Wes Ward has the perfect last name to operate an auto-repair business, as ward means to guard and protect. Thousands of customers would attest to this description of the St. Johnsbury operation. For 40 years, Ward has been fixing vehicles in the Northeast Kingdom, but the work of Wes and his wife and co-owner, Paula, goes far beyond repairing cars and getting them back on the road.
“They care so much about the community,” said Marketing Coordinator Janet Lumbra, who has been with the business since 1999. “You have no idea.”
Just this month, the couple was praised for coming to the assistance of a 78-year-old woman with a flat tire, after the two had closed their shop for the weekend. A St. Johnsbury police officer contacted the Wards for advice on what to do, and the Wards not only left their family and came to fix her tire but gave her a quick lesson on how to use her cell phone.
“This is one of a hundred things that makes St. Johnsbury special and is yet another demonstration of how giving Wes and Paula are,” said Sgt. Lester Cleary, from the police department. “Today, they were angels for this sweet, little lady. I love you guys for all you do for this community and those who pass through.”
Such love of community can almost overshadow the incredible accomplishment Wes achieved this month, 40 years in operation. Wes will be the first to tell you there have been bumps along the road, certainly not due to his repairs, but the challenges of enduring two significant recessions and a pandemic. The Wards’ ability to change and evolve their shop to the times have made them a prominent fixture on Portland Street, their large American flag flying proudly at the entrance.
The business was not always Wes Ward Auto Repair, with Wes first leasing space at Bedard’s Service Station in 1981. For a short period of time, he moved his business to his home in Danville, with many of those customers still clients to this day. An opportunity arose when Sumner Tire left the Portland Street location, and Wes jumped at the chance to have a full-service shop in the heart of St. Johnsbury. Since 1999, Wes Ward Auto has resided at 1193 Portland St.
Wes and Paula, the shop’s longtime service writer, have made it a point to offer excellent customer service as well as stellar vehicle repairs, and their efforts have been noticed. The shop has been recognized multiple times as AAA‘s Independent Shop of the Year, the award solely based on customer recommendations and testimonials. The business offers six automotive and two truck repair bays.
“As important as it is to get the car back on the road, you have to see beyond the vehicle and realize there is a grandparent, a parent, a child or sibling in that car,” said Wes. “We truly treat our customers as if they were family members. We care that much about their safety.”
When we contacted Wes this week, he was busy in the shop repairing a vehicle but when he’s not in a service bay, he and Paula have made it a point to help their region. Wes has been a longtime Northeast Kingdom Chamber board member, twice serving as president, and was awarded the organization’s Citizen of the Year in 2015 for his outstanding commitment to the region. He is also a longtime Kiwanian, mentor and guardian ad litem. Paula has served as a co-chair of one of the region’s biggest fundraisers since 2005, the Caledonia Relay for Life, as well as being appointed a corporator of Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital and once serving on the board of the Lyndon Outing Club.
“We may be a business but we lead with our hearts,” said Paula. “We try to give back to our customers, community and region, who have given us so much. We are extremely grateful for the support we have received over our years of operation. Some of our customers have been with us since the beginning.”
One might wonder what a full-service auto repair shop actually means, and it pretty much entails working on a vehicle from bumper to bumper. That includes oil changes, tune ups, service/maintenance, diagnostics, fluid flushes, air-conditioning systems, alignments and, yes, even flat tires, plus a host of larger repair issues. They work on import and domestic vehicles and trucks.
“We try to stay on top of the technology, offering cutting-edge and top-of-the-line service and repairs because our customers deserve the very best from us,” said Wes. “If you haven’t figured it out yet, we really do love what we do.”
For more information, contact the Wards at 802-748-3636 or by email at email@example.com.
Darcie McCann is executive director of the Northeast Kingdom Chamber of Commerce.