Tom Cole, a nominee for the 2014 Time Dealer of the Year award and founder and owner of Cole Automotive Group in west Michigan, died Sunday. He was 73.
Cole bought his first dealership, Century Buick in Kalamazoo, in 1981. Eventually, he became owner of five dealerships in southwest Michigan, including three in and around Kalamazoo. The group’s dealerships sell Nissan, Buick, GMC, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, Ford and Lincoln brands.
A successful dealer and the founder of the annual Touchdown for Diabetes fundraising event, Cole was nominated for Time magazine’s Dealer of the Year award in 2014. The award recognizes the nation’s top auto dealers for their success in business and philanthropy in their communities.
Cole was born in Waverly, N.Y., in 1942. His family moved to East Lansing, Mich., when he was 1 year old before eventually landing in Richland, Mich. There, he graduated from Richland Agricultural High School and washed cars, sparking his love for muscle cars and all things auto-related.
In addition to founding Touchdown for Diabetes, Cole was a member of the board of trustees of the Borgess Foundation, which is dedicated to expanding health care access, and was an “avid supporter” of Western Michigan University, according to his obituary.
Cole died at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo. He is survived by three children, four grandchildren, his sister and three nieces and nephews.