“I’ve been around trucks my whole life,” says Donna Ingelse with a smile, as she reflects upon the rich history of her family business of towing and repairing trucks.
Lanser Garage and Towing Inc. celebrates an impressive 70th anniversary March 1, 2021. While 70 years in business is an incredible feat, possibly even more impressive is the deep family bond created by this company, not only amongst blood relatives, but the family who are brought on as employees.
The business was started by Ingelse’s father, George Lanser, who had just an 8th grade education, as Lanser Garage & Implement Company, an Allis Chalmers, Gehl and New Idea implement dealer, in 1951. In 1958, he built his own tow truck, assisted by some local friends. He even fabricated his own under reach, a stabilizer in the back that held the truck in place.
“It was large- you couldn’t buy them that large at that time,” says Donna. “Then the business just grew.”
The business originated in the white brick building at 815 Main Street, currently occupied by Jeff’s Automotive. Krier Preserving, now known as Lakeside Foods, was the business’ first customer for lift truck repairs. (Today, Lanser Garage & Towing still repairs lift trucks as well as medium-heavy duty trucks but towing and recovery is the main line of work).
In 1969, they added on the Quonset hut, the igloo-shaped building that they only recently moved from. The business continued to grow and adapt, and in 1975, was incorporated as its current name: Lanser Garage & Towing.
Involving family was always part of the Lanser business plan. When Donna turned 16, her dad gave her the keys, a road map, and sent her out to get parts. By 1974, she was working full time for the family business, and had recruited a new employee as well.
She had started dating Randy Ingelse in high school, who began going on night calls with George.
After high school, Randy joined the Army, where he continued as a tow truck operator at Ft. Benning, GA. By 1970, Randy was back in Belgium, working full time doing service under Lanser’s roof as “Randy’s Service and Repair.”
“They worked well together,” explains Donna. This was a plus, as Randy soon became her husband. Randy and Donna purchased the business in 1997.
Today, the family business is flourishing. Over the years, Donna and Randy’s family grew to include four children; two boys and two girls: Brady, Jamon, Monique and Micca.
“We never asked them to come work here. We wanted them all to get some kind of education beyond high school. Three of them came back,” says Donna.
The fourth, Brady, has his own successful business, Retrospeed, at 1000 Main Street (on the corner of County D and County KW), and the family works hand in hand with him as well.
Running a business that needs to be on call 24/7 requires a committed and reliable crew, and Lanser currently employs 12 in total, including part-time employees.
“Everyone has to be a jack of all trades here,” Donna explains. The tow truck operators also have to be mechanics. The part-time people work night shifts as flatbed operators.
Donna doesn’t drive trucks, deadpanning that Randy asked her to, once, but says, “our girls love it. They’re good operators.”
Tow truck operators are trained “in house” by Randy just as he was by George. In addition, continuous training is critical in this line of work. The business maintains state and national association memberships and attends the annual convention of the Towing Association to examine new equipment and take hands-on towing classes.
“You need to interact and collaborate with people in the same line of work, and keep up with industry regulatory requirements and laws,” says Donna, noting that Lanser works very well with other towing companies around the area.
“Being a member of local organizations is so beneficial to us also. The Chamber, of course, has really helped navigate every resource available to local businesses, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic.”
Jamon has the highest level of heavy recovery specialty training thru a National Driver Certification Program. He is also certified thru the University of Georgia. Every year he leads a hands-on training session with Brew City Fools, to educate local fire departments on towing capabilities and make it safer for both rescue crews and accident victims. All employees have numerous other certifications. Randy trained in aircraft recovery in Florida. The team has also been trained as confined space technicians and high and low-angle repelling, which has already come in handy when a car went over a 250-foot bluff in Sheboygan and an employee had to repel over the edge to retrieve it.
Other risky rescue missions have included cars that have gone into retention ponds and even a minivan that launched into the air, lodging in the side of a house.
“I get scared when they go out sometimes,” Donna admits, “But the biggest issue now is people not moving over,” (to make way for tow trucks and other emergency vehicles on the side of the road).
In 2019, both Lanser Towing and Retrospeed (which shared a storage building at 1000 Main Street) were both in need of more room, so Lanser started construction on a new building at 825 Main Street.
The construction took longer than expected, but the end result is a beautiful new facility, set for the next several generations of this successful family business.
“The important thing for us as a towing company is our employees, and not just our kids,” Donna emphasizes. “Employees in a family-owned business are like family themselves. We have good, good employees. They’re very dedicated. For that we are very thankful.”