Longtime MFA Oil Employee Marvin VanLeer Retires
January 20, 2018
Written By Adam Buckallew
Have you ever believed in anything so strongly that you would want anyone who sees you to know it instantly? Would you go so far as to shave it into the hair on the sides of your head? That’s the kind of dedication Marvin VanLeer had for MFA Oil during his 52 years of service to the company as a driver and plant manager. For many years, VanLeer could be seen sporting a haircut with the words “MFA” and “Oil” emblazoned on either side of his head.
Known to many of his farmers and customers simply as Beef, VanLeer may not have achieved the same level of celebrity as Elvis, Madonna or other notable people who go by a single moniker, but he did make a lasting impression on many residents of Franklin County, Mo., through his enthusiasm and commitment to service on behalf of MFA Oil.
“If you needed fuel, all you had to do was call Marvin and you knew he would take care of you,” says Jerome Harberger, a farmer and MFA Oil delegate from Villa Ridge, Mo. “He always came through for us.
VanLeer officially retired in August 2017, concluding a 62-year career, including 10 years of service to MFA Incorporated. Harkening back to a time when heating oil sold for 17 cents per gallon, VanLeer’s MFA Oil career kicked off in 1965. During this time, VanLeer and other drivers commonly drove their own trucks to deliver fuel to customers.”
“Roads were so much worse back when I started driving than they are today,” VanLeer recalls. “They were mostly gravel and in poor shape. I once had 45 flat tires in a single year.”
Throughout the five decades VanLeer spent working for MFA Oil, he drove nearly 2 million miles on 10 different trucks, including five Chevrolets he personally owned and operated. He drove through plenty of tough conditions in his many years with the company, but one bitter winter stands out above the rest.
“My arms and shoulders got so sore from having to keep such a tight grip on the steering wheel to keep the truck on the slick roads,” he remembers.
Jared Lause, who manages the MFA Oil office at Union, Mo., was always impressed with how well VanLeer knew his customers.
“I always enjoyed riding down country roads with Marvin on our way to a fuel delivery,” Lause says. “He would be able to tell you all about the farmer we were headed to see, and often knew several generations of the family. Marvin’s extensive knowledge of not only our members and customers, but also the history of the company is incredible.”
Aside from his impressive longevity and persistence as an MFA Oil employee, VanLeer also enjoyed an extensive running career. He became known as such an avid runner that his friends, family and co-workers participated in a write-in campaign to Chevrolet and Coca-Cola, sponsors of the 2002 Winter Olympics, to nominate VanLeer to carry the Olympic torch prior to the start of the games in Salt Lake City.
“It was quite an honor,” VanLeer says. “I didn’t even know that I was going to be chosen until a box showed up on my front porch with the official torch bearer uniform.”
Many of these same family, friends and co-workers showed up on Jan. 8, 2002, to watch VanLeer carry the Olympic torch about a quarter of a mile in downtown St. Louis. He would later bring the torch to Columbia, Mo., for a lap around the lake at the MFA Oil home office to share the moment with many of the co-workers who had helped nominate him for the honor.
VanLeer’s dedication, both to his job and his running hobby, is a trait easily recognized by those who know him best.
John Busch Jr., who worked with VanLeer as an MFA Oil driver for the past 27 years, says VanLeer’s reliability was never in doubt.
“Marvin was always willing to help you out,” Busch says. “It didn’t matter if it meant working on the weekend, he took great pride in taking care of his customers.”