Like many around the globe, the Daystar Auto Family suffered an unbearable loss at the hands of Covid-19 in 2020.
Tom Utley, a 49-year-old manager at Daystar’s North Canton location, died in December due to complications due to Covid-19.
Daystar and Tom’s family worked hand-in-hand to organize a Memorial Golf Outing in Tom Utley’s honor. The event maxed out with just over 140 golfers.
“It’s amazing, heartwarming and overwhelming,” said Tom’s wife Denise as she spoke about the support shown for her late husband.
His charisma was unlike any other, his wife said.
“Tom was a great guy with a big heart and a bigger personality,” she said. “”He loved everyone. If you knew him, you were going to love him.”
Tom was a life long fixture in the car sales business. His love for cars ignited his love to Denise in 1993.
“He sold me my first car. He knew my mom and step dad,” Denise said. “They actually asked him to take me out for my 21st birthday. It’s a fun story to tell.”
Denise said Tom’s diagnosis of the deadly virus was a ‘long, drawn out process’
“He fought with a fever for two weeks and before that, he had actually fractured his hip,” she said. “He finally got tested on Friday and got the diagnosis on Monday.”
Denise said her husband was showing symptoms but nothing to worry about. But two days later, everything changed.
“I called the ambulance on Wednesday when I found him unresponsive,” Denise said through tears. “He was in the hospital for 36 days.”
Denise said Tom was immediately put on a ventilator but was removed from the ventilator a few days later.
At 49, Tom had his whole life ahead of him, including enjoying life in the house they built together just five years ago.
Tom’s family needed help with the purchase of his headstone and other expenses related to his untimely death. That’s when they reached out to Matt Leeders and Daystar Auto.
“We mentioned it (the golf outing) and he wanted to do it,” Denise said. “He was wonderful.”
Leeders, the owner of Daystar Auto, was hired into the business as a salesman by Tom. When Matt purchased his first store, he knew it was only right to return the favor and hire the man who gave him his start.
“Tom was a fantastic guy,” said Leeders. “Everybody showed support. It speaks for the impact he had on everyones lives. He was a down to earth guy.”
Daystar organized the golf outing in just over two months, but they partnered with other dealerships as sponsors for the event including Waikem Auto, VanDevere, Jeff’s Motor Cars and others. It was a challenge to make the event happen in such a short period of time, but like Tom, everyone involved worked hard to make it happen.
“A lot of different dealer groups pulled together to make this thing happen,” Leeders said. “We had a lot of effort put into it. A lot of people just went out and spread the word.”
“Tom was a fighter, from beginning to end,” Leeders said. “We had every expectation that it was going to turn out positive.”
When Leeders got the phone call that his friend and employee was gone, he was shocked.
“It was heart wrenching. Knowing we would never see his face or hear his voice,” he said. “It was sickening, upsetting and all of the above.”
Tom’s older brother, David Utley, remembered him as a loving guy.
“Tom was a fun, outgoing, life of the party guy that everybody liked,” David said. “You can see that by the 145 golfers that we have out here today. Everybody just liked Tommy.”
Tom was the youngest of his siblings but that didn’t deter him from working hard.
“We never thought someone with such vibrance and such energy who is always healthy would succumb to this,” he said. “He was driven. He was always healthy. When he told me the test was positive, I thought he would shake it off. Tom had no health issues.”
Denise hopes the memorial golf outing can become an annual event that allows them to start a scholarship foundation.