Longtime Dowagiac business owner remembered

(Leader file photo)

(Leader file photo)

While deeply passionate about automobiles, if you asked those who knew Ed Kazlauskas best, it wasn’t his knowledge of motors, frames or tires that defined the Dowagiac business owner — it was his friendliness and willingness to give to those in need.

The founder and longtime organizer of Dowagiac’s annual Rod and Roll Classic Auto Show, Kazlauskas and co-organizer Curt Rohdy would spend the mornings before each show moving cars parked in spots participants would soon park their vintage automobiles downtown, Rohdy recalled.

Using a mobile car jack to transport vehicles from parking spaces on Front Street to other nearby lots, the two rarely had any issues — until one year, when transporting a car down on Commercial Street to the lot behind Underwood Shoe Store, the jack got stuck, damaging the vehicle’s front fender.

While Rohdy was understandably panicked by the situation, Kazlauskas, as always, handled the problem with ease, saying, “The heck with it, I’ll just fix it for them,” Rohdy said.

“That was the type of guy Ed was,” Rohdy said. “He always wanted to make everything right.”

Now, Kazlauskas’ family, friends and the many others he touched through his many years of service to his hometown are reeling from his loss.

Kazlauskas died Saturday, Feb. 13, surrounded by family at home following a bout with cancer. He was 60 years old.

Born on Feb. 10, 1956, in Dowagiac to Edward L. and Barbara Kazlauskas, Ed graduated from Dowagiac Union High School in 1974, and later graduated from Southwestern Michigan College.

Kazlauskas was known by many around Dowagiac as the owner of Jim D’s Body Shop. Kazlauskas worked at the shop for many years before taking over ownership of the business from founder — and his father-in-law — Jim DeShazo.

Already a popular business with a great reputation before he took the reigns, Kazlauskas’ strong work ethic and commitment to serving each and every customer — no matter the value of their vehicle — to the best of his ability made Jim D’s the go-to destination for many people who needed repair work done to their automobile, said Dave Mahar, owner of Mahar Insurance Agency and a longtime business associate and friend of Kazlauskas.

“All you had to do was call Ed, and he would make it right,” Mahar said. “That was the key to the success of his business, and he as an individual.”

Kazlauskas has kept Jim D’s a family affair, running the shop for the last few years alongside his son, Jim.

Along with being a place that many relied on for car repairs, Kazlauskas’ shop became a gathering place for local gear heads to go and talk about their hobby with one of the city’s preeminent collectors. Among the people who would often visit Jim D’s was Wayne Prillwitz, one of the former owners of the Wood Fire Restaurant who befriended Kazlauskas around 10 years ago. The two often shared stories about their car collections.

“He had that quality where you felt like you know him forever,” Prillwitz said. “He had a great sense of humor. He was very kind and helpful to everyone.”

Kazlauskas and his wife Sue, the owner of The Marshall Shoppe, founded and ran the Rod and Roll car show for many years, with Ed and Rohdy later teaming up to organize the event. Kazlauskas decided to bring an auto show to the streets of Dowagiac not only because of his own love for collecting and restoring classic vehicles, but also as a way to help bring people to downtown to support the many businesses lining Front Street, Rohdy said.

During their first year of organizing the car show together, Kazlauskas and Rohdy became close friends, with the two men and their wives going out to dinner together at least once a week for years, Rohdy said.

“A lot of people knew and liked Ed,” Rohdy said. “He was just a nice person. He was very outgoing, and tried to make friends with everybody.”

Mahar, who worked with Kazlauskas for more than 30 years through his insurance agency, also became quick friends with him, often sharing stories about their classic car collections or taking excursions to Chicago together, Mahar said.

“He was someone I had a real connection with,” he said. “He was always fun to talk to. We had that ease of friendship, where I would say what was on my mind and he would say what was on his.”

Both Mahar and Rohdy said they could count on Kazlauskas’ help whenever they needed it, especially when it came to restoring vintage automobiles. In fact, Kazlauskas was willing to assist almost anyone who came to him with a problem, helping people out of tight places financially or helping them buy or work on vehicles — without ever expecting anything in return, Rohdy said.

“It was amazing, all the stuff he did for others,” he said. “He just trusted people.”

His positivity and love of life never waivered, even during his two bouts with cancer, Prillwitz said.

“He never showed signs of being down during his illness,” Prillwitz said. “He was determined to beat it.”

Since his passing on Saturday, many people have contacted Rohdy to share stories about Ed, from as far as Elkhart, he said.

“It just speaks so highly of Ed,” Rohdy said. “A lot of people are going to miss him.”

“His presence will be missed in town,” Prillwitz said. “He was a very kind, great friend, a friend to everyone. I’ll miss him.”

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