Prechter was a down-to-earth man loved by his employees and friends
By Paula Evans Neuman, Heritage Newspapers
SOUTHGATE — The work on the line was backing up one day at ASC Inc. and the employees cringed a little when they saw their boss, Heinz Prechter, watching.
"He didn’t say a word, just took off his coat," said ASC trim technician leader Michael Soberaiski. "He grabbed a hammer and grabbed some moldings and started slamming them down."
It was about 95 degrees in the shop and Prechter worked for an hour or so until the line was caught up. Then he turned to his workers.
"He said, ‘I don’t expect you to do anything I can’t do,’" Soberaiski said. "I’ll never forget it. He really impressed the guys. That line never got behind again."
Heinz Prechter establishes the American Sunroof Corp. in Los Angeles in 1965.
Heinz Prechter helps to install a sunroof during the company’s early years.
The people who worked every day with the Downriver industrialist knew him as a down-to-earth man with big dreams, a big voice and a big heart.
"We were working one day and Heinz came in," Soberaiski said. "He had torn his pants on his way out the door at home."
Prechter found a sewing machine in the shop that no one was using.
"He dropped his pants right there," Soberaiski said. "There he sat in his shorts and his socks. He sewed ’em up and was on his way to a big meeting in Detroit.
"That was Heinz."
"He was always down to earth," said longtime employee John Truskolaski, who works in ASC’s test lab.
"You’d always get yelled at," Soberaiski said with a laugh. "If you didn’t get yelled at, you felt left out."
"He had a voice that carried," Truskolaski added. "You always knew if he was in a good mood or a bad mood."
ASC’s longtime employees gathered Monday — three days after Prechter’s death — to reminisce about the German immigrant who founded the company in 1965 in a two-car garage.
Their memories of working with him over the years were told with affection, respect and often with humor.
"A lot of nights we’d spend all night working on a car he needed," said Jim Brinkmeier, who started working at ASC in 1971 when he was "fresh out of the service and looking for a job."
Prechter always stopped by in the morning to see how the work was going.
"He’d pile us in the car and take us to the PI (the former Presidential Inn, a hotel Prechter owned in Southgate) and buy us breakfast," Brinkmeier said. "He was the most considerate boss I’ve ever had."
Bill Sims, leader of ASC’s convertible systems, applied for a job at the company 30 years ago.
"I wanted to work here for three months," he said.
When the time was up, he went to Prechter to give his resignation.
"I said, ‘I’ve got to go, Heinz.’ He said, ‘Don’t go.’ That was a Thursday. By Friday, he had convinced me to stay. And I’ve stayed here ever since," Sims said.
"He just had that charm," Soberaiski said, and the other men nodded. "He just could enthuse you. But he got the best out of you."
Prechter demanded a lot from the people he employed, and working for him wasn’t always easy, they said. But he treated his workers with respect and consideration. And sometimes he treated them — as he did his friends — with surprises, too.
Sims told of taking his young son to the Grand Prix race in downtown Detroit before the event was moved to Belle Isle. He was walking along the street when he heard a big voice with that familiar German accent calling his name.
"He hollered and I thought, ‘Oh, no, it’s a weekend,’" Sims said. "But we ran into him and he says, ‘You’re coming to the party with me.’ He took me into the Westin (Hotel) to a private party and got us VIP passes to the race.
"We spent the whole day and really had a good time."
And in more recent years, when Prechter held an event at his posh Grosse Ile home, "he always invited the older employees to come to the functions," Truskolaski said.
Marge Torok, a well-known Downriver businesswoman and community leader, once lived in a Grosse Ile condominium downstairs from Prechter.
Over the years, his business and political clout grew enormous and he moved into his Parke Lane home, but he still remembered to do small things for his old friends, Torok said.
"When my granddaughter went off to college, the main thing she took with her was a music box from Germany that Heinz had given her," Torok said.
"He got to know her from visiting me when we were neighbors, and one time when he came back from a trip to Germany, he brought her this little music box."
Retired Southgate police Officer Berry Soper met Prechter one day when the budding entrepreneur was surveying "a little concrete cinder-block building" on the site of what is today ASC’s headquarters.
Soper approached the man to see what he was doing.
"He told me who he was and that he was thinking about starting a business there," Soper said. "We shook hands. He was quite pleased that I was inquiring what he was doing."
It was the start of an enduring friendship. Over the years, Soper sometimes worked part time for Prechter as a driver.
"I just tried to be down to earth," the former officer said. "He stood in pretty good-sized shoes and I tried to get him to maintain his ground. He had that deep-down affinity for the working guy. He had that under his skin.
"A lot of times, we’d eat breakfast at the PI and he’d quiz me about some of the political moves in Southgate. I’d give him my vantage point and I think he listened to me."
No memories of Prechter are complete without the stories of his love for cars — and his fast driving. His arrest in 1997 for doing 110 mph in a 45 mph zone in his Mitsubishi Spyder on Allen Road in Southgate made big news.
He pleaded guilty to careless driving and expressed remorse, but he reportedly told the officer the reason he was driving so fast was because it was "a beautiful day and a beautiful car."
D. Mark Trostle, president and chief operating officer of ASC Creative Services, says he’ll never forget an incident that occurred well before 1997.
"One of our customers had brought in a Mazerati Biturbo," he said. "It was a very expensive car. Heinz said, ‘C’mon, Mark, let’s go for a ride and see what it’ll do.’"
Trostle said he thought, "Oh, no," having driven with his lead-footed boss before. But he got into the sports car.
"By the end of Walnut Street, he had it over 100," Trostle said.
When Prechter tried to make a turn, "the rear end broke loose, and we were doing doughnuts," Trostle said.
Prechter was in his element.
"He looked at me and said, ‘This doesn’t handle very well, does it?’" Trostle said.
The ASC workers laughed.
"He will definitely be missed," Sims said.