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Jay Cimino remembered as business titan, community benefactor, and veterans advocate

Gazette - 2/26/2024

Feb. 26—Superlatives, tears, and stories flowed from members of the Colorado business, veteran, and service communities following the news that automotive giant Jay Cimino died on Saturday at the age of 87.

Business titan. Philanthropist. Staunch community advocate. Dedicated public servant.

"More than just a car dealer, more than a man who was successful in business and made a lot of money, but a truly good man has gone to his reward," said Pat Howlett, president of the Trinidad and Las Animas Chamber of Commerce. "He was a truly special person who left an indelible mark on the state of Colorado."

Cimino served a stint in the Marine Corps, attended the University of Denver and made his ascent in the automotive industry in Pueblo, Santa Fe, and Colorado Springs. But a piece of his heart never left Trinidad, where he was born and raised, according to those who knew him.

"Every town, every community, would love to have a Jay Cimino as its hometown boy," Howlett said. "He was the local boy who made good, came home, and did even better."

Cimino's business acumen and leadership ability are well known in the southern Colorado automotive community. In addition to building Phil Long Dealerships into the largest privately held automotive group in the state and one of the top 100 car dealers in the U.S., he was instrumental in developing the Motor City in Colorado Springs, which is now home to over 50 dealerships.

But it is Cimino's many philanthropic endeavors that left the largest footprint, according to his contemporaries.

"He loved this place," Howlett said. "He was committed to making things better — not just right now, but in the future.

The multiple auto dealerships Cimino opened in TrinidadPhil Long Ford, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and Toyota dealers — provided an economic boost to his hometown. But he didn't stop there.

Cimino built several playgrounds in his hometown and oversaw multiple historic preservation and commercial development projects, including Club 14 Garden Grill and Pub, The Marketplace, Champions Center, and La Puerta de Colorado.

"He was truly dedicated to putting his hometown on the map," said Tim Jackson, former head of the Colorado Auto Dealers Association.

Cimino purchased the building that once housed his childhood church and converted it to a health care center. The Mt. Carmel Wellness and Community Center, which opened in 2011, features a fully staffed clinic that provides healthcare seven days a week to residents of Las Animas County and rural southern Colorado.

"I can't think of anybody, in the 143 years of the Chamber's existence, that had more of an impact on Trinidad's future than Jay Cimino," Howlett said.

"And he was very approachable to anybody here. When he was home, he wasn't the big businessman who owned a bunch of car dealerships. He was just Jay from Trinidad. And that's pretty damn cool."

Cimino also had an abiding love for his adopted home of Colorado Springs, said former Mayor John Suthers.

"I had the pleasure of knowing Jay for decades," Suthers said. "He was always there for anything I called upon him for, to help the city in any way — whether it was funding a ballot issue or supporting a project. He was dedicated to making our city a better place to live."

Partnering with retired Army Col. Bob McLaughlin, Cimino launched the Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center in 2016. The center provides veterans and their families with a comprehensive array of services, including transition and employment assistance, behavioral health and wellness, supportive services, connection to community resources, and crisis counseling.

"It was incredible to watch what Jay has done with Mt. Carmel," Suthers said. "He had such a passion for the military and for veterans. He put his mind to it, years ago, that he was going to create a full-service veterans' program, and that's exactly what he's done. A major part of his legacy is his support of veterans, and Mt. Carmel obviously reflects that in a huge way."

"He was very passionate about making sure that we took the responsibility to help veterans very seriously," said McLaughlin, Mt. Carmel's executive director. "We've become a staple in the community thanks to his leadership. It's been incredibly rewarding for me personally, and I'm dedicated to making sure his legacy lives on, for as long as I'm doing this, and hopefully beyond me."

During the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires, Cimino supported firefighting and emergency service efforts by providing more than 30 trucks and cars, according to Jackson. As the Waldo Canyon blaze tore through Colorado Springs, scorching more than 18,000 acres and destroying nearly 350 homes, Cimino kept the Phil Long service bays open around the clock, fixing emergency vehicles that had sustained damage.

"It was the most monumental act of community service I have seen in my career — and maybe in my lifetime," Jackson said. "It was the right thing to do, and it was Jay Cimino who did it."

Over the course of his career, Cimino's many honors have included: the El Pomar Foundation's Gov. John A. Love Award, Ford Motor Company's Salute to Dealers Award, the Citizen Meritorious Service Award, the Columbine Individual Citation Award, the John Venezia Memorial Award, the Council for College Resource Development Award, and the Partners in Philanthropy Outstanding Individual Donor Award. In 2012, he was inducted into the Trinidad State Junior College Hall of Fame, and was named Colorado Auto Dealer of the Year. In 2013, the American Red Cross named Cimino the Humanitarian of the Year. In 2020 he was inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame and was part of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association's inaugural Automotive Hall of Fame class. In 2022 he was named a Notable Military Veteran by Automotive News and was inducted into the Ford Motor Company's Hall of Fame.

"He was really one of a kind from a standpoint of vision, leadership and heritage," Jackson said. "I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that he was a legend."

"He was a truly special person, and he left an indelible mark on the Trinidad, Colorado Springs, and the entire state," Howlett said.

"It's an amazing legacy that he has left our city," Suthers said. "He will be missed."

A memorial mass will be held Friday at 10 a.m. at St. Paul Catholic Church, to be followed by a Celebration of Life gathering at The Broadmoor West. A livestream of the memorial will be available at


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