In the early 1920’s, Robert Rockenbach got his start in the car business by opening Grayslake Garage. By all accounts, Robert was an enterprising individual, and an important member of the local community.
A village trustee in Grayslake, Robert was always willing to lend a helping hand to a neighbor, according to his granddaughter Gail Rockenbach Vitols, who is president of Rockenbach Chevrolet today.
That trait has dictated the course, and the core beliefs, of the business for more than three quarters of a century.
In the mid 1920’s Rockenbach gathered together the resources, and opened the doors of Rockenbach Chevrolet Sales as its sole owner in 1926. His young son Doug was right by his side, learning the business from the ground up. He worked in all areas of the business after school, and during summer vacations.
Tragedy Changes the Course of the Business
In February of 1944, Robert offererd to help plow the streets of Grayslake after a big storm hit, and was tragically killed due to an equipment malfunction. Gail said a resolution was passed by the village honoring him for all of his contributions, and selfless work in the Grayslake community.
To keep Robert’s dream alive, his brothers Rodney and George, along with his son Doug, bought the business.
Through the following years, Doug worked to buy his uncles out, and gradually became the sole owner of the business his father pioneered.
His son Gary, Gail’s younger brother, worked with Doug side-by-side as the vice president and general manager starting in 1987 and oversaw the building of the dealer’s new [and current] location at 1000 E. Belvedere Road as the business expanded.
Sadly, Gary died in July of 1995, and after a conversation with her father, Gail, who had worked in international logistics and customs, said she felt strongly that Rockebach should continue as a family-run business as Doug looked towards retirement.
Doug, and his principles for running the business, remain an important part of the business to this day, according to Gail.
“My father is probably the most honest and ethical person I’ve known in my life, he is not naïve, he’s just one of those people who looks you in the eye and tells you what it is, and that’s what it is,” Gail said.
"That was likely the key to his success in running Rockenbach for so many years, and something I pride myself in continuing," she said.
Rockenbach Gives Back to the Community
Gail also continues the giving nature that was exemplified by her grandfather, even in his death, which also has become a signature of the business.
For more than a dozen years, Rockenbach has held a used car giveaway for graduating high school seniors at Grayslake Central and Grayslake North, in addition to Round Lake High School.
The names of students who hold at least a “B” average, have no disciplinary actions against them or unexcused absences and are involved in at least one extra curricular activity, get put into a hat to and a winner is drawn each year.
“We want to encourage and reward students who continually are doing the right thing,” Gail said.
College scholarships of $1,000 each also are funded by Rockenbach to graduating seniors at the three area high schools.
“Rockebach is a community business, we want to do what we can to help the community at-large; my grandfather believed in this, as does my father and myself,” Gail said.
Other causes that Rockenbach rallies behind are the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, Youth Baseball program, local church activities and events, as well as the Grayslake Library board, which Gail sits on as a board member.
“Our commitment to the community, and our customers has remained. The simple business principles are what’s it is all about to me,” Gail said.
“There’s nothing fancy, we just have to always remember where we came from, and if not for generations of customers from near and far, we wouldn’t be here,” she said. “That’s why we keep our core beliefs of treating everyone well, conducting extensive training for our employees and always conducting ourselves at the highest standard in business.”
Editor’s Note: A Driving Legacy is a series showcasing family-owned automotive dealerships with deep roots in their communities. It is part of the Patch mission to celebrate the people, businesses and traditions that are the foundation of our lives. If you would like to be included in this series, please contact Senior Regional Editor Tara Tesimu at email@example.com.