Dominic Conicelli, 86, of Collegeville, who built a car dealership empire from scratch in Montgomery County, died Saturday, Oct. 20, of a heart attack.
Mr. Conicelli, who appeared in TV commercials as his dealership's mascot, "Mr. Nice Guy," created the network of franchises now known as Conicelli Autoplex. His first dealership in Norristown began with four employees. His family now employs 650 people across six locations, said his oldest daughter, Donna McNally.
"He was funny," McNally said. "Generous. A little bit ornery sometimes. He was goodhearted and kind. The warmth that he showed to everyone — he thought of his employees as his family."
Mr. Conicelli grew up in Conshohocken, an only child and the grandson of Italian immigrants. His father, John, worked as a chauffeur for the Foerderer family at the now-demolished La Ronda estate in Bryn Mawr. There, Conicelli picked up a job mowing grass.
"I don't remember getting paid, but it kept me out of trouble," he told the Inquirer in 2009.
It's also where he began his lifelong love of horses. He would save his money from a newspaper route just to ride horses on the weekends. His family now has nearly 30 horses, daughter Lori Hammond said.
"My father and I were both avid horse lovers," Hammond said. "We enjoyed competing together in Western horse riding. A lot of my fond memories are of us taking trips together, hauling the horses behind us, and competing together and spending a lot of time side by side with our hobby that we both loved."
He met his wife, Florence, at a movie theater when they were 12 years old. He was sitting in the row behind her when his buddy pulled her pigtails to get her attention. But instead, she was drawn to Mr. Conicelli, McNally said.
Mr. Conicelli went to Conshohocken High School and graduated from Villanova University in 1954. He joined the Army and served in Germany for two years during the Korean War. When he came back, he married Florence. They had two daughters and a son, and were married until her death in 2002.
Mr. Conicelli began working for General Motors Acceptance Corp., now Ally Financial, as a repossessor. He eventually left GMAC to start Hy-Speed Auto Sales in Norristown. That led him to start Carriage Trade Public Auto Auction and the five other car franchises that followed, which his family still operates today.
His son Dominic Jr. is now the general manager for the autoplex. He said he never thought of doing anything else but following in his father's footsteps.
"He was always a larger-than-life, hero kind of guy," Conicelli Jr. said. "I guess most people's dads are, but it just always — all the things that we did when we were hunting, or when we had dirt bikes and toys around the house. There was always something going on around the house. He was always really active and doing those outdoorsy kind of things. I always followed in that. Following him into the business was really simple."
Beyond his work, Mr. Conicelli enjoyed hunting small game with his son, planning dirt bike trips with the kids, and bowling with his wife. Last week, he was inducted into the National Reined Cow Horse Association Hall of Merit. He was a past president of the Atlantic Reined Cow Horse Association, which hosts competitions in which riders on horses demonstrate their ability to herd a cow in an arena. He was also involved at St. Eleanor Church in Collegeville and the former SS. Cosmas and Damian Church in Conshohocken.
"His love for his family was like no other," Hammond said. "He would do anything for us. All of us. He wanted everyone close by, and everyone stayed close by. That was just what it was all about. He always said my mother's and his greatest accomplishments were his children and his family. And that's what he really felt."
In addition to his children, Mr. Conicelli is survived by seven grandchildren; two step-grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
A viewing was held Thursday, Oct. 25, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Emil J. Ciavarelli Family Funeral Homes and Crematory, Conshohocken. An additional viewing will be Friday, Oct. 26, from 9 to 11 a.m., followed by a Funeral Mass at 11, at St. Eleanor Church, 647 Locust St., Collegeville. Burial will be private.
Donations may be sent to the National Reining Cow Horse Youth Association Scholarship Fund, 1017 N. Highway 377, Pilot Point, Texas 76258, or St. Mary Catholic Church, 140 W. Hector St., Conshohocken, Pa. 19428, with a note designating, "In Memory of Dominic Conicelli." Condolences may be offered at www.ciavarellifuneralhomes.com.