Tupper has an automotive touch

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 18, 2004

Rhonda Tupper is a woman doing what is often considered a man’s job and she’s proud of it. In her three decades of life in the Selma area, she’s tried just about every kind of employment – inside and outside, manual labor and white collar – and now she’s right where she wants to be – service advisor at Moore-Stewart Honda.

Tupper is the one who meets customers with a broad smile on her face at 7:30 a.m. outside the service bays at Moore-Stewart Honda on the northside of Highway 14E and listens and writes as they describe what problems their car is having, what they want done – or think they want done – that day.

It’s think, because Tupper, after six years at the dealership, sometimes knows more about their cars than they do.

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“I can listen to every rattle, ping and tick and almost

always can tell you exactly

what’s going on,” she said.

Tupper is as skilled in diagnostics as any M.D., and let’s face it, next to a doctor, an auto mechanic is one of the more important people in life.

Tupper, as others in her position, has had Honda training courses, but more important is the on-the-job training that goes with living with cars five days a week from sunup to sundown.

In fact, Tupper has been living cars since she was a girl growing up with two brothers, first in Selma, then in Orville. Now she lives with her husband and family in Valley Grande.

Don’t be fooled. Tupper is a tough customer.

She is slight, even petite.

Look at her at the beginning of the day and she looks just like any other thirtysomething mom

out doing grocery shopping and hauling kids.

By the end of the day, like everyone else on the Moore-Stewart Honda service team, she’s got dirt and grease under her nails.

Tupper loves working at Moore-Stewart.

“We have six full- and one part-time workers – here in the service department and we all get along great. You know, in most workplaces there is at least one person you can’t stand. Not here. It’s just like family.”

Tupper says she is the only female auto dealer service writer that she knows of who is working in Selma. However, her predecessor at Moore-Stewart was a woman. In fact, that just may be the reason she was able to break into a virtually all-male preserve, she said.

“The first day was horrible,” she said. “I went home and told my husband I wasn’t going back. But then things began to get better quickly.”

Not surprising, Tupper’s most ardent devotees are women, especially elderly women, who trust her. “They believe that I won’t take advantage of them,” she said. “And I don’t. In fact, there are some who will wait a day when I’m not here, because I’m the only one they want to deal with,” she said.

And then there are the men. Tupper said she gets along fine with most male clients, but especially delights in showing up the occasional one who thinks he knows everything about his car and that she couldn’t possibly know anything. Nothing could be further than the truth.

“They come in here with this know-it-all attitude and I must say nothing pleases me more than to demonstrate that I know more about what their car needs than they do.”

Outside of her love for cars and people, Tupper said her favorite avocation is gardening. “I’ve got a green thumb for flowers,” she said, “but I don’t do vegetables.”

Also Tupper loves a ride in her family’s boat on the Alabama River.

Not surprising she frequently finds herself getting what’s a “bus man’s holiday” – i.e., called upon by the males in her family to fix a truck or to tackle a problem on the family boat.

She knows how to turn a wrench with the best of them and is always glad to lend a hand. Actually, it must add to her very high sense of self-esteem to have the men of the family relying on her to keep their wheels running.

Tupper who finished her high school work with a GED and finished two years at Wallace Community College Selma always wanted to be a teacher, but has not had the resources to continue.

Yet she has no doubt that she is where she ought to be right now. “I love this job,” she said. “I never drove a Honda before I starting working here,” she said, “but then owned several. They’re great cars. In fact, I’d say that foreign cars are better made than American cars. But not long ago I bought me a Dodge Ram 1500 with a quad-carb V-8. It’s a gas guzzler and I love it, and it has a frog-cover steering wheel.”