When owner Tom Suntrup popped into an a tiny sales office at Suntrup Ford in West Port recently, he was there to issue a birthday greeting in person. This was no ordinary blow-out-the-candles type of affair.
Suntrup wanted to pump the hand of his long-time salesman and friend Bob Soell—pronounced "sell," as in selling Ford automobiles.
Soell recently blew out 95 candles on his cake. He has rarely missed a day of work since then. This is Soell’s 64th year of employment with Ford Motor Co.
He was born in 1917, and it has been quite a ride. He said he figures he will work past age 100, "the good Lord willing."
“My (late) wife saw a segment on the Johnny Carson show where he was talking to a Chevy salesman who was 102 years old. I don't want to beat that record, I want to tie it,” Soell said. “I think mentally I can make it, I don’t know about physically.”
Soell bounds around Suntrup Ford like a 25-year-old porter. To this day, he installs license plates, front and back, on new trucks and automobiles he’s sold.
“I’ve done 60,000 so far,” he said proudly.
How does he know?
“I have kept a record of every single vehicle I’ve sold all those years,” said Soell, perusing some well-worn folders.
He is a product of the post-Depression era. His father, John Soell, was a vice president of the Portland Cement Co. He made and lost a fortune pouring concrete on Highway 66 from Missouri to California.
The family owned some 70 acres of land in the Orchards of Olivette. Ladue had no formal secondary schools then. So the junior Soell and his brothers attended the old Clayton High School on Morrow Avenue, long before the campus was rebuilt where it stands today on Mark Twain Circle near Ladue Road.
Soell was a basketball star of sorts. Back then, the game was slow and tactical, and there was a jump ball after each goal. On Jan. 5, 1960 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports section glanced back to a day 25 years earlier, in 1935, when the lanky and lean guard hit the winning basket over University City, 21-20.
Soell played basketball for the U.S. Navy in Bainbridge, MD, during World War II. After the war, he immersed himself in the fledgling professional basketball leagues. Founded in 1930, the National Basketball League was far ahead of any thoughts of the present NBA.
Soell played and coached with the St. Louis Blues (yes, the Blues were a basketball team then, not a hockey team), and he was a ringleader with the Clayton Elks in helping to lure Ben Kerner and the Milwaukee Hawks to St. Louis.
Then Soell made a living promoting local appearances by the Harlem Globetrotters. He palled around often with sports broadcaster Harry Carey.
“Harry would call me up at 3 in the morning in Chicago and tell me to meet him for a late night out on Rush Street,” Soell said.
In 1948, he walked into Fred Evans Ford down on Lindell. He wanted to buy a post-war automobile. The management told him that if he could read and write, he could become their first salesman.
He has run fleet operations and sold thousands upon thousands of vehicles. He is one of 50 people to have been inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame and has been named one of Ford’s 50 most important people.
In 1951, he married and tried to get a job with the old St. Louis Browns baseball team. Team owner Bill Veeck sent him a very nice letter of rejection.
“If I had it over, I wouldn’t have changed a thing,” Soell said. He has lived in the same house on Stoneleigh Towers in Olivette for 51 years. He doesn’t have a computer or a cellphone. Each day, he gets dressed, loads up the Crown Victoria and goes to work at Suntrup Ford on Page and Lindbergh in Westport.
Happy birthday, Bob Soell. Here’s hoping there are many, many more candles on that cake.