If you happen to be out and about in West Bend, Wis., you’re likely to see a stunning 1957 Chevy in mint condition enroute to a nearby store. The owner? Grace Braeger, a resident of UCC-related Cedar Community.
In fact, Braeger is the one and only owner of the slick black ’57 Chevy Bel Air. She purchased “57 Lady” Oct. 15, 1957, at King Braeger Chevrolet — no relation — in Milwaukee for $2,250 plus her trade-in (a 1950 Chevy), and delights in the fact that her last name is emblazoned on the back of the vehicle in the dealer imprint. The car had been a salesman’s demo vehicle, and came with 4,239 miles on it. Late last year, the speedometer turned over 122,000 miles.
“I just never saw a need for another car,” Braeger says of the then-state-of-the-art vehicle. Though the transmission has been replaced, the power steering, power brakes, V8 engine, 4-barrel carburetor, and dual exhaust are all original, as are the red and black leather interior and red dashboard. “They don’t make car interiors like that anymore,” she adds.
A graduate of Valparaiso University with a major in religion, Braeger had a long, successful career in professional fund raising. She moved back to her hometown of West Bend in 2001 to live with her sister, Alice, who had found a two-bedroom apartment at Cedar Community. For Braeger, one of the main selling points of Cedar Community was its indoor garage.
“I had the car restored in 1987 because the floor boards were no longer dependable — I could see through them!” she says. Since the restoration, she keeps the car in the garage during the winter, rather than expose it to the harsh Wisconsin weather, and doesn’t drive it in the rain.
“Grace has so much passion for her ’57 Chevy,” says Julie Gabelmann, vice president of resident experience at Cedar Community. “It is wonderful to see the joy it brings her.”
The car comes with a bit of notoriety. Over the years, newspapers, TV shows, and various social media outlets have done feature stories on Braeger and 57 Lady. Although the car is in show condition, she and 57 Lady don’t frequent those gatherings. “I consider driving it on the streets of West Bend to be a moving car show,” she says. “People have always loved the ’57 Chevy!”
Braeger still drives the car to the grocery store and to appointments. She also drives it to her local Lutheran church on Sundays, where she serves as a lay deaconess. As she told Jim Stingl of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2017, “The 20-something career lady has become the proverbial little old lady who drives to the grocery store, to appointments and to church.”
In addition to the original bill of sale, Braeger has kept detailed notes and receipts of every oil change and repair. “The original manual says to change the oil every 2,000 miles,” she says. “I always change it every 1,000 miles.” These days, that amounts to once a year.
So why did Braeger name her ride “57 Lady”? Easy, she says: “It’s a ’57 and I’m a Lady!” The car even has its own business card, which Braeger had printed in 2014.
The business card is part of the process Braeger began several years ago to find just the right buyer for 57 Lady. Finding the right person to love 57 Lady isn’t easy. To many collectors, “it’s just another car,” she says. One potential buyer even wanted to store the car in a barn. Braeger refused, noting that 57 Lady is to be driven proudly on the streets, not hidden in a barn.
Barcroft TV, the London-based new media studio whose YouTube stations are a social media sensation, recently sent a video crew to interview Braeger for its “Ridiculous Rides” series.
“While filming for the series, several [Cedar Community] residents stopped by to take in the beauty of Grace’s ’57 Chevy,” says Gabelmann. “It is definitely a show stopper among residents, and she has many fans.”
The Ridiculous Rides installment featuring Grace and 57 Lady will premiere in December. Braeger hopes the story might spur additional interest in her car as she waits for the perfect new owner to come along.
Until then, Cedar Community residents can continue to enjoy 57 Lady’s moving car show on the streets of West Bend.
“Grace enjoys sharing stories, the history of the car, and how she hopes to find a new owner someday who will appreciate it as much as she has,” Gabelmann adds. “At Cedar Community, we are thrilled to see residents who are enjoying, exploring, and embracing their best life, whatever that may be.”
CHHSM member Cedar Community is a retirement living community with locations in West Bend and Elkhart Lake, Wis. Photos used in this story courtesy of Grace Braeger and Cedar Community.