“He had the intensity, the passion, and the positive attitude,” Rita Case said. “He was truly so optimistic. His glass was always half full as opposed to half empty.”
The man who started a powerhouse chain of car dealerships in a shack in Ohio — first known as “Moxie Motors” — would end up pioneering the arrivals in South Florida of foreign models such as Honda, Acura, and Hyundai when few others would.
Devoted to charities
But it was Case’s relentless devotion to charities such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County, Habitat for Humanity, and the American Heart Association that captured the respect and support of countless business and community leaders, many of whom said Wednesday that there will be no replacing him.
“Everywhere I went they were there and making a difference for Broward County with the Boys & Girls Clubs and many, many other organizations, whether it was the American Heart Association or handicapped children or the homeless,” said Davie entrepreneur Ron Bergeron. “He was one of the most philanthropic men that I ever met, and I was actually inspired by him. I believe that we’ve lost a man that in my eyes is an icon … a man that took all of his success and gave back to others.”
WestFair, an annual event that benefited the Boys and Girls Club of Davie through profits from rodeos, concerts, and monster truck shows at Bergeron’s rodeo grounds, was one of Case’s out-of-the-box fundraising ideas that helped expand the club’s reach to a wider spectrum of donors, said Rita Case.
“Rick was not just a great competitor but more importantly a good friend,” said Marc Cannon, executive vice president of Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation. “What Rick and Rita have done in the community working with children is simply unmatched. We at AutoNation will miss him.”
Said AutoNation Chairman and CEO Mike Jackson: “The community just lost a pillar.”
At the Boys & Girls Club of Broward County, co-CEO Matt Organ said the organization would be nowhere near its present-day status without the efforts of Rick Case.
“Rick Case put this organization on his back decades ago,” he said. In the 1980s, the group had three clubs and 3,000 members. Now it is up to 12,000 members and 13 clubs.
“He was definitely a humble man,” Organ said. “It wasn’t necessary to give him the accolades or shine a spotlight. He wanted that light on the kids — on the challenge of the kids growing up.”
Organ said Case not only wrote checks but served as board chair and made frequent appearances at committee planning meetings. He became involved in “every aspect of the events,” Organ said, in essence, transferring his company’s best business practices to the nonprofit’s benefit.
“When you see a guy like Rick Case walk into your committee meeting, that’s pretty impressive,” Organ added. “He’s not looking to rush out of a meeting. He’d chat with the person next to him, shake their hand and look them into the eye.”
The Cases raised more than $50 million for the clubs and in 2011 were honored as National Medallion Award Winners by the Boys and Girls Club of America, the highest honor given by the National Office of the Boys and Girls Clubs to any individual.
The couple also donated and raised more than $100 million for charitable and educational organizations, including Nova Southeastern University in Davie.
Every holiday season since 1982, they threw their efforts into their Rick Case Bikes for Kids program to make sure more than 100,000 children received bicycles during the holidays.
Rick Case also helped fund a 10-acre Habitat for Humanity development in Pompano Beach, the largest Habitat community in South Florida. There are places for 77 homes, with 49 still to be built.
Earlier this year, the Cases were named Florida Atlantic University’s 29th annual Business Leaders of the Year. In 2019, they were inducted into Nova Southeastern University and Huizenga Business College’s Business Hall of Fame.
Case’s auto empire, begun 59 years years ago, now produces more than $1 billion in annual sales and employs more than 1,200 people. Case and his wife opened 16 dealerships in Cleveland, Atlanta and South Florida.
Case started his career selling cars from his parents’ front yard in high school. At age 14‚ he purchased a used car, fixed it up and put a “for sale” sign on it in his parent’s driveway in Akron, Ohio. It sold within days.
He then started a used car reconditioning business before he was old enough to drive, hiring older guys to shuttle the cars around. At age 19, he operated his first used car lot by himself.
By 1965, Case saw the demand for motorcycles growing and jumped into that industry as well as opening the first Toyota store in 1966. At age 29, he owned and operated a multimillion-dollar chain of motorcycle stores and later became the world’s largest-volume Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Suzuki, Vespa motorcycle dealer throughout the 1970s.
His move into motorcycles, besides making good business sense, was also motivated by something else. Even before Honda produced its first car for the American public, Case had a hunch it would be a winner.
“I was impressed that Honda had created a tremendous market for its motorcycles in the United States,” Case told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 2004. “And I thought, ‘What could they do when they come out with a car?’”
Along comes Honda
Honda began offering a car in the United States in 1970. But because of some bad sales experiences the company had in California, Honda decided that its motorcycle dealers did not necessarily make good dealers of Honda cars and refused to sell Case a car franchise. He insisted, meeting with Honda executives and showing them how he had built his business throughout the years. “I had to prove to them I could sell cars,” he said in 2004.
When Honda wanted to launch its luxury Acura model in the United States, they asked Case to choose a site. He picked Fort Lauderdale and opened the store in 1986. He also opened the country’s first Hyundai dealerships in Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta the same year.
In 2019, Rick Case Honda won the nation’s top dealership award from Honda for the 11th year in a row.
Rick and Rita
Honda also brought Rick and Rita Case together. Rita was general manager of her parents’ Honda dealership in Santa Rosa, California, after college. They met at a Honda convention in 1977, and Rick persuaded her to move to Akron. They married in 1980 and made South Florida their home in 1985.
In advertisements, public appearances, and interviews, Rick and Rita Case were constantly at each other’s side, promoting the business and their charities.
From his earliest days in business, Rick Case built his brand through television and newspaper ads, including the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “Hi, this is Rick Case” became a widely known signature in Cleveland and Akron.
The Cases have been partners in business since meeting and have three children, Rick, Ryan, and Raquel.
“He always treated me as his equal and allowed me to share in his spotlight of success,” Rita Case said in a statement. “He was a wonderful husband and a 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.”
A private ceremony was held for the immediate family followed by a “celebration of life.”
Memorial donations can be made in his honor supporting the Rick Case Educational Scholarship Fund, which benefits the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County. Those who want to donate can drop off donations at the headquarters in Fort Lauderdale or email gift instructions to Kerry Becker at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those who want to send the family a personal message or any photos of Case can send the items to email@example.com.