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A Local Business with a Profound History and a Legacy of Giving Back

From WWII and Japanese internment camps to a thriving community pillar, Dick Inukai leaves a lasting foundation with Dick's Auto Group, a business buoyed by family heritage.

Presented by Dick's Auto Group August 25, 2017

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Image: Jason DeSomer

Dick’s Auto Group, located in the heart of the Hillsboro/Greater Portland area, consists of four dealerships and a body shop, employing nearly three hundred people. The family-run business, owned by Shannon Inukai-Cuffee and her brother, Scott Inukai, has anchored roots in the community since the opening of a single Dodge dealership in 1985, owned by their father, Richard Inukai, whose passing in 2011 was a shock to both his family and the community, where he was a beloved icon.

Richard “Dick” Inukai was born in 1943 in the Tulelake, California, Japanese internment camp, after his parents were forced to leave their farm in Hood River, Oregon, during Executive Order 9066, when Japanese Americans were evacuated and relocated to inland internment camps during WWII. Homes, livelihoods, and freedom were abruptly stripped away from over 100,000 Americans of Japanese descent, 4,000 in the Portland area alone.

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Image: Jason DeSomer

Despite his arduous beginnings, Dick grew up with a passion for automobiles, helping his dad with mechanics at a family-owned gas station. Then in his early adulthood, with a baby (Shannon) on the way, he himself ventured into the auto dealership industry.

When the opportunity presented itself to own a Dodge dealership, he grabbed it, followed by the purchase of a second franchise, MacKenzie Ford. The siblings, Shannon and Scott, were raised working in the dealerships. “My brother and I had all sorts of positions—from the service department to office to sales” says Shannon. 

Business was growing steadily, and in 2005, Dick added a Chrysler/Jeep franchise to the Dodge dealership, further solidifying his footprint in the auto industry. Then came the economic downturn of 2008, and Chrysler declared bankruptcy, “a stark moment, and one unseen in modern times,” according to a New York Times article posted April 30, 2009. The Inukai family business, and livelihoods, once again hung in the balance.

Stars aligned this time, however, and fate spared the Inukais. Dick Inukai had recently invested in a state of the art building, and to have lost the franchise would have been devastating. 

Despite saving the Chrysler dealership, business during those economic free-fall years was still extremely challenging for the family. Shannon said “my dad had never seen times like that, even during the 70′s and other downturns. It was very stressful for him, but he was resourceful, business savvy and had good relations with a local community bank. That saved us.”

In 2011, with business thriving once more and many of life’s trials behind him, Dick Inukai was unexpectedly diagnosed with lung cancer, surviving just a little over two months from his diagnosis. Shannon and Scott were left stunned, with memories and a family business to run.

“He was just one of those larger-than-life people,” says Shannon. “We always figured he would outlive us all.”

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Image: Jason DeSomer

Still, there was never any question of whether they would keep the business going. Shortly after his death, Shannon and Scott were approached by another dealership to purchase a Honda/Hyundai store. “At first, we didn’t even think about it; we were knee-deep in settling affairs and emotionally healing,” say the siblings, “however after doing some thinking, we bought it. We intuitively knew he’d want us to continue to grow the business.” The decision turned out to be a good one; the business is thriving and the family has gone on to keep their father’s commitment to community alive as well. Dick Inukai was not only a local businessman, but dedicated to causes dear to his heart. “Dad was always so good at building life- long friendships in and outside of our business”, says Scott. “He always got involved, that was important to him,” Shannon says.

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Image: Jason DeSomer

Dick served on the board and as board chair of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Portland, the Hillsboro chapter being named the Inukai Family Boys & Girls Club. When he passed, the club gave Shannon his seat on the board.

Every April and November, all four dealerships of Dick’s Auto Group donates $100 for every car sold to the Boys & Girl Clubs of Portland, where Shannon, like her father, now serves as board chair.

As a tribute to their father, Shannon, Scott, and their sister, Stacie Inukai-Center, founded the Inukai Family Foundation, with missions toward positive youth development, educational grants, senior care, and Japanese culture.

The foundation also supports sons and daughters of employees. “Dad really loved his employees. He knew they were the most important part of a successful family business equation,” says Shannon. Family was really important to Dick, and his employees were like family to him. “We thought of all the things that were important to Dad and tried to incorporate those things - founded it from a place of what meant something to him.”

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Image: Jason DeSomer

The foundation also helps fund other local nonprofits, including ones that pay homage to the family’s Japanese heritage, such as the Japan-America Society of Oregon. “With Dad dying, and both sets of our grandparents gone, we feel like we lost some of that history—the generation that were interned in the camps - All gone. That’s why we support Japanese causes too, so we can stay connected to that part of our history,” says Shannon.

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Image: Jason DeSomer

She adds, “It feels really good to be able to do something that we know Dad would have been proud of, and to think we can pass that down to our children and grandchildren.”

Learn more about Dick’s Auto Group here, or call 503-640-6500.