Walt and Beth Cason, successful Savannah automotive business owners who have been Bulloch County residents for almost 15 years, opened a business earlier this year in their chosen home county - Cason's Auto Service in Brooklet.
Walt Cason has worked on motor vehicles for more than 35 years.
He grew up, from 5 years old to 15, at Bethesda Home for Boys in Savannah and joined the Army at age 17, as the Vietnam War was drawing to a close in 1974. He was not deployed to Vietnam, but instead sent to serve on the Demilitarized Zone in Korea, where, because the Korean War never officially ended, he became a Korea veteran in the mid-1970s. The artillery unit he served in was responsible for maintaining its howitzers and the 2½-ton trucks that pulled them.
Cason credits the Army, and more so Bethesda, where he is now president of the alumni association, with teaching him his work ethic. Boys from troubled families then lived at Bethesda day and night, seven days a week, and did chores from milking cows to mowing the lawn.
"Like I tell everybody, the American dream ain't free," he said. "You've got to work hard and you've got to pay attention and you've got to do more than what is expected of you."
After the Army, he worked at Norman W. Fries Inc., the Claxton Poultry distribution center in Savannah, from 4:30 a.m. until 7:45 a.m. before going to Savannah Area Vocational-Technical School, now Savannah Technical College, in the middle of the day. He would then return to the poultry company for more work in the late afternoon. Cason completed the one-year program for his automotive technology degree in nine months.
He was hired by Goodyear through a job fair. Starting as "basically a floor sweeper," Cason said he remained with Goodyear 20 years. He would always ask "what else can I do?" after finishing his tasks and so worked as an oil change technician, alignment technician, and automotive technician. Then he became a service manager, a store manager, and district manager.
"When I left I was a district manager for all three stores in Savannah," Cason said.
Then he became a Snap-on Tools franchise dealer, and continued in that business for 17 years. Meanwhile, he and his wife and two of his brothers, Gilbert Granat and the late Charlie Cason, purchased the Amoco station on Savannah's Waters Avenue, and he operated it for nine years.
Akins & Bobb legacy
In November 2003, Walt and Beth Cason bought Akins & Bobb Motors, an auto repair shop on Savannah's Skidway Road, from LeeRoy Akins. Akins, who died in 2009, and a man Cason knew only as Mr. Bobb had founded the company in 1967. The Casons kept the name Akins & Bobb to hold onto its good reputation with customers, Walt Cason said. But officially, it is Cason's Auto Service doing business as Akins & Bobb.
The Savannah complex also includes a small body shop and employs about 15 people. The Casons added a towing service there in 2009
Meanwhile, Walt and Beth Cason bought a home with some land on the northern edge of Statesboro and moved here from Bloomingdale in 2001. They had wanted to be more "out in the country," she said.
Since then, Walt Cason has been a commuter between Statesboro and Savannah. But a commercial customer, which operates a fleet of emergency services vehicles, contracts with Cason's company to maintain them all, and was encouraging him to set up another location "between Atlanta and Savannah," he said. In late 2015, Walt Cason was commuting past the former Ward's Auto Painting & Bodyworks at 16789 U.S. Highway 80 East in Brooklet and noticed the shop was vacant. As previously reported, Ward's moved to U.S. 301 South beside J.C. Lewis Ford's Statesboro dealership.
So Cason's Auto Service in Brooklet was born. With his brother, Gill Granat, managing the Akins & Bobb location, Walt Cason can spend more of his time at the Brooklet shop, which opened Feb. 1.
It has four service bays in use and will have five when the paint booth is removed. Painting and bodywork aren't services Cason's will do at this location, but the shop will do just about any other auto repair and maintenance work. Services include engine and transmission repairs, timing belts, oil, new tires and tire rotations, suspension, brake and electrical work.
Cason is keen on preventative maintenance, and throws in a 17-point inspection, including brakes, lights, fluids, belts hoses and wipers, along with a tire rotation with each full-service oil change.
The Casons brought Greg Scholar, who has about 25 years of experience, including five years in their Savannah shop, to Brooklet as the shop's master technician. They hired Justin Roper of Millen, who has worked about 10 years in auto shop offices, as service manager, and Travis Butterbaugh, an experienced auto service technician from Brooklet. They are looking for another technician.
One reason the Casons got a more "country" home place is so Beth could keep horses. She has a miniature horse named Santana, just 26 ½ inches tall, and has established Brighter Day Mini Therapy Horses as a nonprofit corporation. Now that her husband is working closer by, the Casons together take Santana once a week to visit Ogeechee Area Hospice. Beth Cason and Santana also visit nursing homes and assistant living centers.
Meanwhile, Walt, as president of the Bethesda Alumni Association, helps support the place where he grew up. Founded as an orphanage in 1740, Bethesda Home for Boys is one of the oldest youth homes in the United States. Nowadays, young men who live there go home on the weekends, and as Bethesda Academy, it also operates as a day school.
"Our thing is to give back ... and to pay it forward," Cason said.
Also applying this philosophy in Brooklet, Cason's is hosting a car wash service. His nephew Chase Young, now a Southeast Bulloch High School senior, and two other young men have started washing cars behind the shop on Saturdays. When school gets out for summer, Cason wants them to expand to six hours a day from Wednesday through Friday and four hours on Saturday. He plans to add a "Cason's Car Wash" banner and says Brooklet residents are enthusiastic.
But he's offering this hands-on car wash to let the boys earn and learn. The Casons said their share of the car wash proceeds will be donated to Ogeechee Area Hospice.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.