ROBYN CALKINS’ first vehicle at Bill Buck Chevrolet had three wheels. Calkins, who now owns the Venice area dealership, remembers zipping around her grandfather Bill Buck Sr.’s car lot on her tricycle and sitting near her father’s desk to watch him sell Chevy Malibus and Corvettes to many of the people she still has as customers.
“I think of our business as one big family,” says Calkins, 49, who now owns the company with her husband, Eric, since her father died several years ago. “We still have loyal customers who come in with stories about my dad and grandfather. We make an effort to support and shake hands with everyone in the community. ”
Robyn’s late grandfather opened his first Chevrolet dealership in 1947 in Dewitt, Michigan, where he also served as the mayor. After success as a car man and enduring years of freezing Midwestern winters, Buck moved to Venice in 1967 and opened one of the area’s first car dealerships.
Venice had about 7,000 residents back then, kids rode their bikes on U.S. 41 without fear of cars, and the Intracoastal Waterway had just been tunneled, creating Venice “Island.” Buck’s son, Calkins’ father Bill Buck Jr., started working for his father as a 6-year-old, sweeping floors and cleaning bathrooms at the Michigan dealership. He followed in his father’s footsteps when they moved to Venice, moving up from department to department.
Family, and by extension the family business, was everything to the Buck family.
“I remember on Sundays we’d hop in the back of my grandfather’s old Corvair, blare old music and sing at the top of our lungs. We’d have a ball driving up Manasota Key,” says Calkins. She also remembers her grandfather’s passion for trains. “My grandfather loved trains so much that he set up a whole train yard in his garage. He’d sit outside for hours watching them.”
He loved to travel, too. “He went to Africa and got every single member of the family a carved wooden animal. Then he threw a party and shared footage of his trip,” Calkins says.
Calkins’ grandfather and father worked together until 2010, when her father died of cancer. Two years later, Bill Buck Sr. died, leaving control of the dealership to Calkins and her husband.
She felt a void after the loss of two larger-than-life figures, but she became focused on growing the business and carrying on the family legacy. “My biggest goal in life is to know I made them proud,” Calkins says.
Now Calkins plans the company’s philanthropy while her husband oversees day-to-day operations at the dealership. “The community has been so good to us for over 50 years. We just really try to give back. I always want to make sure we do that,” Calkins says.
The Buck family supports an annual Sharks Tooth Festival fishing tournament for Special Olympics and heavily supports Venice High School sports, especially football. The company honors the team’s best players and awards an annual $2,500 scholarship for an outstanding student-athlete. When the team clinched the state title this year, Bill Buck Chevrolet took the team out for chicken wings.
“I’m grateful to all the businesses and individuals that give us support, but Eric and Robyn go beyond expectations of a booster on game day, and with the addition of the Indian of the year scholarship,” says John Peacock, head coach of the Venice High School football team.
The Calkins have three adult children, MaKenna, 18, Cameron, 21, and Riley, 24, who play a starring role in TV ads for the dealership. Calkins hopes one day to see one of her children or grandchildren take over the spotlight.
“Sometimes I sit in that same office where my dad worked and giggle to myself, remembering how it felt to be here as a kid,” she says. “I take a deep breath and think of this amazing gift that my family has passed on.”