Ken Stanford sold cars but his life was helping others
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Dan Nakaso
Ken Stanford, vice president and general manager of JN Automotive Group, died Friday after a life spent loving cars and a business career devoted to helping Navy sailors.
He was 63.
Whether it was donations of money, sponsorships of Navy activities, paid trips to Las Vegas or discounts on cars, "Ken was probably the finest friend that our sailors had," said retired four-star admiral Walt Doran, the former commander of the Pacific Fleet.
"Ken did so much for the young enlisted men and women of our Navy, but they don't even know where it came from because he did it all very quietly, without a lot of fanfare."
Stanford's father had been a Navy petty officer aboard nuclear submarines, and Stanford's half-brother also served as an enlisted sailor, said Stanford's wife, Julie Hassel, who owns the Morgan Beret high-end linen and lingerie store in Kahala Mall.
When Stanford came of age, an allergy to beans and peas prevented him from joining his brother and father in the Navy as well, Hassel said.
But Stanford never wavered in his commitment to help enlisted sailors and their charities, said retired Navy Capt. Kraig Kennedy, the former commanding officer of the Pearl Harbor Naval Station.
The Navy-sponsored hydroplane races in Pearl Harbor were in danger of dying because of lack of financial support in the 1990s when Stanford "walked up with a whole pot of money and said, 'I want to sponsor it for two years,' " Kennedy said. "I couldn't find anybody that was interested, and here I grew up in Seattle around hydroboat races and the whole thing's in danger of going under on my watch. But Ken got me over the hump.
"It became clear how much Ken was interested in helping the sailors," Kennedy said. "On occasion, he would call just to ask me how he could help in other ways. He always had a significant sense of patriotism and he wanted to be part of it. This was his way."
Stanford regularly contributed tens of thousands of dollars to help causes for sailors, such as buying 30 tables for enlisted men and women during last week's military affairs luncheon at the Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i, said Mike Fisch, president and publisher of The Honolulu Advertiser, who was a close friend of Stanford's.
"That's the kind of thing he did week in and week out," Fisch said. "His generosity was nonending, especially with the military and especially with the enlisted men and women."
Stanford was born in Spokane, Wash., in 1942 and moved around the country in a Navy family. He ended up back home in Washington owning a Nissan dealership, then was recruited in 1990 to move to Hawai'i by Joe Nicolai of JN Automotive, Hassel said.
Over the last 10 years at JN Automotive, Stanford presided over the monthly Slash-It sales that included his love of '50s and '60s music, "magicians, barbecues, money chambers and giveaway trips to Vegas," said Dan Ryan, who helped Stanford bring the idea to the Islands and who plays "Madman Dan" in the JN Automotive commercials.
"We've probably sent 1,000 people to Vegas and sold over 1,000 cars for $88," Ryan said. "But above everything else, Ken loved to put on a show. He loved the hoopla. Ken felt that you have the monthly payments of a car and everything else, so he wanted people to enjoy the buying experience."
Stanford often talked to Ryan about his love of 1970s-era muscle cars. And even though Stanford once sold Porsches and other high-end automobiles in the Pacific Northwest, his true love was classics like the red 1964 Impala Super Sport convertible featured in the Madman Dan commercials.
"That was his baby," Ryan said. "He was a car man from the day he was born to the day he died."
A few hours before he died of cancer at Straub Clinic & Hospital early Friday morning, Stanford told Ryan that he had "some really great dreams" about new ways to sell cars, Ryan said.
"He's in the hospital with tubes and everything, fighting cancer, and he's thinking about how to excite people about buying a car," Ryan said. "He just loved being a part of it."
Stanford is survived by his father, Sam Stanford of Bend, Ore.; brother, Joe Stanford of Oregon; wife, Julie Hassel; son, Tony Stanford, a student at Chaminade University; and daughter, Morgan Stanford, a senior graduating from St. Andrew's Priory.
Services are scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday on the fantail of the USS Missouri. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to Assets School or USO Hawai'i.
Reach Dan Nakaso at firstname.lastname@example.org.