A tragedy helped bring out the charitable spirit in Terry Gilmore.
It was 1992 when the small, rural and little-known Southern California town of Temecula was suddenly front page news. A little after 7:30 a.m., the U.S. Border Patrol, in pursuit of a stolen Suburban carrying 13 suspected illegal immigrants, exited at Rancho California, and headed toward Margarita in pursuit of the stolen vehicle.
School was just about to start and students were milling about campus at Temecula Valley High School. Parents were dropping off their children, when the Suburban smashed into an Acura, splitting the car in half, killing the man driving the Acura, his son and his son's friend. And it forever altered how Gilmore viewed the world.
Not only was the accident a catalyst for change in the United States -- the mayor of Temecula successfully convinced Washington, D.C. to change its policies on pursuing suspects -- it profoundly change Gilmore.
"That was the first time I ever thought about doing something [for others]. It was hard to believe that we could actually make a difference," said Gilmore, president and owner of Paradise Chevrolet Cadillac in Temecula.
Immediately after the local tragedy, an employee approached Gilmore about taking action. The employee, Denny Mighell, who now runs Temecula Valley People Helping People, asking his boss to help rally support for the family and friends of the victims of this horrible tragedy, Gilmore said.
"It was a difficult day for everybody," said Mighell, and he wanted to motivate the community to help aide those impacted by the tragedy.
But Gilmore wasn't sure what kind of help he could extend. He had moved to the area only a year before to start up Paradise Chevrolet with then-partner Robert Gregory. He had no money, was working hard to make the dealership successful in a small but growing city and didn't know many people in the community. On top of that, he had never been the volunteering type.
"And when I say never volunteered, I mean, never, zero," he said. "It had always been about me, chasing the buck, 'Is Terry happy?'" he said.
But then, at 45-years-old, Gilmore decided to get involved and suddenly found himself in the driver's sear, speeding toward the world of community activism. Quickly he discovered that it's not the dollars that count.
"There's nothing more valuable than your time, so I decided to give mine," he said.
The results of his donated time were a complete surprise to the longtime car dealer. "When you ask Gilmore for help for a cause he believes in, he will spring into action and get the job done," Mighell said.
The owner of the local Costco, which has just opened up in town, donated food for all the victim's friends and relatives and the local limousine company shuttled relative and friends of the victims from the airport and around town. The Embassy Suites donated hotel rooms.
What Gilmore saw was a community coming together. "I think what makes Temecula, Murrieta and Wildomar and all these places so great is that people are giving of themselves," he said. And that was just the beginning of what has become a lifetime of community service for the once self-described, selfish businessman. "Terry's a leader," said Mighell. "He's got a golden heart."
Bowling Alley Beginnings
Gilmore didn't set out to become a car salesman. He didn't dream of one day hitting it big in business and owning his own car dealership. For this St. Louis native, it was the bowling alley where his dreams took shape.
"All of us kids grew up with aspirations to become professional bowlers," said the 66-year-old, who grew up in a working class neighborhood with three siblings.
The local Airport Bowl was Gilmore's childhood playground. He began working at the bowling alley at six or seven years old, clearing out beer bottles from the back of the lanes! It was a special alley where "the firve greatest bowlers" honed their skills, Gilmore said. For those in the know, the greats who played there included Don Carter, Tom Hennessy, Ray Bluth, Dick Weber and Pat Patterson. Gilmore and all his friends wanted to be just like them.
Gilmore spent all day at the alley, honing his skills, either working or playing. As a kid, he was paid in free games. And he was good. At the time, he was one of the top amateur bowlers in St. Louis, he said.
But in 1966 his dreams were briefly deferred. Vietnam called in the form of a draft card. Gilmore served for a year in the war in the infantry as a radio operator.
The bowling hopeful returned from the war unscathed and ready to settle back into his life in St. Louis, which included a wife and daughter. But that marriage, to a high school girlfriend, ended in divorce. Gilmore decided to head out to Phoenix, Arizona, driving a U-haul with all his belongings, a total of $702 in his pocket, and a new Corvette.
A Car Salesman is Born
Gilmore found himself in the desert at a time when Phoenix was still a little town. After driving all the way back to Tucson to drop off the U-haul, he set about looking for work.
The local Dodge dealership, Scottsdale Dodge, was hiring and Gilmore landed the job and began selling cars. It was on the car lot that he met his wife Cindy, who was also working in sales. They married a few years later and recently celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary.
The couple's daughter is now working towards her Masters Degree at San Diego State University. Gilmore's daughter from his first marriage lives in St. Louis with her two children.
Gilmore excelled in the car world. As a people person and a hard worker, he had found his niche. The affable man with the big smile volunteered to work all the available shifts, putting in extra hours on weekends and holidays. And he saved and saved.
He had never set out to make a lot of cash, he had just found a job and worked hard. But when the money started pouring in, Gilmore realized there was a whole world out there filled with fancy restaurants and luxury items and that if he worked hard enough, he could buy them.
Gilmore still remembers that first paycheck he earned from selling cars. His father had recently retired, was in town visiting from St. Louis and he couldn't wait to show him how well he was doing, he said. He was paid weekly and that check was for more than $1,000. Gilmore knew that would be a hefty sum to his father who had never brought home more than $12,000 a year.
So at the table at the Howard Johnson, Gilmore waited for the right moment and then pulled the check out of pocket, beaming with pride.
His father's response? "Boy, How did you earn that much?'" Gilmore said with a laugh.
It didn't take long for Gilmore to move up the ranks at the dealership. In 1983, he moved his family to Ventura to work for Robert Gregory at Paradise Chevrolet, where Gilmore eventually became the general manager. Eight years later, Gregory, whom Gilmore describes as his "best friend," was awarded the new Chevrolet dealership in Temecula and Gregory invited him to buy in as his partner.
"And it took me 20 years to become the sole owner...a long time," Gilmore said.
In 2010, Gilmore received the Chevrolet Dealer of the Year Award for the entire United States.
A Young Temecula and a Budding Community
Activist It was 1991 when Gilmore left Ventura and returned to Temecula. The city had just been incorporated in December of 1989 and the population stood at close to just 25,000.
"So everything you see today in town, we didn't have then," he laughs. "We had nothing." The dealership, which was across the street from the current Paradise Chevrolet Cadillac at the time, was surrounded by dairy land. The Promenade Mall didn't yet exist. There were no strip malls lining Yzez. All the housing tracts were still farmland and ranches.
"Ynez was two lanes and a stop sign," Gilmore said.
But that didn't prevent Gilmore from dreaming big. At the time, he thought his dreams only included selling cars and making money. But that all changed that fateful day his employee took him aside and said, "Hey boss, why don't we see what we can do to help?" Gilmore said.
It was then Gilmore learned that even in the midst of so many daunting obstacles - no money, looming deadlines, few resources and contacts - a community will come together for a good cause.
"I promise you we could put six people at this table right today and say 'guys we're starting with zero and we have no money and we need $100 grand to help somebody do this,' and we'd go do it," he said.
It's that attitude that has turned the local businessman into on of Temecula's most prolific volunteers.
The Border Patrol tragedy, Gilmore explained, was the jumping off point that led him to begin his community activism, volunteering for everything from Chamber positions to Copy for Kids, to helping local veterans inquired in combat. But it's The Boys & Girls Clubs where he truly found his calling.
Since its founding more than 20 years ago, Gimore has worked with Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest County in various capacities and has been instrumental in fundraising efforts for the non-profit. He currently serves on the Board of Directors, specifically The Emeritus Board of Distinction.
And his work with not only the clubs but his overall efforts to lend a helping hand when needed has not gone unnoticed in the community.
"Terry's reputation as a compassionate philanthropist is legendary," said Maryann Edwards, president and chief executive of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest County and Temecula City Council member.
Gilmore is the first one to put his own money into an organization he believes in and then he picks up the phone and starts calling everyone he knows to ask for donations, Edwards said.
"Because of his passion, he's able to convince people to support the organization," said the council member. "He sets the example and feels that everyone should be as passionate about kids as he is," she says.
From the beginning Gilmore was out in the community persuading local businesses and individuals to help with the local Boys & Girls Club. Once Temecula's first club was built, Gilmore would bring the business owners to the site and once they saw the children and all the programs offered, they were sold, said Edwards.
Gilmore credits Gregory, his former longtime business partner, with instilling in him the importance of community activism. Gregory has always been very involved in his community, he said. When the two were just starting out at Paradise in Temecula Gregory never gave his partner a hard time when he was constantly out and about in the community. “Without him,” Gilmore said, “I would never be where I'm at personally or professionally.”
Gilmore expects all of his employees to be involved in community activism. And every year the dealership selects and rewards an employee for his or her exemplary community service with the Paradise Making a Difference award.
Gilmore regards every non-profit he helps as a mini-business and he expects the board to run it like one. At the same time, he has learned a great deal from working with non-profits and from being out in the community as a volunteer. "The Boys & Girls Club has been everything to me," he said. "It's taught me to be a better person."