When Stephen Tebo was growing up in sleepy Hill City, Kan., he tested the advice his father, a farm implement dealer, gave him. “Integrity and a work ethic,” he recalled. “Always do what you’re going to say and work harder and smarter than the rest.”
I could tell by the seriousness in his voice that he still clings to that Old World approach to making a go of it in an atmosphere where nothing is promised to no one.
His first job, shining shoes when he was 8, served as the touchstone that led to the realization of his dream to open a coin collecting shop. It didn’t take much time before he found he had a knack for the business. Four years later, his confidence and knowledge base bubbling, he moved the 318 miles across the wind-worn grassland to Boulder. There, he opened another shop.
His choice to locate the second shop in Boulder, he observed, was met with unsolicited rounds of counter opinions. Since time immemorial, or however long, it seems, the golden rule governing success in business has circled one word chanted three times in a row: “location, location, location.”
Tebo, long a devotee of that maxim, knew what he wanted out of it and where he wanted it. Well-meaning friends urged him to set up shop in much busier Denver. Tebo, a man who seems open to other viewpoints, respectfully listened to their cries. However, each of them was met with “I don’t want to open in Denver.” He believed “people will drive to where a good, quality shop is.”
While tending to the coin shop by day, Tebo, who holds an undergraduate degree in math and a master’s in business statistics, took a second job teaching night school at CU Boulder. The extra income, he noted, went to keep pace with his $96 monthly house payment.
After 54 years in business in Boulder, the last 44 under another owner, Tebo’s instincts are still large and in charge, this time in another arena.
Today, Tebo Properties is one of Boulder’s largest owners of commercial real estate. He makes investing look easy, but any investor knows it’s anything but.
“We’re still buying,” he told me, his voice contagiously robust. “We bought one last week and put another one under contract.” And while investing is a crapshoot, “the market is such that you can make a mistake and three years later, you look like a genius.”
Tebo’s purchasing power extends to his astonishing collection of hundreds of vintage automobiles. The spectacular stash of steel, plastic and rubber is stored in a non-descript, unmarked garage the size of a football field. “I’ve got cars that go back to 1909!” he said.
The collection pulsates with everything from a 1925 Willys-Knight that he bought for a few thousand dollars to a 2018 Ford GT. Willys-Knights came in either a four-door or two-door coupe version. The last one rolled off the assembly line during the Great Depression. Lest you assume the vehicles remain stationary, merely taking up space in a cavernous setting, guess again.
“I have a crew and volunteers that get them ready,” he explained. “They’re driven every 90 days. “While the building is closed to the public and its exact address unavailable — “the less publicity I get the better” — Tebo makes it a point to open the doors three times a year to car clubs. “They’re pretty respectful.”
In 2021, following the mass murder at King Soopers in Boulder, Tebo held a fundraiser for the victims’ families. For the first time, he opened the private collection to the public.
He started collecting the cars about 20 years ago, and it mushroomed from there. “I went on eBay and I went wild. I kind of went overboard.”
As a college student, working his way through Fort Hays State, Tebo recalled the day the world stood still: Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. When the young and vigorous President John F. Kennedy was cut down while riding in a motorcade in Dallas. In the evening, Kennedy’s body was transported from the hospital to Air Force One.
“I was in college then.”
Asked if he ever thought he would count among his collection the 1964 Cadillac Miller-Meteor hearse that was used on that somber occasion, “it never crossed my mind” was his short reply, the weightiness of the moment not being lost on either of us . Then, sprinkling in seven words, he painted broad brush strokes to capture the essence of the whole lot of car aficionados wherever they may park themselves and their models: “That’s why they call us ‘gear heads,’” rhapsodized the kid who couldn’ t afford his own car in high school.
Even at 77, Tebo hasn’t lost the zeal that launched him all those years ago at his father’s knee. When he’s not clocking 65 hours a week at the office, his family — wife, five children, six grands, seven great-grands — keep him busy.
“Home is here. I’ve got so many friends and clients here. It feels small town to me.”
Anthony Glaros is a DC native and longtime reporter for numerous publications. He taught high-school English in suburban Montgomery County, Md.