Rita Manley earned a pilot’s license at the age of 16 and was making small Honda motorcycles that her father sold outside the family’s auto repair shop in Northern California when the Japanese company’s newest product arrived.
The 1970 N-600 was Honda’s first, and Bill Manley Motorcycles were the first to be on sale in the United States. Smaller than a Volkswagen Beetle, it was the opposite of the popular land yachts of the time – but Rita was convinced she knew how to sell them.
Her father did not encourage the idea.
I said: I can Act This is dad. He said: No, you can’t. He must be a man. Women are not accepted into the motor trade. That was all it took, until I was told I couldn’t do it. I was going to prove that I can Do it. I’ve kind of done it my whole life,” she says.
When she wasn’t in high school classes, Rita can be found in a small building with two mini cars and an abundance of design and personality. The small car business flourished, and by the time Rita was old, her father was urging her to abandon the college plans he was supervising at work.
“I chose to go to college [UC Davis]. I was the only one in my family who went to university…and I’m so glad I did. Because that really opened up my opportunity to truly be who I am today,” says the woman now known across South Florida as Rita Case.
On Tuesday, South Florida philanthropist, president and CEO of the Rick Case Automotive Group, was named one of 16 winners in the next category of the Horatio Alger Award, a prestigious national honor that celebrates individuals who have overcome adversity and remain committed to achieving the highest education and philanthropic efforts in their communities. .
The award is presented annually by the Horatio Alger Society of Distinguished Americans, named for the nineteenth-century author who wrote poverty-to-riches stories for street children who improved their lives through determination, honesty, and altruism.
Other entrants in the 2022 Horatio Alger Prize category include Robert A. MacDonald, former secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs and retired president and CEO of Procter & Gamble. Stedman Graham, businessman and partner of Oprah Winfrey; actress and philanthropist Jane Seymour; Dr. James Andrews, surgeon best known for the Tommy John procedure; businessman and former NFL star Herschel Walker; and Stanley Kroenke, owner of the Denver Nuggets of the NBA and the Colorado Avalanche of the NBA.
Previous recipients of the Horatio Alger Prize from South Florida include environmental developer and ecologist Ron Bergeron and AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson.
The 2022 Honored Winners of the Horatio Alger Association will be entered at ceremonies held April 7-9 in Washington, DC. Awards and ceremonies coincide with annual, as-needed scholarships for high school students who have demonstrated dedication to higher education despite significant obstacles.
Case, 66, is one of the rare winners of the Horatio Alger Prize, representing less than 10 percent of the more than 700 recipients mentioned over a 75-year period.
“Although she was unfairly met with skepticism and skepticism early in her career, Ms. Case knew what it took to be successful and did not hold back from the challenge,” Terence Gero, CEO of the Horatio Alger Association, said in a statement. . “You’d be a great role model for our scholars, showing them what they can achieve through hard work and self-confidence.”
Speaking at her home in Hillsboro Beach, Case’s description of the journey from Rita Manley, a high school motorcycle apprentice, to Rita Case, a South Florida auto dealer and professional model, is one of the constant movement forward.
Her parents – Irish father and Hispanic-Mexican mother – were strong personalities with a work ethic that matched her. Her mother, Laurie Manley, was a pilot, ballerina, model, partner in the family’s business, and an influential role model for her daughter.
Lori Manly, now 88, continues to serve as the CFO of Manly Auto Group in Santa Rosa, California. Bill Manly passed away in 2017.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in economics, Case was appointed as the general manager of a family agency, and then began organizing Honda dealerships across the country. In 1977, Case hosted a meeting of American Honda dealers – she was the only woman – where she met another industrial pioneer from Ohio, Rick Case.
After two years of professional long-distance networking, they had their first date in 1979, each on Honda CB650 singles motorcycles a 800-mile ride to Port Angeles, Washington, and a ferry to Vancouver Island. It wasn’t a leisurely flirting journey.
“We literally raced from Santa Rosa to Port Angeles… the whole way. We stopped the gas, and that was it. That’s how our relationship began. We’ve always been very competitive. Respectful, but definitely competitive,” says Case.
But, perhaps to predict marriage, the couple decided to turn to the finish line at the same time.
“He tied us up, in a rising rainstorm. I remember it like it was yesterday,” Kiss says.
Case moved to Ohio, where her husband wanted her to join his agents in a sales executive position consistent with her experience. She rejected the idea, and instead took a position in the parts of the company and service process where she would make her way to the top jobs.
“I started out as a car dealer with my father. I had to get over that. [It] It took years to gain respect and not be discounted from being the merchant’s daughter. Then I turned around and married a car dealer. …Again, I was neglected as the merchant’s wife,” says Case.
Rick and Rita Case quickly became an industry force, building a 16-dealer auto empire across Florida, Georgia and Ohio over four decades. The Rick Case Automotive Group has more than 1,300 employees and more than $1 billion in revenue.
Rick Kiss passed away in 2020 after a short battle with cancer. He was 77 years old.
Like her mother, Rita Kiss is a Renaissance woman—she guided her children Ryan and Raquel into the family business, has dated three grandchildren, piloted a seven-passenger Honda, was a rock climber and one of the rare female polo players.
She and Rick continued to make long rides through Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and other states on Honda Goldwing matching motorcycles until he fell ill. Although she never had to make any repairs to the motorcycles during those trips, she wasn’t afraid of the job.
“I can do anything. Give me the proof and I will try,” she says with a smile.
An elegant and visual person (she’s got an impressive collection of hundreds of hats), Case came out of a gallery so fond of Dale Chihuly’s elaborate glass sculpture that she signed up for classes at the University of Miami and now has a collection of her blown glass work.
Case says its top priority these days is to raise Rick Case’s name and legacy as a best-selling car dealer and philanthropist.
The couple are best known for their support of Broward County Boys and Girls Clubs, the American Heart Association, the Cleveland Clinic, Joe Dimaggio Children’s Hospital, Habitats for Humanity and other organizations, hosting many fundraisers throughout the year.
They range from the Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance, a three-day auto show and big-ticket charity event, to the annual Rick Case Bikes for Kids feature, which has been refurbished and has delivered more than 100,000 bikes over nearly 40 years.
In keeping with the Horatio Alger Award’s focus on education, Case is particularly proud of the Rita and Rick Case Endowed Scholarship, which provides undergraduate students and former members of Boys and Girls Clubs the opportunity to attend Nova Southeastern University or local vocational schools.
“Horatio Alger’s mission is to select and guide people who are willing to give their time. My voice for young people today is, please, to get an education in your area of interest and passion. Education is definitely the tool that will open doors to your opportunity,” says Case.
“During this time in the moment when there are choices to be made in their lives, find out what is really true for them and learn,” she says. “Because if you try to pursue a fortune, you will not make it. If you follow a passion, you will have a fortune.”
Author Ben Crandell can be reached at: [email protected].