Danville man to take over Hill Ford

CHAMPAIGN – Danville Ford dealership franchise owner Curley Lee will become the new owner of Hill Ford effective Monday.

The dealership will be called Ford of Champaign.

Lee said his new dealership is about twice the size of his current franchise, Courtesy Ford in Danville.

"I'm selling Courtesy back to Ford to put another minority in," said Lee, who is black. "Ford will select the new owner of Courtesy sometime in August. In the meantime, I'll manage it."

Marvin Hill announced earlier this month that he would sell his longtime Ford dealership in Champaign to Ford Motor Co.

Hill said he decided to retire because of age. He'll turn 80 on Oct. 23. Hill Ford, at 200 Carriage Center just off South Neil Street, employs about 50. Hill had owned the dealership since 1982.

This won't be the first time Lee will have served as an interim manager at the Ford dealership in Danville.

"I got started in the business washing cars back in 1975, when I was in high school in Jennings, La.," Lee said. "I worked my way through every department to become the general manager."

Lee was then accepted into the Ford Minority Dealer Program and sent to the National Auto Dealer Association Academy in McLean, Va.

After graduation from the academy, Lee became an interim manager for Ford in Danville, later buying the dealership.

As part of Lee's deal with Ford in buying the Hill Ford dealership, another minority will be offered the Danville site.

"I was given a chance, and I want to pave the way for another minority," Lee said. "Otherwise, I could have kept them both."

Ford corporate officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Lee said he qualified to head up the Champaign dealership through experience with the manufacturer and a successful track record in operating a dealership.

"I came here (Danville) in March of 1998. I've been able to do a tremendous amount of business in the community," Lee said. "It's been good for me and good to me."

Lee's community service has included serving on the boards of the Boys & Girls Club of Danville, the Danville Public Library Foundation and Vermilion Advantage. He is a deacon at the New Life Church of Faith and initiated the Coats for Kids program through the Danville dealership.

"On my way to work one day, I saw some kids huddled together trying to keep each other warm," Lee said. "When I got to work, I called in my partner and my secretary and said, 'I don't want to see another kid be cold like that.'"

Lee notified community service organizations that all a child in need of a coat had to do was show up at the dealership. Lee also gives away book bags and school supplies before each school year.

"I think if a child has a desire to go to school, we need to make sure they have the wherewithal to do so," he said.

Lee said he plans to move to the Champaign area.

"I hope I'll be embraced by that community when I go down the street," Lee said of the new dealership. "It's been a pleasure to be a part of the Danville community. I've made a lot of friends here. The move is bittersweet."

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