Paul Struhar will never forget the first time he took the auto body class at Bedford High School in Bedford Heights, Ohio, in 1974 and met instructor Lee Hance.
“He had a great ability to communicate with students,” says Struhar. “He has always been very excellent at communicating with people.”
And so started a relationship that is still alive today, 45 years later.
“He’s important to me because he’s a great role model and has taught me a lot of things besides fixing a car,” Struhar says of Hance, a born-again Christian and minister who has done missionary work around the world. “He’s taught me a lot about life. He’s like a second dad to me.”
Struhar, who today is transitioning ownership of his body shop, Centerline CARSTAR Collision, to his son, Paul Jr., was a particularly eager auto body student in 1974 as a junior at Bedford High. He had an insatiable appetite to learn the trade, which is one of the reasons why he feels he and Hance got so close – because he feels teachers are closer to students who take an interest in the class subject.
“I was constantly on him to show me, show me, show me,” says Struhar.
Hance helped Struhar find work at a shop his junior year. He would work after school till 6 or 7 p.m. and then have his mom or dad pick him up.
That experience is why Struhar has always been proactive working with local schools to bring some of the better students to his shop.
“I would rather do that then bring in a guy with 20 to 30 years of experience,” says Struhar. “I like growing your own and keeping them employed. That way they learn our habits, not someone else’s.”
Whether it was in the classroom decades ago or sitting on a boat in Canada on one of half a dozen fishing trips he has taken Hance on, Struhar has learned a lot of valuable life lessons from Hance.
“On those fishing trips, it’s just him and I in a boat all day long,” Struhar says. “We would go to Canada for seven to eight days and just talk about everything and anything, including how the collision industry used to be back in the day.”
That’s why Struhar recently felt the need to give back to Hance, whose minivan was constantly breaking down. It’s rusty, the radio doesn’t work, and the last straw was the hatch not locking anymore.
“I thought to myself, I wouldn’t let my parents drive a car like that,” says Struhar. “He needs something safe and dependable. He has been there for me my whole life, and my kids know him like family, so I felt like giving back to him.”
So Struhar, who was in the process of downsizing his fleet of six loaner vehicles, decided to give Hance one of the vehicles. When Struhar told Hance, he was ecstatic.
“I called him on the phone and said, ‘What do you think of a former student giving a former teacher a vehicle?’ And he said, ‘Really? Are you kidding?’ And I heard an ‘Oh my God’ from his wife in the background. I don’t expect anything for it. It makes me feel good to do it, and I know he’ll be happy.”