SENECA FALLS — Bill Cram’s upbeat attitude belied a childhood that had its share of challenges.
Amy Cram, Cram’s youngest child who now runs the Chevrolet dealership he started, said her father’s father left his family when her father was 14 years old. Bill Cram was forced to grow up quickly to help provide for his mother and brother.
It was likely during those early years in Keene, N.H. that he developed the hardworking, trustworthy traits that characterized his business success. Cram, 90, died on March 18 after being in poor health for about a year and a half.
Up until then his daughter said Cram would call every customer who had just bought a car from the dealership, even while he was spending his winters in Florida.
“He would tell them ‘We want you to be happy,’” said Amy Cram, adding she was “blessed” to have spent 30 years working with her father.
As a teenager, Cram worked in a leather tannery, cracker factory and in a precursor of his life to come even sold cars. He arrived in the Finger Lakes after enlisting in the Air Force in 1952 and being stationed at Sampson Air Force base. He met his wife, the former Phyllis Iversen, on a blind date and the couple had four children. After Cram left the Air Force he and his brother-in-law started Timberline Lumber, which later merged with Wickes Lumber in the late 1960s.
Amy Cram said her father remained with Wickes and commuted to Michigan for about a year before deciding to open a car dealership locally. But first he decided to take his wife, four children, and mother-in-law on a six-week trip across the country in a station wagon — with no air conditioning. That adventurous attitude and love of family gatherings were a hallmark of her father, she added.
In 1969 Cram took over the former Hallman Adkins Chevrolet dealership on Fall Street in Seneca Falls (near the current location of Avicolli’s pizzeria). Amy Cram explained that her father’s stepfather in Rochester, N.H. had a Chevy dealership and helped him secure the dealership. From then on, it was all Bill Cram.
“He went back to what he started in,” she said.
In 1972 Cram bought property on Routes 5&20 near Rt. 414 and the dealership moved to its current location, later expanding.
Other than work and family, Amy Cram said her father didn’t have any hobbies — but he did like to travel.
“He was always looking for industries [elsewhere] to bring to the community,” she said.
Bert Serling of Seneca Falls was a fellow Rotary Club member with Cram and first became acquainted with him when he and the late John “Jeb” Becker started the Industrial Development Agency in Seneca County.
“I think his single biggest contribution was getting the IDA started,” Sterling said.
Chris Iversen, Cram’s nephew and president of the Chrisanntha Inc. construction/development company, agreed, calling his uncle “far-sighted” about his getting local leaders together to promote and recruit businesses to the area.
“He could see that things could be done if people put their minds to it,” Iversen said. “That was a great thing.”
Cram’s persistence and upbeat nature were keys to his success, he added.
“You can’t be a pessimist and take the risk of starting a new business,” Iversen noted.”There are many businesses and families that benefited from Bill’s activism in the area.”
And as an uncle, Cram could be counted on to document any family gathering with his ever-present camera and “relentless” picture taking, Iversen said.
Amy Cram said in the time since her father’s death several people have reached out to share how he always had a smile on his face and exuded positivity. When asked how he was doing, he would often reply — with a twinge of his New England accent still present — “supahh,” “terrific” or “Cramtastic,” his daughter recalled.
Even though he was receiving hospice care in the last weeks of his life Amy Cram said her father rallied for an outing to Ventosa Vineyards to hear Nate Michaels sing and a Saturday visit to White Springs Winery where he danced with her mother — still having fun until the end.
“He was just a good guy,” Amy Cram said.