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Small-Town Success: M.J. Goss Motor Company in La Grande, Ore., Celebrates 100 Years

Published September 6, 2022

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Sheryll Poe

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As far as nicknames go, “Studebaker Goss” suggests plenty about Milo Jasper “M.J.” Goss III, the founder of M.J. Goss Motor Company.

But what it doesn’t convey is his dedication, hard work and the entrepreneurial spirit that has allowed his family dealership in La Grande, Oreg., to reach 100 years in business.

“He was a die-hard Studebaker guy,” says Mark Goss, grandson of M.J. Goss and current owner of M.J. Goss Motor Company. “He had that franchise until 1952 and dropped it for Oldsmobile and Chevrolet.”

Born in Prairieville, Mich., M.J. Goss made his way to La Grande in 1917 and began working for auto garages in the area and selling Studebakers for the Inland Motor Company. By 1922, Goss had bought out the agency and established M.J. Goss Motor Company in the former Blue Mountain Creamery building on Washington Avenue.

Throughout the 1920s, Goss added DeSotos, Plymouths and Oldsmobiles to the lineup. The then-rare multi-franchise dealership moved to its present location at 1415 Adams Avenue in 1932, and soon after World War II ended, Goss’ three sons—Milo Jasper “Bill” Jr., Robert Dale “Bob” and Kenton “Ken”—entered the family business.

In the early 1960s, Bob left to start his own dealership, and then Bill and his son Mark, the third generation to work at the dealership, bought out Ken’s share in 1981. “When I bought my uncle out, it wasn’t a good or desirable time, but it had to be done,” says Mark.

The Sometimes-Bumpy Road of Ownership

Mark, who got his business administration degree from Northwood University in Michigan in 1979, began managing the family business in his 20s, and guided the business through some of its toughest times, including the 1980s, when floor plan financing had interest rates as high as 20-21%.

One of the toughest periods came amid General Motors’ 2009 bankruptcy. “We had just bought out the other GM store in town in 2005 and combined them when they took Cadillac and Pontiac away. So that wasn’t very good timing,” Mark says. “But we survived it. You go through ups and downs in this business. Sometimes you’ve got to just hang on, and other times it’s really good.”

After “40-something years of decision making,” Mark is now looking ahead to the next generation to take over the Chevrolet, Buick and GMC dealership that has grown and expanded to properties on both sides of Adams Avenue.

Mark’s daughter, Tayde, and her husband, Kyle McAndie—who are among the 32 current employees at the dealership—are enrolling in NADA’s Academy program. “I want them to have the same opportunity that I did,” says Mark.

The entire Goss family, including cousins and grandchildren, recently got together to celebrate with their community, which has loyally supported the dealership for 100 years. More than 500 people came out to enjoy a performance by a live band and share a memories, beers, hamburgers and hot dogs at the community party held on the dealership’s car lot in July. The celebration coincided with the La Grande Classic Car Show—an annual event co-sponsored by M.J. Goss.

Through perseverance, hard work and integrity, the Goss family has built a business that reflects the values of its customers and community. “The first thing I tell employees when I hire them is to always tell the truth. I won’t tolerate dishonesty or lying to the customer,” Mark says. “Honesty and integrity, that’s how we operate and our employees know that.”

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