Life Remembered: Worden always drove for excellence
CHAMPAIGN — Not many people in Champaign-Urbana's automotive history handled as many franchises as Lloyd R. Worden Jr. did.
Mr. Worden, who with his partner Howard Martin formed Worden-Martin Inc., was a major player in the Champaign-Urbana automotive market for more than 40 years.
He handled 22 different franchises and, through the development of Carriage Center in the late 1960s, reshaped the look of South Neil Street in Champaign.
"He was a man of integrity," said Wayne Weber, the longtime general manager of Worden-Martin. "He believed in doing everything absolutely right — the way the building was built, the way we did the cars."
Longtime friend and golf buddy John McBride described Mr. Worden as "meticulous" and said the floor of Worden-Martin's garage area was "spick-and-span."
"He watched everything closely. He was practically as bad as (TV detective Adrian) Monk. Everything had to be lined up," McBride said.
Mr. Worden, 93, died Aug. 8 in Delray Beach, Fla., where he lived in retirement, splitting time between Lake Geneva, Wis., and Florida.
But from the 1940s until 2004, Champaign-Urbana was the center of Mr. Worden's life.
Mr. Worden was born Aug. 27, 1920, in Detroit. It was there he met Howard Martin, a native of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, and they became "inseparable," Weber said.
Mr. Worden met the woman who would become his wife — Doris E. Wallin — while he was in flight school at Chanute Field in Rantoul.
During World War II, he shipped out for England, and his B-17 bomber was shot down over Holland, Weber said. The crew survived but split up. Mr. Worden lived with a Dutch family for three months before he was caught and taken to a prison camp, where he was held six months.
After he was liberated from the camp, he decided to return to Champaign. He and Martin started a used-car lot on University Avenue in Champaign, immediately east of the Illinois Central Railroad.
In 1949, they purchased University Motor Sales, the Hudson dealership at 6 E. Springfield Ave., C, from Russell Landsdown, and transferred their used-car business to an adjacent site at 308 S. Neil St., C. Their dealership would be near the corner of Springfield and Neil for the next 20 years.
McBride said Mr. Worden told him he was grateful to have Martin as a business partner.
"They really got along," McBride said. "A lot of times, partners argue about this or that, but those two seemed not to."
Mr. Worden and Martin took on the Packard franchise in 1953, and after Chrysler dealer Howard White's building burned down, they assumed the Chrysler, Plymouth and Imperial franchises, Weber said. Soon afterward, they had a Chrysler-Plymouth-Imperial dealership in Bloomington-Normal as well.
In the 1960s, Worden-Martin Inc. acquired the 26-acre Mattis Farm property in south Champaign from Ross Mattis Camp and made plans to develop Carriage Center there. Eventually, Carriage Center became home not only to Worden-Martin, but also to Parkhill Motor Sales and University Ford. As the result of a development agreement with the city of Champaign, the city built a four-lane road — Devonshire Drive — across the property to Prospect Avenue.
Worden-Martin's showroom at Carriage Center was an attractive venue, playing host to 137 high school proms, Weber said. It also hosted a benefit fundraiser for the National Academy of Arts in downtown Champaign, featuring Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians.
Worden-Martin took on Buick in 1980, GMC in 1982 and Pontiac in 1990, Weber said. Other brands that Mr. Worden and his family had over time included Rolls-Royce, Suzuki, Isuzu, Nissan, Subaru, Saturn, Lincoln, Mercury, Triumph, Simka and Fiat.
The dealership provided "excellent employment" for hundreds of people, Weber said. Champaign businessman George Shapland acquired a majority interest in Worden-Martin in 2004, paving the way for the retirement of its founders.
Mr. Worden's business activities weren't limited to automotive sales and service. He also had an automotive finance company and automotive leasing venture and, for a brief time, was a key player in a stereo wholesaling company.
"If he wanted to sell you something, you're going to buy it," Weber said of Mr. Worden. "He was very dynamic."
McBride said Mr. Worden "could charm a bird out of a tree. He had a wonderful personality. I could see how he was successful in business because he had the ability and the drive."
Mr. Worden was also on the board of directors of City Bank, a bank eventually acquired by First Busey Corp. and merged into Busey Bank.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Worden was a "car-oholic" who loved driving a wide variety of makes and models, both European and American, Weber said.
McBride said Mr. Worden would "even buy (makes of) cars he wasn't selling. He'd buy anything to drive for himself."
Mr. Worden was an excellent golfer who wanted to win the Twin City tournament but never took first place despite some top-five finishes. He enjoyed boating and swimming and was "always very physically fit," Weber said.
In his last months, Mr. Worden remained "sharp mentally, but couldn't walk well at all," Weber said.
Mr. Worden is survived by his wife, Doris; two daughters, Lana Noonan and Patti Petersen; seven grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
"He was a great family man," McBride said.