I’m proud to be an alumnus of a high school that has produced some outstanding people over a period of many decades. But with deliberate bias, I think the graduates of State College Area High School, Class of 1976, are a special group of Americans making a difference. The class was large, with some 600 graduates, so there’s no way to comment on all of the unique achievements of every classmate; however, I’m especially pleased that several are directly involved in the Sweet Chariot tour.
Today I’d like to introduce Mark Kline, one of the nicest, friendliest guys you could ever hope to meet.
Because we came up through different elementary schools in the State College district, I didn’t get to know Mark until we were12 or 13; but I knew his father long before that. “Puce” Kline, as everyone knew Mark’s dad, owned a small service and repair shop in the village of Pine Grove Mills, a few miles west of State College. Over a period of about 30 years, my father took our cars to Mr. Kline for routine maintenance and minor repairs. I enjoyed tagging along, mostly because Puce was a World War II veteran, like my dad, and the walls inside the shop were lined with interesting photos of his service in Europe with the 309th Infantry Regiment. There were also the usual automotive ads from suppliers, and a big bunker of coal for the ancient furnace that kept the shop warm during central Pennsylvania winters. Puce was as fair and honest as the day is long. He could do just about anything; but if a repair was beyond the capability of his shop, he referred customers elsewhere.
Mark has run Kline’s Garage since his father passed away, yet the old shop is no more. About six years ago, a large truck lost its brakes coming down Tussey Mountain into Pine Grove Mills on Rt. 26, and smashed into the garage, which sat at the foot of the T intersection with Rt. 45. A customer waiting inside the shop was killed, and Mark was seriously injured. After a long period of rehab, Mark built a new shop, slightly offset from the old shop and reinforced against runaway vehicles. The new facility is nicely equipped, and with the help of his full-time assistant, Elijah Grenoble, Mark can accomplish everything his father did—and more. Today Mark is in great shape. He loves the outdoors and is an avid hiker, which keeps him fit for the physical demands of working in his shop.
I phoned Mark from Winchester, VA on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, after my Mustang developed a strange noise from the front end. I had a few more hours of driving, and Mark said he’d be happy to take a look at it that afternoon when I got to town. I stopped by at 2 pm and Mark promptly hopped in for a test ride, during which he diagnosed the source of the problem as the front wheel bearings. He and Elijah got to work immediately after phoning in an order for the necessary parts. Within two hours, they disassembled both front wheel hubs, replaced the races and bearings, and bolted everything back together; they also tightened the belts under the hood (which had been replaced before the trip and stretched) and installed a piece of trim that had worked loose. All the while, we talked about our favorite WWII movies, our dads, and our classmates.
Just a couple of months earlier, Mark had attended the retirement ceremony of our classmate Jim Houck, who rose to the rank of Vice Admiral and served as the 41st Judge Advocate General of the US Navy. Another who rose to the pinnacle of his chosen profession was Matt Suhey, the running back who starred at Penn State in the late ’70s and spent 10 years with the Chicago Bears, earning a ring in Super Bowl XX.
My classmates have achieved some amazing things; but I personally reserve a special place for a salt-of-the-earth guy like Mark Kline. If you live in central PA and are in need of a friendly, trustworthy service shop, take your vehicle to Kline’s Garage.
He’s a class act.
Note: I’ll be introducing more classmates in future posts