Nate McKennie is no stranger to the road.
The 80-year-old speedster has no problem handling the engine of this 2014 convertible Jaguar. He may have been born in Mississippi, but he’s Chicago’s Very Own now.
And he’s had lot of practice, shuttling these luxury vehicles up and down the roads of the North Shore for half a century.
For 50 years, he’s been the “all-around person”, as he’s called, at Imperial Motors in Wilmette.
“My job is to keep things going and to get along with people, to help out with whatever I have to do,” McKennie said.
Owner Allen Aron remembers the day McKennie walked in the door of Imperial’s first location on Sheridan Road.
“I met Nate in September of 1963, and it was very simple. He interviewed very good and we hired him on the spot,” Aron said.
McKennie and Aron quickly became friends. They’ve been side by-side through births, weddings, vacations, and more ever since, Aron trusting McKennie with everything.
“Me and Al started working and we were like brothers, really. So we did a lot of stuff together, me and him,” McKennie said.
In fact, Aron says McKennie’s rapport with the customers has helped Imperial’s business grow tremendously through the years.
“We have customers that love Nate, and some of the customers have some big names,” Aron said.
McCaskey, Pritzker, and Lester Crown to name a few. All of whom have talked, laughed and worked with Nate.
Another name you might also recognize – Mrs. Walgreen.
“She gave me some stock. Mrs. Walgreen give me 5 shares of stock,” McKennie said. “When I delivered the car to her, she said, ‘Um, babe, will you always take care of my car?’ I said, ‘Yeah, Mrs. Walgreens.’”
And oh, the stories these two can tell. There was the time two elderly ladies walked into the dealership with two paper bags filled with cash wanting to buy a Jag.
“They asked Nate, ‘Would you take us to the bank where we could deposit it?’ They went inside to open an account, but Nate was with the two bags of cash in the car,” Aron said.
“I could have walked out of there and taken all that money. It wasn’t my nature. And I had my hand all the way down there. I wanted to make sure that it was money,” McKennie said.
“He didn’t touch a penny. None,” Aron said.
“I didn’t take a dime,” McKennie said.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him now. But two years ago, Allen Aron almost lost his dear friend to cancer.
“He was very weak, he lost a lot of weight,” Aron said. “He was sitting on the couch, just about to finish with life. And after a while he called me and he said to me, ‘If I will be sitting longer on this couch, lay longer on this couch here, I will die.’”
Nate miraculously recovered.
“We’re a big family,” Nate’s wife said. “Nate is our miracle man.”
He’s a little slower now, only works 4 days a week, and takes breathers now and then – boss’s orders. But retiring is out of the question.
“I’m gonna do this myself. When most people retire, what they do, they fall apart,” McKennie said.
“He’s a very honorable man, and I think that he should be somehow a picture to younger people today,” Aron said.
Nate McKennie. He’s one of Chicago’s Very Own.