Nearly 600 people gathered at the Korum Ford-Lincoln dealership earlier this month to celebrate Jerry Korum’s 50 years of service.
One of Korum’s daughters, Sophia Korum Hall, had been planning the event since last June.
“My mom and dad aren’t showy people, but this was a nice balance for them,” she said. “I wanted them to know how much I appreciated them.”
Korum started out 50 years ago close to where the Korum Ford-Lincoln dealership sits today. He worked for his dad, Mel, at the Korum Dodge dealership.
“My first day at work, I was 20 years old, and I sold two cars,” Jerry said. “I was hooked.”
The next day, Jan. 6, 1963, Jerry said he sat by a river in Orting and planned his whole life.
“I had worked in a flour mill in Great Falls, Mont., and I thought, ‘What kid doesn’t like cars?’ ” he said.
That day was the beginning for Jerry Korum and Puyallup.
Jerry said the dealerships now cover more than 20 acres on the corner of Meridian and River Road, right where he sold his first two cars.
“There used to be little houses and businesses here, a guitar store, a 7-Eleven, a gas station, a tire store, and we bought them all,” he said.
Korum Ford-Lincoln, Korum Hyundai and Korum Mitsubishi, which cover 46 different properties, make up those four corners today.
The celebration Jan. 5 included a face painter for kids, video games for the older ones and food catered by It’s Greek to Me.
And people shared their memories of the past 50 years with Jerry Korum.
Ernie Bay said his wife, Ellen, was Korum’s first administrative assistant.
“She introduced Jerry to the computer world,” Bay said.
Korum was instrumental in getting the Mel Korum YMCA built. He said the Korum for Kids Foundation is near and dear to his heart.
When his daughter, Sonja, was diagnosed with a learning disability, Korum’s wife, Germaine, became her advocate.
“We realized that so many people did not have the opportunity to get that help, and my wife dedicated her life to getting it for Sonja, and so we decided we would start the foundation and support primarily kids,” he said.
Sophia Hall serves as the executive director for the foundation.
“She gives away several hundred thousand dollars a year,” Korum said.
Korum also has been instrumental in supporting the Boys & Girls Club.
Mark Starnes, CEO for the South Puget Sound Boys & Girls Club, and his wife, Linda, were at the event and spoke fondly of Jerry’s relationship with the Korum for Kids Foundation and the Boys & Girls clubs.
“Jerry is a self-made man and so successful, because it is always about people and relationships,” Starnes said.
The Korums support Bellarmine Preparatory School and Life Christian Academy with endowments, as well as the Sonja Korum Endowment for Learning Disabilities.
“We do a lot for adults, too, but when it comes to children, that is where our heart is,” Korum said.
During the celebration, Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, 1st Corps Commander at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, presented Korum with a plaque to thank him for what he has done for military families.
Brown said that, with 70 percent of soldiers living off base, many are in Puyallup.
“We wanted to give him a new Stryker but thought it would be too hard to park,” Brown joked.
Korum said his wife has been diagnosed with lung cancer, and her health will be his main priority this year.
“Our hearts are breaking,” he said. “No one has it all, and we’ve had a great slice of life and hope we can get Germaine better.”
Korum thanked his employees and said he’s happy to hear his customers’ stories.
Korum isn’t sure what he’ll do when he retires.
“What would I do? I’m not a great golfer,” he said. “My passion is automobiles, this community, employees and our customers.”
Korum said he was overwhelmed when he walked in the door on the night of the surprise event and saw the huge crowd.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I felt like Leonardo DiCaprio walking in. I kept looking behind me, thinking, ‘Is this really for me?’ ”Joan Cronk is a freelance reporter for the Herald.