Charlie Diers, the owner of Fremont’s Ford dealership, was one of six Ford dealers, selected from a pool of 60 nominees worldwide, to be honored with an award celebrating community service from the Ford Motor Company.
Diers was selected as part of Ford’s Salute to Dealers Awards, which honors Ford dealers who “step beyond their showroom doors to make a difference in their communities,” according to a press release.
“We’ve had some other acknowledgements over the years of things that we’ve been involved in,” Diers told the Tribune. “But this stands out.”
Diers took over the Fremont dealership in 1964 at age 26 — then the youngest Ford dealer in the U.S.A., Diers says.
“I’m a farm kid who learned early that it’s not work when you’re doing something you enjoy,” Diers said. “From sitting on my grandfather’s lap steering a Model A to driving one down Main Street in a parade in my hometown, I’ve found joy in this business. One of the most remarkable parts has been what it’s enabled us to do in the community.”
Among his most notable contributions to the city of Fremont was a donation of 20 acres of his own family’s farmland for the creation of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
“Our farm site was immediately adjacent on the east side of town and that’s kind of the side of the town that was growing, and we saw an opportunity to really help out there, so we donated 20 acres of land and we went to work with it,” Diers said.
A few of the Diers family’s farm buildings were torn down for the project, Diers said, but “it was time for them to come down,” he added. Diers also helped to raise money and get the project off the ground. The farm house where he was born and raised in is still standing.
“I think at the time, we had built the largest Catholic Church in Nebraska,” Diers said. “And we’re in a town of 26,000 people, so what we put together was quite an achievement. We didn’t just build a church, we didn’t just donate 20 acres. It’s the way that it was situated on the land, and only five years later, right across the street, we built a new catholic elementary school that mimics the design and so forth of the church, so we really opened the east end of Fremont — we really opened it up.”
Diers and his wife, Mary Lou, have remained involved in St. Patrick’s. Every year for the last 47 years, they’ve donated a new vehicle to the annual St. Patrick’s Fun Festival, raising more than $1 million. They also have endowed scholarships at three universities — Nebraska Wesleyan University, Midland University and, Diers’ alma mater, Creighton University.
Over the course of his time in business, Diers has served on the board of the Father Flanagan League and has also supported a slew of area organizations, including Fremont Area United Way, Fremont Area YMCA, Habitat for Humanity and the Fremont Health Foundation. His family’s also remained active in the Archdiocese of Omaha, raising money for education grants and for low-income students to attend Catholic schools. He’s a founding member of the Fremont Area Community Foundation and the Greater Fremont Development Council.
Diers says that his desire to give back to the community grew from his positive experiences in the auto industry.
“The community has been very good to us,” he said. “Learning from being on many different boards of what other people are doing, it really opens your eyes to be involved in many different activities, it helped us, and in particular me, to realize that it’s time to give back.”