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Rick Case, auto empire king and Fort Lauderdale philanthropist, dies at 77

Rick Case’s drive for success began with a newspaper route in Akron, Ohio, at the age of 9.

Instead of just one route, Case turned it into a business, hiring delivery boys to take on more routes.

Case, who shared his story in his 2012 autobiography, “Our Customers Our Friends,” found his love for selling cars at age 14, when he bought a used car, fixed it up, stuck a “For Sale” sign on it in his parents’ Akron driveway and sold it within a few days.

By 19, Case was running his first used car lot, Moxie Motors. He would go on to become the founder and CEO of The Rick Case Automotive Group in Sunrise, which rang up more than a billion dollars in sales in 2015 and owns 22 dealerships across Florida, Georgia and Ohio.

On Monday, the Broward car dealer entrepreneur and well-known South Florida philanthropist died at his home after a short battle with cancer, according to a Rick Case Automotive Group press release. He was 77.

“Rick had the most amazing mind for problem solving. He set his goals so high, most could not dream that big,” Rita Case, his wife of 40 years, said in a statement. “His work ethic and passion to succeed were very intense and always had me chasing to keep up.“

Richard “Rick” James Case was born Oct. 22, 1942, in Akron. He opened his first car dealership in 1962 in Akron. In 1965, he added motorcycles. And in 1972, he started selling Hondas, garnering the world record, which still stands, of most Hondas sold in a month: 1,222.

Along the way, he faced challenges, including running to extinguish a fire at one of his service bays, resulting in third-degree burns on most of his body after an explosion ensued.

He turned his hospital room into his office. “If you want to succeed, you will overcome anything,” he wrote in his book.

In 1977, Case met his future wife, Rita, at a Honda convention. She was running her parents’ Honda dealership in Santa Rosa, California. The couple married in 1980.

In 1985, they moved to Fort Lauderdale, where they opened the first Hyundai and Acura dealership in the United States, according to the company’s website.

“Rick and Rita intend to be #1 at everything they start, and they succeed time and time again,” Roger Penske, chairman of the Penske Corp., said in Case’s book. “As a team, and individually, you couldn’t ask for better business partners or competitors. First class all the way.”

In 2015, the company surpassed a billion dollars in sales, the website said.

The couple was well known in South Florida for their philanthropic efforts, especially for their work in the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County and Nova Southeastern University. In 2017, Nova named its nearly 5,000-seat arena “The Rick Case Arena.”

“The Nova Southeastern University family is shocked and deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Rick Case,” Nova Southeastern said in a statement. “His passing leaves a huge void in many communities, including Broward County, and NSU has lost one of its biggest supporters, one of its greatest champions and one of its loudest advocates.”

According to the auto group’s website, Rick and Rita raised more than $100 million to support charities in South Florida.

One of those charities was the “Rick Case Bikes for Kids” program, which has been running for 39 years and has resulted in children receiving more than 100,000 bikes.

The program works simply: He would ask people to drop off their old bicycles to any of his dealerships and then would have them fixed before delivering them to various charities, which would give them to children.

Rita said her husband told her “he had no doubt” that she could continue the business without him.

“I trust his confidence in me and will make him proud as will our children,” she said in the statement. “He was a wonderful husband and loving father. I will miss him so much; he was truly one of a kind and always so positive. I’m so proud of him and thankful to have shared 40 years with such a special, caring and supportive husband.”

In addition to his wife, Rita, Case is survived by his son and daughter-in-law, Rick and Christine Case; son and daughter-in-law, Ryan and Francesca Case; daughter and son-in-law, Raquel and Greg Travaline, and five grandchildren.

A private ceremony will be held for immediate family with a “celebration of life” in the future.

Those wishing to honor Rick and his philanthropic work are asked to support the Rick Case Educational Scholarship Fund benefiting the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County. The club’s headquarters is located at 877 NW 61st St., #100, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309, or email Kerry Becker for gift instructions to Kerry Becker at [email protected]

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