A new generation is taking over as Yankton’s Gerstner Oil changes hands.
On May 1, Rudy Gerstner, founder of Gerstner Oil Company, officially retired, placing the reins in the hands of granddaughter Heather Hofer and her husband, Brad Hofer.
Gerstner moved to Yankton in 1970 to be the first Mount Marty men’s basketball coach, he told the Press & Dakotan.
On May 1, 1976, he purchased Rhian Oil Company, a Conoco distributorship that sold lube oils and supplied fuel to gas stations, convenience stores, farms and commercial entities.
Two years later, Gerstner bought Pogge Oil Company, a Phillips 66 distributorship.
“The growth has gone from one dealer, besides ourselves, to probably 30 dealers now in a 150-mile radius,” he said.
Though the brand of fuel supplied has changed many times over the years — from Conoco and Phillips to Skelly and Total, and most recently to Cenex and Sinclair — the Gerstner Oil Company has remained constant throughout and has grown, Gerstner said.
This was not something he could have done by himself, he noted.
“When we had Rhian Oil Company, we only had about five people,” he said. “Now, we’re probably a total of full time and part time about 25 (staff), and the volume and size of the company has multiplied several times.”
On purchasing Rhian Oil, Gerstner brought Ben Mazurek aboard, and on purchasing Pogge, Gerstner added Dick Neubauer to his staff.
“Dick and Ben were the heart and soul (of Gerstner Oil) the first few years,” he said. “Alice Rehurek (41 years with Gerstner) and Judy Jensen (40 years with Gerstner) pretty much made this business go — not me.”
The early 1980s threw Gerstner Oil a curve, as it did to many families at the time, when interest rates jumped to 21%.
“I had acquired a distributorship in Harlan, Iowa, and I was not able to sustain the activity,” Gerstner said. “It was all one business, but that part of it I sold off — and that was dramatic. That was a very, very tough time.”
The company recovered, and in addition to the headquarters in Yankton, owns Triple Time Rudy’s in Yankton and Countryside Gas and Grocery in Allen, Nebraska, as well as an interest in a station at Dante thanks to Brad, who joined Gerstner Oil three years ago, he said.
Now, at age 85, Gerstner said he is glad the business is going to a family member.
“We (Rudy and his wife, Kathie) probably have the most unique family around in that we’re a second marriage and between us we have seven kids,” Gerstner said. “None of the seven kids live in Yankton.”
“They live in all different states,” Kathie added, including Vermont, Nebraska, Texas, North Carolina, Colorado, Kentucky and Florida.
Also, none of the children had any interest in returning to Yankton, Gerstner said.
“Heather and Brad were living in the area. They were living in Tea,” he said. “Brad had been managing Aldi’s grocery stores. He’s got a business past and he wanted to do something on his own.”
Heather and Brad began discussions with the Gerstners about taking on the business five years ago, Heather Hofer told the Press & Dakotan.
“They were definitely in retirement age, and we’re the only ones around this area,” she said. “They also had thoughts about us potentially stepping in to take the business over, and we were looking for a change.”
“My skills from managing Aldi’s grocery for seven years transferred well,” Brad said. “It was a really good fit for what we wanted to do.”
Both shared some comments about the change of guard this week.
Rudy Gerstner has been an advocate and supporter of all things Yankton for over 45 years, Brad noted.
“Rudy and Kathie have donated generously to numerous causes and benefits in the area,” he said. “They have been generous with their time, as well.”
Hofer added that the Gerstners have been active with the Yankton Chamber of Commerce (now Yankton Thrive) and have served on many committees and boards that seek the enrichment of Yankton and the surrounding area.
As a business owner, Gerstner took good care of his customers, Brad said.
“We have big shoes to fill here,” he said. “What I keep thinking about is maintaining those quality standards, the same level of customer service that Gerstner oil has been known for, for over 40 years.”
Heather echoed Brad’s sentiment about maintaining the standards of the company built by her grandfather.
“I feel very honored that he thinks we can tackle this and keep it going,” she said.