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Howard J. Cooper, Jr.

November 8, 1928 ~ March 7, 2019 (age 90)

Howard J. Cooper, Jr., a life-loving, generous-spirited and revered Ann Arbor entrepreneur, who turned five acres of farmland on South State Street into a thriving foreign car dealership and then shared a portion of his earnings with all 89 of his employees when he sold the business, died Thursday at his winter residence in Naples, Fla. He was 90.

            The cause of death was cardiac arrest.

            Cooper, a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Business Administration, served as manager of the University of Michigan football team in 1949. He opened Howard Cooper Volkswagen, Inc., at 2575 St. State St. in 1965, then acquired Porsche and Audi in 1972 and Honda in 1979. He won many national awards for outstanding service and featured customer testimonials in his advertising.

            When he sold Howard Cooper Import Center in 2012, to Ohio-based Germain Motor Company, he turned down higher bidders in favor of making employee retention a part of the deal. Then he assembled his 89 employees and handed envelopes to each one with $1,000 per year of service. He had many longterm employees.

            “I wanted to thank my employees and that was a way I could do it,” Cooper told the Ann Arbor News at the time of the sale. “I hope it makes a difference in their lives like they have made in mine.”

            Always youthful-looking and crisply dressed, with a full head of chestnut-colored hair until his passing, Cooper was an ardent and lifelong fan of both Ann Arbor and U-M football and basketball. He served in many Ann Arbor civic and industry organizations and often in leadership roles, including as chair of the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce and the United Way Board of Directors. He is a former director of the Ann Arbor Art Center, the Arbor Hospice Foundation and the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, where he enjoyed introducing the July 4th entertainment each year at the Power Center for the Performing Arts.

            Cooper also served as a Director of the Ann Arbor Trust Company (now KeyBank), and was on the founding Board of the Ann Arbor State Bank.                       

            Howard Jay Cooper, Jr. was born November 8, 1928 in Kalamazoo to Iva Jane Rothlisberger and Howard J. Cooper Sr., the youngest of five children. His father was one of the original Dodge dealers when he began selling cars in 1914. The young Cooper grew up sweeping floors, washing and polishing cars and changing oil.

            At Michigan, Cooper served as the football team’s senior manager under Coach Bennie Oosterbaan during a season that culminated in the 1950 Rose Bowl. He graduated from U-M’s business school in 1950, then returned to the family business, where he worked in all departments and built up used car sales before starting his own business in Ann Arbor. Letters of support in that venture came from his high school and U-M football mentors, including Athletic Director Fritz Chrysler.

            Cooper served on both Honda and Volkswagen national dealer councils and received numerous national awards throughout his career, including from the American International Automobile Dealers Association.

            Cooper is predeceased by his first wife of 44 years, Sue W. Cooper. He is survived by his wife of 20 years, Anne A. Cooper, former senior director of principal gifts at the UM Health System, of Ann Arbor; daughter Holly C. Wolff and son-in-law David Wolff of Saranac Lake, N.Y.; daughter Candy J. Cooper and son-in-law Robert Weisbuch of Montclair, N.J.; son Howard J. Cooper III and daughter-in-law Karen Wood of Chelsea; stepdaughter Jennifer Baird and husband Brian Baird of Dexter; and stepdaughter Jody Steger and husband Andrew J. Steger of Fort Collins, Co. Cooper also leaves five grandchildren: D. J. Wolff, Stephen Wolff, Gabriel Weisbuch, Heather Cooper McDevitt, and Howard Cooper IV, as well as seven step-grandchildren: Sarah Weisbuch, Michael Weisbuch, Alex Wood, Kerrigan Baird Lemoine, Darby Baird, Katherine Steger and Benjamin Steger; and many nieces and nephews.

            A memorial service will be held in the spring. The family asks that in lieu of flowers donations be made to an Ann Arbor non-profit of choice, in keeping with Cooper’s giving to many organizations in the city.

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