president of the Saginaw Automobile Dealers Association. He was one of the organizers of the Michigan Automobile Dealers Exchange, which became the Automobile Club of Michigan. He served in both world wars on the Saginaw County War Board. And he helped steer success of the Liberty Bond campaign of World War I and bond drives of World War II. He was a former president and director of the Greater Saginaw Chamber of Commerce.
Garber was one of the organizers of the Saginaw Welfare League and a leader in other community fund-raising efforts. He founded the Saginaw Society for Crippled Children and for more than 30 years was its president. He gave the Society its bay side summer home for crippled children at Linwood.
For many years a Saginaw downtown holiday tradition was the annual Christmas party he gave for crippled children at his automobile showroom where business was suspended for the day and Santa Claus took over festivities. For years he helped guide the Saginaw YMCA. He served on the former West Side Board of Education and helped in consolidation of east and west side school districts. While on the West Side School Board, he sold colleagues on the idea of a special room for handicapped children. One was installed at the old John Moore School. Success of Garber’s idea was carried over in Handley School’s orthopedics room which won state-wide recognition.
The Garber tennis courts near Andersen Pool on Ezra Rust Drive were his donations to the city. His liking for baseball and appreciation of what the game could mean to a boy was evidenced back in the days of the old Saginaw Aces professional baseball team which flourished for a time after World War I. In the long-gone ball park near the west end of the Johnson Street bridge, Garber paid for construction along the left field foul line of a special grandstand which used to be called “Kid’s Roost.” Admission was only a dime. Of a sunny summer afternoon, Garber sometimes was seen seated in the park’s nearby main grandstand, grinning as he watched appreciative youngsters whoop it up in the special stand he had built for them.
Garber had a nimble and most graceful sense of humor. He never was one to talk much about what he had done or the success and respect he had earned. At a testimonial dinner honoring him in Saginaw in 1957, the more than 200 guests included some of GM’s top echelon officials. Saginaw civic business and industrial leaders on the same occasion added their expressions of acclaim for what he had done in business and as a Saginaw humanitarian. Garber heard them out, smiling as he toyed with his napkin on the table. When it was his turn to respond, he arose. “The least I can say,” he grinned referring to all the fragrant verbal bouquets about him, “is that I am among friends.”
He married Hazel Denyes in Saginaw on October 12, 1911. They raised a family of four sons and two daughters. Garber died December 5, 1965, in Saginaw at the age of 81.