Darren Richey, left, and Mike Richey took over Jim’s Body Shop at 1355 W. Tipton St., Seymour, IN, after the passing of their father, John Richey. John is the son of James and Helen Richey, who started the business in 1955. Photo by Erika Malone/The Tribune.

Jim’s Body Shop in Seymour, IN, started in the midst of segregation in place across the U.S. in 1955.

Just 10 years before its establishment came the Freeman Field Mutiny, where more than 100 Black officers of the 477th Bombardment Group were arrested for attempting to gain entrance to the white officers’ club.

This incident was one of many leading President Harry Truman to issue an executive order declaring the end of segregation in the military in 1948.

Before Jim’s Body Shop was born, James Richey worked at Ford’s Garage in downtown Seymour, where The Garage is currently located, as a body repairman and painter. He then decided to take a leap of faith and try to start a business himself.

Just a year before James and Helen Richey started their auto body business in 1955, the historic Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, outlawed segregation in schools across the U.S.

As the Richeys were building their business, they also started to build a home for themselves. They started out in a one-bedroom house with some of the interior walls made of cardboard James Richey would bring home from work.

As Jim’s Body Shop was already into its ninth year of service to the community, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 superseded all state and local laws requiring segregation, prohibiting it.

Through this era in time, Jim’s Body Shop has heard and seen it all. Now 68 years into serving the community and still going strong, Darren and Mike Richey, the sons of the late John Richey and grandsons of the late James Richey, shared their stories growing up and now owning the long-running family business.

Darren graduated from Seymour High School in 1995, and Mike in 1988. They both went off to college for business management but felt they would learn more about it from their father.

The brothers said their father wanted them to experience working for other people besides family, but somehow, they always ended back up working in the shop.

One story Mike remembers was the time his grandfather taught him a valuable lesson in hard work and perfection when it comes to serving the customer.

James always had his car washed on Fridays, and with a busy shop to take care of, 13-year-old Mike asked him if he could wash his car.

Mike thought he did an excellent job cleaning the car until his grandfather opened the door and saw the doorjamb was dirty.

“He told me, ‘If you ain’t gonna do it right, don’t ask to wash my car,’” Mike said. “It’s funny looking back on that now, and I know Pop always wanted us to be the best at what we do.”

With the start of Jim’s Body Shop in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, Darren said his grandfather had some challenges starting out, but he eventually prevailed in starting a Black-owned business in 1955.

“Pop had to fight to get the work, but once someone saw what he could do, they gave him a chance,” he said. “They might not have liked him for the color of his skin, but they were still going to bring whatever they needed him to fix.”

Growing up, the Richey brothers were taught the color of someone’s skin does not make them different than anyone else. In their past, however, said they have experienced minor instances of discrimination.

“We always had friends that had our backs if something was said,” Darren said. “We all bleed the same, but there is always going to be someone that doesn’t like that person for the color of their skin.”

The brothers said they do not let past experiences affect their lives, because of the support and connections they have made with many people in the community over the years.

As an established business in the community for many years, Jim’s Body Shop had been a huge supporter of giving back and getting involved in the community. Darren remembers when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its peak and with the shop not being as busy as usual, the community members kept them going during times of uncertainty.

“We were an essential business, and a lot of our older customers kept us going during that time,” Darren said. “Our community has supported this shop for over 60 years, and it’s amazing.”

Darren participated in "Dancing with the Seymour Stars," an event that raised funds for the Boys & Girls Club of Seymour and Seymour Main Street, with Katrina Hardwick in 2022, and they were declared the winners.

“Doing that was a blast, and she kicked my behind. What we did for the community on that day was amazing,” Darren said.

The Richey brothers reflected on Black History Month as a time to recognize all of the hard work and suffering that was put into creating better opportunities for their father and grandfather.

“All that suffering and work wasn’t just for our family, but any person of color that wanted to do or be something in this world,” Mike said.

The brothers managed the business behind the scenes as their father was slowly stepping down until his untimely passing in October 2021. They took over the business shortly after, still using the guidance of their father and grandfather before them.

The Richeys said the positive of owning a business is being able to be your own boss, and a negative is constantly making sure there is enough staff to cover the amount of business you get.

“We are kind of in charge of people’s livelihoods, so we have to make sure we’ve got enough coming in to support our employees,” Darren said.

We thank The Tribune for reprint permission.

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