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North Bend mainstay, Chaplins Chevrolet manager Frank Protzman dies at 53
The Valley link was always paramount for Frank Protzman.
As general manager of local mainstay Chaplins North Bend Chevrolet, Protzman made sure the small-town touches and connections were evident. He took pride in the retro 1950s feel of the dealership and pushed for promotions that helped local ball teams.
People who worked with Protzman, who died Wednesday, Dec. 15, at age 53 of natural causes, were stunned by his death but plan on continuing the legacy he built in North Bend.
A former bodybuilder, Protzman spent 21 years in sales, taking over as head of the Chaplins chain's North Bend dealership six years ago. He and his wife were Valley residents.
"This place was his passion," said interim manager Mike Lawrence. "We're all going to miss him, and we're going to continue to do business as if he was still here, because that's what he'd want us to do."
In a 2007 interview, Protzman emphasized respect for customers.
“We treat everybody just like they’re our friends...We’re going to treat the guy that’s buying a $5,000 car the same as the guy that’s paying $50,000,” he said.
To Protzman, it was always important for staff to have a connection to the community.
“We service the people we see... all the time,” he said.
Protzman's dealership had a front-row seat on North Bend's downtown events, and Chaplins' cars were often seen during parades, ferrying grand marshals.
"With Frank, you always knew where you stood," said North Bend mayor Ken Hearing. "He was always participating in charity events. He was a good community supporter. He'll be missed."
The dealerships' neon signs and memorabilia of yesteryear were all part of Protzman's hometown touch.
"He added a good portion of the flair to this building," Lawrence said.
"This was his place," said Jeri Repp, office manager at Chaplins' and an 11-year employee. "He took ownership. It was very personal to him. He lived and breathed this store."
In the three years prior to Protzman's arrival, "there was almost a revolving door" in the top management, Repp said. But Protzman put his stamp on the place.
"He felt at home in the community. We were all family," Repp said. "He wanted this to be the local place where you didn't even question coming here for service, parts or purchase."
Repp learned finance from Protzman, and watched as he taught young people who visited the store about business—and life.
"If you worked with him, you always learned something," she said. "He knew how to come across very business-like, but he knew the right balance. He didn't get personal, he didn't get mushy with you."
Now, "we keep going," Repp said, "like he's on vacation. Mike filled in at those times, and Mike will continue to do his job. He's ready to take over the torch."
Last summer, Protzman got the dealership involved in the Chevy Youth Baseball partnership. While young players sold raffle tickets for a new car, he made sure that they had new equipment, a shiny new car or truck for an on-the-spot promotion, and a final $500 check.
Wes Dover, coaching coordinator for Snoqualmie Valley Little League, said the Chaplins efforts helped ensure that no child was turned away from playing due to financial difficulties. Protzman doubled his annual donation to the league to help jumpstart the fundraising campaign.
"I had the sense that he really cared about the youth of the Valley, and felt it important to support organizations that help make our community what it is," Dover told the Record. "I did not know him for very long or know him that well, but he was someone I thought I would get to know much better over time, and am very sorry that will not happen."
Protzmans' death was a shock to Bud Raisio, president of the Snoqualmie Valley Youth Soccer Association, the latest Valley sports league to work with Chaplins on a youth fundraiser this fall.
The $500 donation offered by the dealership will assists the association with building a new field—"every bit helps," Raisio said.
Of Protzman, "It looked like he had a passion for kids and youth sports," Raisio added.
Leesa McKay, Chaplins' in-house marketing administrator, worked closely with Protzman during the summer drive. She worked with Protzman, meeting him at ballfields for team photos and check handoffs with a shiny new pickup.
"He was smiling and having a good time." McKay said. "He was more than excited to be able to have the dealership be a part of that. That will still continue."