Donald L. Jacobs Sr., who built a highly successful automobile dealership in Lexington under the name "Ol' Don Jacobs" and became one of the city's leading philanthropists, died Wednesday at his home.
He was 81.
Jacobs was born Feb. 8, 1934, in Bennettsville, S.C., a son of John and Betsy Jacobs.
Jacobs' father operated a general store. Don Jacobs always said that taught him the importance of quality customer service, a lesson he put into practice in his own businesses over the years.
After service as a paratrooper instructor with the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, Jacobs started selling cars, and he was good at it. He was the top retail auto salesman in the country for two straight years.
When Jacobs later sought his own auto dealership, General Motors offered him an Oldsmobile franchise in Lexington. He opened it on High Street in 1970 and hit the road running.
He moved the business to a 19-acre site at Nicholasville and New Circle roads four years later and gradually added Honda, Volkswagen and BMW to his automotive lineup. He also added dealerships in Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida.
While his business interests grew, Jacobs' desire to help others took him into other areas.
He and his wife, Cathy, made large gifts to the University of Kentucky, establishing the Don and Cathy Jacobs Health Education Center at the A.B. Chandler Hospital's new Pavilion A. They also became major supporters of the UK College of Medicine and the Markey Cancer Center.
They were leading donors for the UK Gatton College of Business and Economics capital campaign.
UK awarded Jacobs an honorary doctor of humanities degree in December in honor of those and other contributions.
Lexington's Hope Center, which provides shelter and assistance for the homeless, was another beneficiary.
Its Don and Cathy Jacobs House and Don and Cathy Jacobs Cafeteria were built through contributions from the couple, said Cecil Dunn, the center's executive director. They also offered other support.
"He and Cathy were extremely generous," Dunn said Wednesday. "The most important part is that the money they put in helped hundreds of people who have benefitted from their kindness."
Despite the fact that Jacobs' name was widely known, he maintained a surprisingly low profile, Dunn said.
"Most people knew his name from when he was in the car business, but that was probably his biggest public exposure," Dunn said. "He was a man of few words and very humble."
In addition to his wife, Jacobs is survived by a son, Donald L. Jacobs Jr. of Bal Harbor, Fla.; two daughters, Lisa Miller of Lexington and Lee Ann Jacobs of Fort Myers, Fla.; a sister, Merlin Usher; seven grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.
Visitation will be 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at Lexington's Immanuel Baptist Church, where Jacobs was a member. Services will be at the church at 11 a.m. Saturday, followed by burial in Lexington Cemetery.
Memorials may be made to the Hope Center.
Milward Funeral Directors-Broadway is in charge of arrangements.