A good friend, Julie Werthmann, passed away last week. A close friend of my parents, and probably one of my mom’s best friends. Well, hell, she was a friend of mine too. Yesterday, we attended the memorial and said goodbye. She was a terrific lady. She and her then-husband met my folks back in the ’80s when they moved our Chris-Craft to a new dock at Sunset Marina. Mike and Julie became our ‘boat neighbors.’ They lived year-round on their boat, a Grand Banks double-cabin cruiser. I have known her since I was about five years old. And since I was a car nut even at that early age, I remember all the cars she had. And rode in most of them over the years.
The earliest car I remember was a dark green 1982 Delta 88 Royale Brougham. Just like the car in the brochure picture above, it had the color-keyed styled steel wheels, plus a sage green interior with matching top. And the 350 Diesel V8! But they never had an issue with this car. In fact, they kept it well into the 1990s, and it stayed nice and reliable all that time. The sound of that GM Diesel is permanently etched into my memory.
Around 1985 or so, Julie was doing well enough at John Deere that she bought a car of her own (she and Mike had shared one car up until then). It was the first car she picked out herself, without Mike’s input, and bought with her own money. It was a Subaru two-door hardtop, and she loved that little coupe. Black with a light gray interior.
Mike, derisive as he typically was (more on that later), deemed it the “Stupidru.” But Jules didn’t care, and that car was a reliable, fun little car for her. I was still pretty young when she drove it home from the dealer, but I remember that interior, and all the glass area. Perhaps the only Subaru with an opera window? It was a nice looking coupe at any rate.
Eventually the Subaru was replaced with a gunmetal gray 1986 Volvo 240GL sedan, with black leather seats. I remember this one pretty well, as my parents had gotten a 1986 240 themselves that year, albeit a wagon. And Dad had a 1984 GL sedan, silver with tan leather. But unlike my parents’ ’86 wagon, their sedan had myriad electrical gremlins, and was traded in in pretty short order for a…
Volvo 740 GLE sedan. Like its predecessor, it was gunmetal gray, but with a lovely burgundy leather interior. Like the 240, and like all the Volvos my parents had, it was purchased at Lundahl Volvo. Mike Lundahl was an old friend of my dad’s, and the sales manager there at the time.
The third and final Volvo was a 1990 740 Turbo Wagon. It was a seriously nice sportwagon, finished in fire engine red over black leather.
It was a nice match to the 1988 740 Turbo Sedan my father had at the time. About a year or two after Mike and Julie bought this car, they separated, then divorced. It was a good call, as Julie really was happier after the split. She kept the Turbo Wagon, and Mike kept the Delta 88 and his 1970s 911T. He kept the Grand Banks, and she put in a down payment on a nice little house in town.
I remember all of these cars very well, as Julie was one of my mom’s closest friends. They enjoyed going to craft fairs, and oftentimes, I tagged along. I have a decent collection of handmade wooden car toys from these excursions. Back then, at craft fairs, people actually MADE things. Unlike today, where people buy Chinese dreck at a discount store, sprinkle it with glitter, and call it good. But I digress!
Oftentimes we would stop at a restaurant, frequently Arthur’s Garden Deli in Rock Island. She was a really nice person, and put up with my stupid kid stuff while we were at fairs and such. Or my showing her my latest Matchbox car when she was at our house for a visit. Of course, with Mom there I was usually pretty well behaved, ha ha! These weekend excursions were always fun. I remember them well, although it’s been nearly thirty years since the final one.
That Volvo Turbo Wagon went out in spectacular fashion. She was driving home from her office late one evening, and the car started smoking. She was sitting at a red light and the guy in the lane next to her yelled, “Hey! Your car is smoking!” Then smoke started coming out of the air conditioning vents! She got out OK, and tried to put out the fire, but it was no use. The car burned to a crisp! Fortunately she wasn’t hurt, just seriously freaked out. We never found out what happened, but the car had been in for regularly scheduled service at the dealership the day before. Take from that what you will. She always thought someone didn’t tighten something. A sad ending to a beautiful car.
At the time (circa 1996) she was seeing a guy in the car business, and he was able to get her a car quickly. Said car was a cream puff metallic sand 1988 Cadillac Sedan de Ville. It was cheap and initially just a place holder, but she loved that car! I remember her going on and on about how quiet and comfortable it was, and the 4.5L V8 had pretty good pick up.
It was totally reliable as well, so she wound up keeping it for two years. Years later, she still talked about that car and how much she liked it.
But eventually it was time for something new, and one day in 1998 she stopped by my parents’ house with a brand new emerald green Dodge Dakota.
I was still in high school at the time, with a relatively new driver’s license, and was at the time interested in driving anything (I’m still that way!).
So Julie said, well hop in, let’s take it for a ride! And thus I drove what was then my newest car. I think it had about 30 miles on the odometer at the time!
It was pretty normally equipped for a pickup at the time, regular cab, stereo, cruise and tilt wheel, alloys, but with crank-open windows and cloth seats. But it was new! She had gone down to Key Dodge, and told them she wanted a pickup. Apparently there were three or four on the lot with identical equipment, but she liked the green, so that’s the one she picked. She wrote a check for it on the spot.
And to celebrate her brand new vehicle, she ordered personalized plates, reading ‘JULES.’ For years afterward, I always spotted her in traffic. Because while those late ’90s Dakotas were popular and common in our Midwestern city, I always could tell it was her from those plates.
She really loved that truck. It was the perfect size for her, and since she was really into gardening, the bed was ideal for trips to the greenhouse or Lowe’s for stuff. She kept it all the way to early spring of 2016, when the rust finally started catching up with it. As the ‘car guy,’ I helped her find a new car that she liked and fit her needs, in this case a 2006 Mariner I spied at the local Volvo dealer. We went down, I checked it out, she drove it, and much like almost 20 years earlier with the Dodge, she wrote a check for it the same day. And it was a good car for her, she enjoyed it, though on that day no one had any idea it would be her last car. But I’m glad she splurged for another car, and that she liked it. And that I played a small part in helping her find it.
She was a terrific lady. One of the kindest, most generous, selfless people I’ve been fortunate to know. She will really be missed. Rest in peace Julie.