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Balboa Park auto museum to honor Rancho Santa Fe couple

Honorees Bill and Susan Hoehn
Honorees Bill and Susan Hoehn

(Dev Khalsa Photography)

Bill and Susan Hoehn will be recognized for their contributions

Automobiles have been mass produced in the United States for more than 100 years.

The Hoehn family has been involved in the industry for most of those decades. Theodore W. Hoehn established his first dealership in 1928, according to Hoehn Motors website.

The legacy launched in Tennessee survives today in the hands of grandsons Bill and Bob Hoehn, who own seven dealerships — six in Carlsbad and one in Temecula.

Having reaped the financial benefits of a lucrative enterprise, Rancho Santa Fe residents Bill and wife Susan Hoehn are magnanimous in sharing the fruits of their fortune as benefactors of numerous causes. Those include patronage of the San Diego Automotive Museum in Balboa Park.

For their support of the museum as well as their region-wide largesse, the couple will be honored at the venue’s “All Revved Up” reopening celebration and fundraising gala Oct. 16.

In planning the event, museum CEO Lenny Leszczynski said he and the Board of Directors wanted to commemorate someone who had a profound impact on the community, the automobile industry and the museum.

“As we set the parameters, the Hoehn family started coming towards the top and really emerged as the people we wanted,” Leszczynski said.

Rather than isolating themselves and using their wealth only for their own enjoyment, Leszczynski said, Bill and Susan Hoehn “really give back to the community.”

“It’s their philanthropic work throughout all of San Diego that really set them apart from other people we were considering,” he said. “We want to honor not just people who make an impact on the car community, but use the car community platform ... to have a broader impact on society as a whole, particularly here in San Diego.

“And the Hoehns embody that idea. It became a no-brainer once we had that conversation. The Hoehns kept emerging as the people we really want to honor. They’re very deserving of it.”

Renewed vigor

Bill and Susan Hoehn deem the recognition as significant in light of the museum’s initiatives to update its exhibits and programs.

“The San Diego Automotive Museum has been around for 40-plus years and it’s been through some ups and downs,” Bill Hoehn said. “But it’s got some new vigor and new enthusiasm, with leadership and with the community of San Diego getting behind it and with the opportunity to expand and refurbish the facility at Balboa Park.

“So, it’s kind of a new start for this museum as a community resource and community treasure.”

The focus of the museum’s fundraising efforts, including the Oct. 16 gala, is to raise money for a youth educational program and facilities both on site and at other locales.

“We’re going to be launching our capital campaign and the development of our vocational school,” Leszczynski said. “Proceeds from the evening will go towards kicking off both of those campaigns.

“The San Diego Automotive Museum has a $22 million capital campaign project that we will be officially kicking off publicly Oct. 16 at this event, and we will also be announcing the development of a vocational educational program that the museum will be developing over the course of the next year and will be rolling out in 2023.”

The vocational component will be partly staged at the museum, while hands-on activities such as car restoration and maintenance will be conducted at an offsite location in National City to comply with zoning restrictions.

Also, museum leaders will strive to solidify community partnerships both with industry leaders such as the Hoehns and local auto repair shops in preparing students to get jobs.

The museum will work with community colleges so students will be able to obtain certificates for completion of the vocational program, which will be geared toward children from low-income families and offered free of charge, Leszczynski said.

Space at the existing 26,000-square-foot museum will more than double to include interactive educational exhibits for all age groups.

“We’re very excited to be expanding and to provide more services to the community as well as tell the story of the technological past, present and future,” Leszczynski said. “It won’t be just a museum where you line up cars. It will be really getting into the evolution of the motor and hopefully inspiring the future automobile designers, fabricators and technological engineers.”

A wonderful place

Susan Hoehn said the upgrade of the automotive museum should augment San Diego’s reputation for offering national attractions.

“San Diego’s been a wonderful place for us to live and to raise our children,” she said. “We’ve been here for 45 years. And we think it’s the best city. We’ve enjoyed it so much and we really want this museum to flourish in its new iteration and to attract people from all over the country.

“Our museums in San Diego and Balboa Park are fabulous. We want to bring this up to be a real attraction. I like to call it the reinvention or reimagining of it. It’s going to be very, very cool.”

The museum is just one of the many commitments Bill and Susan Hoehn forged in the region. Though their business is largely based in North County and they live in Rancho Santa Fe, their philanthropical interests have been widespread.

In addition to the automotive museum, they have supported The Salvation Army, Ronald McDonald House, San Diego Rescue Mission, La Jolla Music Society, The Old Globe and the San Diego Women’s Foundation, to name just a few.

“We feel this has been a great home for us, for our business, for our family,” Susan Hoehn said. “We think San Diego is a fabulous city and we want to support its culture, and its growth, and help with some of the problems.

“Right now, we’re involved with the homeless situation. The Salvation Army is building a big center downtown. I’m in strategic planning for that. So, we’re a part of San Diego. We’re not just a Carlsbad business.”

The American dream

Bill and Susan Hoehn’s involvement in San Diego County stems from the decision of Bill’s father, who had taken over the Tennessee business from the grandfather, to open up a dealership in Carlsbad in 1975. Bill’s father had moved from Tennessee to La Jolla to enjoy his retirement, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to get on board with the newly developing Carlsbad Car Country. Ownership passed on to the sons.

Today, Hoehn Motors’ Carlsbad dealerships offer brands that include Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Honda, Jaguar, Land Rover and Audi while their Temecula property specializes in Audi.

Though some observers of the automotive industry have predicted the demise of the personal vehicle, Bill Hoehn doesn’t see it that way.

“I believe the automobile is the great American dream machine,” he said. “I remember when I turned 16, the biggest thing that I could have imagined was getting a driver’s license and being able to drive myself around. ...

“I remember when people were saying everybody’s going to go to Uber and Lyft and not own their own personal car. I was saying, ‘What about on Saturday morning when I get up and think, ‘Well, I want to take a drive out to Borrego Springs.’ Am I going to call Uber or Lyft? Of course not. ... I believe the personal automobile is here to stay.”

Yet, Hoehn recognizes the industry continues to evolve and he views that as a good thing.

“Right now, we’re going through a major change towards electricity,” he said. “San Diego has been very early to adopt electrical vehicles compared to the rest of the United States. San Diego has one of the highest penetrations of electrical vehicles so far in the United States. So we’re in the forefront of that. I’m excited to see what that’s going to hold.”

The San Diego Automotive Museum, with the ongoing patronage of the Hoehns, aspires to be at the forefront of that evolution in educating the public as well as future generations of youth.

Said Leszczynski: “The automobile, I believe, is one of the common denominators that binds everybody together. ... I really think we can tell that story of ultra diversity through our display of cars.”

Information on the San Diego Automotive Museum and the Oct. 16 event is available at sdautomuseum.org.


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