Becker Auto Body a constant amid change
Business started in 1900 now in fourth generation of family ownership

By Chris Bennett - Special to The Freeman

July 11, 2017

 John Becker works on the wheel well of a car at Becker Auto recently.
Mary Catanese/Special to The Freeman

BROOKFIELD - It is safe to say the Brookfield and Elm Grove area is the fertile crescent of retail development and shopping in Wisconsin.

Envision the options offered by a short drive down Bluemound Road from Brookfield Square in the city of Brookfield to The Corners in The Town of Brookfield. Add in a trip to Elm Grove Plaza, in Elm Grove, and almost anything one could want is available.

That's what most think of when they consider patronizing businesses in the Brookfield and Elm Grove area, and it's easy to see why.

Consider just the city of Brookfield. With a population of roughly 38,000, it is the 18th largest city in Wisconsin. In terms of equalized value, though, Brookfield is third, behind only Milwaukee and Madison. The city's retail base plays a large part in that assessment.

 Peter Becker is seen in front of his Brookfield Road blacksmith shop circa 1900.
Submitted photo

Meanwhile, in a nondescript, almost humble building at 2915 N. Brookfield Road in the Town of Brookfield, John Becker and his predecessors have been bending and shaping metal as a community and region was bent and shaped around them.

John Becker represents the fourth generation to operate what is now Becker Auto Body.

"I started working when I was probably 12," John said. "My parents will tell you more stories that since I was old enough to hold a screwdriver or a piece of sandpaper I wanted to go at it."
 

From horses to cars

John, now 52, is the kind who took apart everything in the house when he was a kid to see how it worked and then put it back together. It's easy to say the trait is in his blood. The original anvil and forge installed by his great-grandfather, Peter Becker, is in the family's shop.

John said the family has documentation showing the business has existed since 1900, and John speculates the business has been around since the 1890s, always at the same spot.

Peter started as a blacksmith who dropped trees and made lumber and then worked the metal to make wagons and sleighs. He also put shoes on horses.

Jerome Becker is John's grandfather, and that's when the transition from horses to cars started. John will tell you his grandfather was a master at leading - using lead filler to repair the body of a vehicle.

Gerald "Jerry" Becker, John's father, is in his mid-70s and still works at the business. John started in 1985 after graduating from Brookfield East High School in 1984. John said working with his father every day offers its share of challenges and rewards.

"It can be testing, or trying," John said. "You have good and bad. You think you know it all when you're a kid. You have ways you want to do it, and you have ways he's always done it.

"There are things I'll show him - there are easier ways to do it, and still do it right."

John takes pride in keeping cars on the road. Someday he'll restore the 1969 Chevrolet Impala SS he's owned since 1987, but most of his time is preoccupied in keeping customers rolling.

"What I enjoy most about it is dealing with customers and giving them options and coming up with a solution to fix the car," John said. "Maybe they want to fix it, not the way someone else is telling them it has to be fixed, but the way they want it fixed."

John offered the example of a customer who might have knocked a side mirror off the car, and just wants the mirror replaced without a lot of additional expense. Becker Auto Body will work with the customer to ensure his or her needs are met.

"That's the part of it I like," John said. "When we can help someone out in a situation like that."

Becker Auto Body does not accept credit or debit cards as a form of payment - it's either cash or check - and can be reached at 262-782-7787.