Lithia Motors’ Sid DeBoer honored as ‘2022 History Maker’

PORTLAND, Ore. – A visionary business leader and philanthropist from the Rogue Valley was recognized Sunday.

Ashland native Sid DeBoer turned Lithia Motors into a nationally renowned car dealership.

He was honored in Portland by the Oregon Historical Society as a “2022 History Maker.”

KGW’s Christelle Koumoué has more on DeBoer’s rise to success and the legacy he has built.

The Rogue Valley is well-loved for many reasons.

“We got Mt. Ashland and you know we have a great lake.”

And more from its scenic Rogue River which runs from Crater Lake to the Pacific to a revitalized Downtown Medford and  Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

“It’s one word: ‘home.’ It’s home. We believe in this small community, it’s diverse, it’s a wonderful place.” A place where Sid DeBoer grew up working in the auto dealership his father Walt DeBoer opened in Ashland in 1946 called Lithia Motors.

The name comes from the lithium-loaded spring water found in the area.

“I worked in the shop as a mechanic,” DeBoer explained. “I did lube and tires oil changes all that kind of stuff.”

It didn’t take long for him to get the hang of things

“We had it up where we made 20,000 in one year and that was a big deal to my dad,” DeBoer said. “By 1968 I helped my father build the business and it was doing really well.”

At the height of their success, his dad was hit and killed by a car. He said, “In 1968 when he died, we had to have a way to survive it was a tough time.”

DeBoer scraped together some money, bought the business from his mom, and founded a new company 13 miles north. He kept the name “Lithia.”

The company grew steadily and—26 years later in 1996—had grown into six dealerships in Southern Oregon.

Today, Lithia has close to 300 locations in more than two dozen states, making it the third-largest automotive retailer in the U.S.

“I’ve always had a 10-year vision of where we can go,” DeBoer said. “But I don’t think we have a limit.”

The first store where it all started is now the Lithia motors headquarters.

“There’s about 600 people working here now,” according to DeBoer. “It’s also really important to see the company flourish and give opportunities and jobs here in Southern Oregon.”

“The commitment to his Southern Oregon roots goes beyond these walls,” Sid DeBoer explained. “The community involvement, the things we’ve done, that means the most.”

In 1997, Sid and his wife formed the “Sid and Karen DeBoer Foundation.”

Karen said, “We wanted to make a difference in our community.”

The foundation supports charities, mostly in Jackson County.

“You give to someone that is statewide or the United States and you’re a little drop in the bucket.” DeBoer said. “We find it more rewarding to give to one or two organizations that can largely influence the lives mostly of young people.”

Southern Oregon University has been on the receiving end of their generosity, recently getting $12 million from Lithia, the largest gift in the school’s 15-year history.

Big fans of the arts, the couple also helped revitalize Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival and have contributed millions of dollars to local charities

Karen DeBoer said, “I guess the thing we’re most proud of is that camp.”

Their personal project has been restoring the Girl Scout camp at Lake of the Woods. Thanks to the DeBoers, the camp got a new lease on life. They committed over $10 million to rebuild it for the Ashland YMCA. The camp is now open   and welcomes 150 kids year-round.

But, they’re not done yet. Sid explained, “Now we’re working on Mt. Ashland adding an extra slope there.”

Sid DeDoer is helping make Oregon better for others who also call this special place “home.”

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