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Eight over 80 2017: Walter D. Mueller, 89

May 8, 2017

By Chuck Soder
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As a kid, every Sunday after church, Walter D. Mueller and the rest of his family would pile into their old Dodge sedan and make stops at gas stations all over town.

Those gas stations bought tires from his father’s company: Mueller Tire. So each week, his dad would pay them a visit. But he wasn’t just trying to sell more tires: He was making friends.

All the while, his son was paying attention. Today, that boy is 89 years old. He’s been working for the family business — which is now called Dealer Tire — for roughly 75 years. But he has not forgotten the lessons he learned from his father, Walter J. Mueller, so many years ago.

His dad genuinely enjoyed running the business, meeting new people and helping others in any way he could. Those traits rubbed off on his son in large quantities.

“The business was built on friendships, customer relationships — one on one,” Mueller said.

Today, his sons Dean and Scott run Dealer Tire, a tire distribution company that employs roughly 450 people in Northeast Ohio alone. But their father still keeps an office at the company’s new headquarters on Euclid Avenue, where he regularly entertains visitors. And if any of those visitors are kids, they usually walk out with a $5 bill.

He was generous in other ways back when he was running Mueller Tire, which owned a regional chain of tire stores before the family sold the retail business to Tire Kingdom in 2002.

Mueller said he was willing to hire people who really needed a job, even if they didn’t have a sparkling resume. He occasionally hired homeless people and let them sleep in the shop.

Years ago, Dean Mueller would get frustrated when his dad would hand an employee in need some extra cash, but these days he sees things differently.

“You don’t see that very often. That’s special,” he said.

Walter D. Mueller never thought about doing anything else in life. He started working for the company in his teens, sweeping floors, changing tires and doing odd jobs. Eventually his father taught him how to balance the books and work with customers.

Mueller spent two years in the Army after World War II ended, serving in South Korea. He got on a boat to head home just as the Korean War was starting.

“And I thought, oh boy, they’re going to turn the ship around — we’re all going back. But for some reason they didn’t,” he said.

Shortly thereafter, Mueller earned a business administration degree from Mount Union and went back to work for the family business.

“It was just a natural thing … I never questioned it. I just knew it was going to be my life,” he said.

He says he never pushed his sons to join the business, but he’s glad they did. He’s always enjoyed the goodwill and the atmosphere that came from being part of a family company (a company that now has well over $1 billion in annual revenue).

He also enjoys spending time with friends and reading newspapers and history books (reading anything, really). He exercises regularly, and he’s thinking about getting back into tennis.

One of his favorite sayings is “keep moving” — so don’t expect him to retire anytime soon.

“It just isn’t for me. I’ve worked all my life,” he said