NEWS

End of the road

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital
End of the road

Auto parts sold by Monger Brothers store have helped motorists stay mobile around town for more than 92 years.

Before that, a livery stable operating at the future Monger Brothers location offered repairs and services to non-motorized travelers.

The building at 301 W. Main St. — on the northeast corner of a block on Pawhuska’s primary drag — originally housed an automotive dealership. Resurrected as a parts and supply store, it became a hub of local activity. The building was even used as a polling site for many elections.

Nancy Woodyard knows the company history and wishes she hadn’t been the one in charge when the business wheels came off.

“I’m not happy about it, but we’ve gone about as far as we can go,” Woodyard said. “Still, it is really a hard thing to do.”

First opened in 1924, Monger Brothers Auto Supply is scheduled to close its doors on Monday, Feb. 29. Woodyard said she stubbornly remained in business longer than she probably should have while hoping the local economy would improve.

“My accountant told me I ought to shut things down three years ago,” said Woodyard. “Our customer base has been pretty much wiped out.

“All of those oilfield-related trucks we used to keep running, well, they’re not running any more,” she added.

Woodyard’s acquisition of the Monger Brothers store in September 2003 hadn’t exactly been a calculated business decision. After serving a superintendent of Pawhuska Schools from 1990 to 2001, she had taken over as interim director of the local Chamber of Commerce — which, at the time, was officed in a Main Street building directly across from the auto parts store.

“O’Dell and Eileen (Monger) still owned it then, but they were wanting to retire,” Woodyard recalled. “They were fixtures in this community — and just wonderful people, which they still are.”

Woodyard said the Mongers — who now reside in Pryor — kept telling her that she needed to buy the auto parts store. It started out as being about half in jest, but eventually turned into a serious proposition.

“Finally, I did buy it,” Woodyard said.

‘NO REGRETS’

Despite the business’s present situation, she said she does not regret the purchase.

“This has been the most fun of anything I’ve ever done,” Woodyard said. “Being affiliated with NAPA (National Automotive Parts Association) has been just wonderful.”

Founded in 1925, NAPA is a retailers’ cooperative distributing automotive replacement parts, accessories and service items. Woodyard said the company provides quality parts (American-made, if possible) at reasonable prices and “they treat their employees right.”

She mentioned some remodeling she had had done at the store before adding that the building remains much the same as when she arrived — and probably for quite a while before that. Original glass in an interior garage-style door dates back to about the 1930s; multi-level storage areas are still covered by what seems to be every conceivable size of belts, hoses, etc.

“That’s actually one of the problems,” Woodyard said. “Belts on these newer vehicles are not designed to be replaced by a regular, everyday car owner.”

For decades, the auto parts business may have evolved like the Monger Brothers’ telephone number. A 1930’s telephone directory lists the store number as 158 — which remain the last three digits of its current number: 918-287-4(158). Woodyard marvels at the efficiency of the store’s computerized inventory system. Unfortunately, the system’s accuracy offers further confirmation of the business’s grim bottom line.

Woodyard intends to put the property up for sale, but she isn’t optimistic about the current market.

“I’m probably going to own it for a while — until the economy improves,” she said.

At the west end of Monger Brothers’ facility — which actually is a second, connected building from where the parts’ store is operated — Woodyard pointed to the concrete floor and remembered something she had been told by O’Dell Monger.

“He said his father (Floyd Monger) remembered watching them pour this floor over the area that had once been a livery stable,” she said. “That’s when you really can’t help but think about how long this has all been going on here.”

MODEL T ERA

Brothers Floyd and Milo Monger arrived in Pawhuska in 1923 with the intentions of starting a business in the prospering community. With $2,000 they had borrowed from their father and their bonus money from World War I, they opened Monger Bros. Auto Supply on Jan. 1, 1924, at 714 N. Kihekah — which is now Weigant’s Pharmacy.

“Since this was four years before the Model A Ford was manufactured, the Monger brothers established a battery and electrical service business,” Odell Monger said.

He said his father and uncle Milo also sold a few shovels and service items, explaining that the shovels were for digging the cars out of mud holes — which was often necessary in those days. Floyd Monger’s business college experience and his brother’s mechanical ability helped make the venture a success. In 1932, Milo moved his family to Ponca City and opened Monger Auto Supply — although he maintained close ties with his brother. That same year was when Pawhuska’s Monger Bros. store was moved to its longtime location at the corner of West Main and Mathews Avenue.

Pawhuska-born Odell Monger served two years in the U.S. Navy and studied business management at Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State U) before returning to Pawhuska in 1951 with his college bride, Eileen, and assurances by his father that his future would be in the family business. Odell implemented several technological improvements at the store and went on to purchase the family business in 1962. Wife Eileen worked closely with the business for three decades before retiring.

Floyd Monger — who during his lifetime had served on the Pawhuska City Council and as Mayor — died in 1977. In 1986, the Mongers expanded the business to Tulsa as Monger Pro Color, which became a major distributor for DuPont Paint. The Pro Color business was sold in 1996.

Larry McBride has been employed at Monger Brothers, “off and on,” for more than 40 years.

“Probably, more like 45,” said McBride, who began working at the store in 1963 when he was a high school senior.

He said the reference to the store as Monger “Bros.” has continued to bring to mind the businesses’ founding in the 1920s.

“It’s kind of amazing that the original two brothers had watched them pour a floor in this building years before the business moved down here,” said McBride. “That’s been a long while back — and we’re still right here.

Having seen the business during its thriving times (he remembers multiple family-connected stores located in Ponca City, Tulsa and Shidler), the longtime employee said it’s “a little hard to believe” that the end is drawing near.

“I thought we would make it to 100 years,” McBride said.